Are food companies ignoring safety warnings?

Picture this scenario: Company A experiences an outbreak of something in its food which causes masses of its products to be recalled, resulting in huge losses for the company’s profits, production and reputation.

Something like a salmonella outbreak or something equally severe can take years, if not decades, for a company to come back from.

Once the public has lost trust in a company, it is very difficult to make people forget the past, stop associating your brand with a negative situation, and come back better than ever.

So, in the food industry, where the health and safety of the products are probably more important than any other, why is there such a “hush hush” mentality to safety?

Why is nobody being proactive?

Shaughan Syme doesn’t understand why food manufacturers are not being proactive in protecting their products and reputations.

His company produces and distributes the BAXX machine, which eliminates mould spores and other airborne single cell organisms that pose risks to food safety and health.

“I have been very surprised that the food industry has not been as quick as I expected in adopting this technology, seeing as it needs to focus so much on safety,” he told Food Magazine.

“We are not suggesting this is a replacement for normal hygiene and cleaning, it is a supplement.

“With all these companies having health issues and recalls and going out of business because of it, considering this is such a low cost solution I thought they would be installed everywhere straight away.

“Companies don’t have a particular problem we can solve and we aren’t looking for payback.”

Syme explains that the technology the machine uses is safe and effective and does not pose the risks to health that many other machines which aim to solve similar issues do.

“The BAXX is new technology which produces hydroxyls, which are produced in nature, as nature’s own disinfectant,” he explained.

“The concept is to target the ozone but without the dangers.

“The ozone is a molecule with an extra hydrogen atom and is a danger to human life.

“There are some other options but they’re only effective in quantities that kill human and plant life and everything else you could think of.

“If you use these types, you have to have locks on all the doors, flood the room with ozone and two hours later, before it’s used again, you have to flood the room with oxygen, which defeats the entire purpose.

“It hasn’t been widely adopted in Australia because of the dangers, it was very big in some parts of the US.

“Hydroxyls are found in nature, they were discovered by Louis Pater (?) 200 years ago, when he tried to figure out why people who lives in sunny, arm climates were healthier than those in colder ones.

“It’s a water molecule (H2O) which is missing a hydrogen so it becomes OH- and that’s an unbalanced position, it wants to turn back to a molecule so the atoms are attracted to single cell organisms and attach to the wall and turn back into harmless water, but the cell has ruptured and dies.

“Mould spores, bacteria and fungus spores are all single cell organisms.

“It’s very effective because it is mechanical rather than chemical, so the organisms can’t become immune to it.”

Safety attitude "back to front"

A spokesperson from WorkCover NSW told Food Magazine while it is not definite that the industry has a “hush hush” mentality to safety, the rates of incidents does not seem to be declining.

“It’s not something I have sensed, but I guess generally speaking often there is a reluctance from an organisation to want to engage with any regulators, whether its WorkCover or another food industry body.

“But we strongly encourage companies to be proactive.

“We would much prefer they be proactive and talk to us so we can come out there and give our input.

“I know it is difficult and we are always working strongly to change the perspective of what we do and we are very keen to engage with industry.

“I think it’s a bit back to front.

“If an organisation could cause someone to be seriously injured or worse, killed, it is only in their best interest to talk to us and avoid any injuries and the costs and damage to reputation that would cause.

“It’s all about gaining competitive advantage these days between companies so people need to embrace safety and be proactive about it.”

Companies hesitant to suggest problems

Syme agrees with the sentiment that the industry has its safety priorities back to front.

“We have sold quite a number of these machines and probably 90 per cent have been to companies that have problems and are looking for a solution,” he told Food Magazine.”

“Nine out of 10 times the BAXX solves the issue, but when we ask the company if we can use them as a reference, they’ve been reluctant to have their name attached to it simply because they don’t want other companies or the public to know they had problems in the first place.

“I think to have it mandated would be an advantage seeing as this is not a fad, it is a proven thing and it is perfectly safe for humans.

“I honestly thought companies would be calling us daily and climbing over one another to get to us because it is so simple and cost effective.

‘The 800s unit is $AU3850 plus GST plus $26 delivery, so it is not a financial burden at all, we’re not talking a $15 000-20 000 system.

“You buy it for that price and then there is no further costs, no maintenance or services, just and the electricity costs- which is 1200 watts, about the same as two lightbulbs!

“It doesn’t need to be oiled or cleaned, it might just need a dust every once in a while if it is in a dusty area. and the electricity costs- which is 1200 watts, about the same as two lightbulbs!

“And it’s completely stainless steel…and stainless steel doesn’t rust.

Syme believes the attitude should be reversed, so companies are focusing on being proactive rather than reactive to safety.

“I think that’s where a lot of companies are missing the point, they don’t have to admit they have a problem, you could easily turn it around as a bonus to let your customers know you fitting these things voluntarily because are being proactive about it and that you are concerned with safety.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing in doctor’s surgeries too, we will have a plaque displayed in waiting room informing people the air is being treated by BAXX technology for your safety, to stop the spread of infections.

“People don’t have to take our word for it; they can research hydroxyls themselves, and find out all the information on the internet.”

 

More children with eating disorders: confused by anti-obesity messages

Everyday we are bombarded with more statistics about the increasing rate of obesity in Australia, ways to curb obesity and information about what the government is going to do about the epidemic.
But there is a section of society, at the complete other end of the scale, that we are forgetting.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, body dysmorphia remain the quiet killer in Australia, while the health impacts of obesity are shouted from the rooftops.

Similarly with the obesity epidemic, the messages about healthy weight and eating habits vary between adults and children.

The message being delivered is that most adults could stand to lose some weight, but this seems to be misconstrued by children.

Doctors have started treating a new kind of eating disorder which has been brought on by the anti-obesity campaigns flooding Australian media and advertising.

Some children have lost up to a third of their body weight in mere months as they misunderstand health messages related to obesity.

Chief executive of the Butterfly Foundation, Australia’s leading eating disorder and body image organisation, Christine Morgan, told Food Magazine the issues are only getting worse.

“I think there is a real element of truth in them [reports].

“We haven’t gathered information at this stage to say it is definitely evidence based but we certainly respect the opinions of our colleagues, paediatricians, child psychologists, who work with children and are seeing an increase in the number of critical eating disorders in children even the age of seven, resulting in hospitalisation.”

Royal Children’s Hospital chair of adolescent health Professor Susan Sawyer said children’s irrational opinion of their body, stemming from the anti-obesity campaign, is on the increase.

"When you’re older and overweight it’s a very simple message that weight loss is good for you," Sawyer said

"The difficulty with young people is that even if they are moderately overweight, they are still growing height-wise and are at risk of over-interpreting public health messages of ‘low fat is good’ to suggest that ‘no fat is better’.

"For all intents and purposes, these adolescents have anorexia nervosa in terms of how unwell they are, the distorted body image and the amount of weight loss, but they are at a normal weight.

"This is very new."

Morgan said the major problem with children receiving anti-obesity information, whether directly or indirectly, is that they are not mature enough to properly comprehend it yet.

“On of the problems is that children are black and white in understanding, so when they are being bombarded by this information that fat is bad, if you’re fat you are not good, this is concerning,” she told Food Magazine.

“They don’t understand the nuances of the messages being delivered and it is causing them stress.

“When we’re seeing little seven-year-old whose body mass index has fallen to an alarming low and their brain has started to shrink because of it, that is something we can’t ignore.”

Is it more damaging when a child’s brain is impacted by these issues, at a time when their brains are undergoing huge developments?

“Everything is more immediate with a young person,” Morgan explained to Food Magazine.

“For an adult to lose x-amount of their body weight, it can go on a while before it becomes a medical issue.

“But it is concerning that from the age of seven into the teens there is a lot of neurodevelopment going on and the brain is being affected.

“There is evidence to say that when health is restored the brain can return to normal, but we don’t know that for sure.”

According to the Butterfly Foundation, mortality rate for anorexia is around 20 per cent and the suicide rate of people with anorexia is 32 times higher than the national average.

Across Australia, 15-19 year old’s top concern is body image, an alarming 90 per cent of 12-17 year olds are on some form of diet, and these figures are only increasing.

“I think we are becoming obsessed with the obesity epidemic and taking it to mean we must diet and it is taking away from the issues of nutrition and health.,” Morgan said.

“We need to change the attitude around these restrictive diets and instead get in touch with physiological hunger and not emotional hunger so kids don’t turn to food as they get older.

“Let’s stop rewarding or punishing with food and see is as nothing but fuel for our bodies.

As the number of obese people in Australia rises, anorexia and bulimia are also increasing at the same time, but it is not the front-page news that obesity is.

“We are certainly seeing more incidents, and there is also an increase in them being reported, so that is an indication it is being de-stigmatised as well,” Morgan told Food Magazine.

“At Butterfly we are finding more and more people adopting bulimic practises, and that is a huge concern.”

The Butterfly Foundation offers telephone and email support for those with eating disorders and their family and friends.

This confidential and supportive counselling service is available on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or at support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au for more information about eating disorders visit www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

Image: Gulf News

 

Supermarket dominance “extreme capitalism”: Dick Smith

Dick Smith has slammed the supermarket dominance in Australia, labeling it “extreme capitalism,” and likening it to terrorism.

The Australian entrepreneur was speaking to workers at O-I Glass in Penrith yesterday, where jars for his new range of fruit spreads are being manufactured.

“You are an endangered species,” he told workers at the factory.

“And the reason you’re endangered is you’re a manufacturer here in Australia, which is fantastic.

“We could have actually bought a bottle cheaper from China, but I said ‘no way, we’re as Australian as you can get.’

The ‘As Australian as you can get’ claim is one the Dick Smith Food company has defended, as many criticise it for not being completely local.

“We have a claim that says “Australian as you can get,” because there’s nothing that’s 100 per cent Australian, nor should it be,” he explained.

“In a globalised world, if we want to be able to export, which we do – especially our minerals – we need to import. But it works very much against Australia’s favour.

“People criticize me, they say ‘oh Dick, you’re going on about buying Australian but you used to import from Japan,’ and my answer to that is ‘I sold the best.’

“The Japanese made the best electronics, and that’s why I sold the best electronics and that’s why I sold them.

“The Swiss make the best watches and Australia grows the best food, without any doubt.

“What we should be doing is selling food to the whole world, but we’re not.

“We are now a net importer of fruit and vegetables: absolutely outrageous.

“Of course, we have problems competing with countries.

“I saw in Woolworths there were some peaches and they were from a small country in Africa, and I looked up at the internet and found that 50 per cent of people in that country earn less than five dollars a day, so how could you possibly compete with that?”

"Ruthless retailing"

Smith has slammed the cut throat tactics used by the major supermarkets to win the supermarket wars when questioned by Food Magazine over the latest decision by Coles to halve the price of produce, following the milk price wars last year.

“All [Coles] do is they out the prices of everything else up,” he said.

“You don’t have to be very bright to work out that they’re selling things cheaper but they pay their chief executive five times what they ever paid before and they’re making record profits.

“It’s because everything else is put up slightly.

“So unfortunately, when you see this kind of great con – you think ‘I’ll go to Coles and buy my fruit and veg 50 per cent cheaper – all I can tell you is that I am a businessman and I’m sure you have enough common sense to work out that if someone reduced the price by 50 per cent but then makes more money, what’s going on?

“Everything else is just put up so slightly you wouldn’t notice it.

“It’s ruthless retailing.

“It’s extreme capitalism.

“Capitalism is a great system and we’ve done very well out of it in the western world.

“But anything gets to extreme.

“We’ve seen extremism in religion where people run planes into buildings.

“I see the same happening with capitalism, where you get Rupert Murdoch earning $30 million a year and there are 30 million on food stamps in the Unites States.”

Australians are getting conned

Smith agreed with Simon Coburn from peak growers representative body, AusVeg, that the choosing price over products grown and manufactured locally will lead to a complete dependence on imports.

The new range of fruit spreads he was launching yesterday, which will be packaged in glass made at the Penrith factory, is to compete with the imported fruit jams and spreads dominating Australian shelves.

In particular, Smith has taken aim at the St Dalfour brand which is imported from France, with French writing on the packaging.

“It’s like if you go to a restaurant and the writing’s in French, it’s got to be better!”

“It’s amazing how we get conned.”

He explained that the product is called a fruit spread because it does differ from most commercial jams and marmalades on the market.

“It’s called a ‘fruit spread’ because it’s made without any cane sugar,” Smith said.

“We’ve got a wonderful company called Spring Gulley, Aussie family company in Adelaide who are making the range and the beautiful honey, where I’ve actually picked the three types of honey, Aussie honey.

“And of course, the jar is manufactured here, right here, and I am absolutely so proud that we’re able to get a manufacturer here in Australia that’s employing Australians.

There is a cost to being ‘as Australian as you can get’ though, but Smith baulks at the suggestion Aussie families aren’t willing to spend a little more on providing good food for their kids and jobs for Australians.

“We’ve got a catch, and that is that it’s going to be about 20 cents dearer than the St Dalfour,” he said.

“Now what I’m told by the supermarket buyers is that people only buy the cheapest food.

“I think that’s ridiculous.

“Australians don’t buy the cheapest cars, we buy the middle of the range cars, because Australian families want something that’s quality, that’s safe! We don’t even buy the cheapest pet food!

“Over a billion dollars of pet food is the ‘Dine’ brand, which is 60 per cent dearer.

“So we actually buy the best for out pets, but when it comes to our children, by the look of it, we just buy the cheapest!”

“What I’m saying to Australians is not only is this a better product because it’s taken from beautiful Australian fruit, but you can feel good because you’re supporting Australia.

“You’re supporting farmers, you’re supporting workers.

Smith slammed the decision by Coles not to stock the products, as it continues its campaign to stock the cheapest possible items, despite where they come from.

“We’ve got to get Australians to be willing top pay an extra 20 cents to support the home team.

“Woolworths is taking the five new products, but Coles won’t, mainly on price!

“Coles are letting Australians down, in this particular case.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“[It’s a] beautiful Australian product, but the minute they found out it was 20 cents dearer, their belief was ‘no.’

“If you go into Coles, and Coles have previously been good supporters of Australia, you’ll find that in their fruit spread range, from what I could see, everything is imported!

“Whereas Coles used to say when you were selling something to them ‘you’ve got to make some money, just as we’ve got to make some money,’ now they actually say ‘we don’t actually care if you go broke, we’re just going to sell the cheapest.’

“If you’re only going to sell the cheapest, we’ll have no local products and they say, ‘well so be it, it’s up to the marketplace,’ and I agree, it is up to us, who need to not only say they support Australians, but actually do it.”

Woolworths, Coles will become like ALDI

Smith agrees with predictions of huge private-label growth in Australian supermarkets, as the traditional business model is removed and replaced with a much tougher one.

“The freedom we’ve usually had in Australia is that you could go to a supermarket and decide if you wanted to buy Australian, imported, high-quality, low-quality, it was up to you.

“ALDI has taken that decision away.

“The problem is that because so many of us go to ALDI because the prices are cheaper, Coles and Woolworths will copy.

“The reason ALDI’s so successful is you can’t compare a price.

“What Coles and Woolworths will do to compete with that, which they must do because they have Aussie mums and dads as shareholders and the board will get the sack if they don’t keep making profits each year, so they will go to more and more products where you can’t compare a price.

“I call that ‘extreme capitalism,’ and it’s a disadvantage to consumers.

“It will lead to slightly lower prices, but I can imagine in years to come you will go into Coles and Woolworths and it will be like ALDI, virtually nothing will be a famous brand.

“Hopefully they will still sell Dick Smith’s but who knows.

“They will make a fortune because you, the consumer, can’t compare the price.

“Maybe then we’ll start to get a build up of the small corner shops.

“The own brand will get bigger and bigger and it will be worse for typical Australians.”

What’s your thoughts on the private label products in supermarkets? Do you actively support Australian food companies?
 

Twinkies manufacturer files for bankruptcy: sign of the US getting healthier?

 In what could be an indication Westerners are taking the health messages about obesity seriously, the US baking company which makes Twinkies and Ding Dongs has filed for bankruptcy.

Hostess Brands underwent a massive restructuring process three years ago and has been struggling with debts to unions, employees and creditors.

The company, which is based in Irving, Texas, owes $US944 million to the Bakery & Confectionary Union & Industry Pension Fund alone.

Its assets are about $US1 billion and it has up to 100 000 creditors.

Founded in 1930, Hostess operates about 36 bakeries and employs up to19,000 people, most of them union members.

Hostess’ chief unsecured creditors are labor unions and pension funds that represent the companies employees, according to the Chapter 11 petition filed to the Unites States Bankruptcy Court in New York.

A Chapter 11 is a chapter of the US Bankruptcy Code which businesses or its creditors can file for when they are unable to service debt or pay creditors.

The business or its creditors can file with a federal bankruptcy court for protection under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 and under.

Usually a Chapter 11 petition means the debtor remains in control of its business operations as a debtor in possession, and is subject to the oversight and jurisdiction of the court, while in Chapter 7, the business ceases operations, a trustee sells all of its assets, and then distributes the proceeds to its creditors.

The company’s president and chief executive, Brian J. Driscoll, said in a statement Hostess were optimistic about the future.

“We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement that will allow us to amend our labor contracts so that we can emerge from Chapter 11 as a highly competitive company that provides secure jobs for our employees,” the

“With generations of loyal consumers, numerous iconic products and a talented and experienced workforce, Hostess Brands has tremendous inherent strengths to build upon.”

Its restructuring in 2209 was the result of the fluctuating price of flour and other necessary ingredients, but its bankruptcy could be the result of a shift in eating behaviour in the world’s fattest nation.

Over thirty percent of adults and 17 per cent of children in the US are medically obese and many more overweight, which has led to a new public perception of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

There is a long-standing belief in the country that Twinkies can last forever, due to the amount of processing involved in its manufacture and storage, so drawing parallels between the attitude to junk food and Hostess’ financial troubles is not difficult.

Earlier this week, Food Magazine reported on the obesity crisis being the ‘new smoking’ in Western countries, as the negative health impacts including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers caused by excessive weight become common knowledge.

This year, it will become compulsory for fast food restaurants to display kilojoule informtation on menus and after much debate over the pros and cons of the traffic light nutritional labelling, the federal government announced in December it will be implementing a simple, mandatory, front-of pack labelling system in the next two years.

Industry has recommended junk food advertisements aimed at children be disallowed in Australia, but medical professionals are calling for a law to be passed banning the practice.

As consumers become more informed about the benefits of healthy lifestyles, and how to identify and avoid harmful additives, it would not be surprising if more junk food companies follow in the footsteps of Hostess in coming years.

Australians don’t like beer anymore?

The popularity of imported beers and cider is making it increasingly difficult for Australian brewers to stay afloat.

The high Australian dollar has greatly impacted the alcoholic beverage market, as it has spurred increased travel abroad and increased online shopping in the sector.

The Australian Financial Review reports that domestic premium sales headed south by more than 20 per cent in November, while sales of international premium beers was up almost 15 per cent.

In the year prior to November, international beers including Peroni and Corona were up 12.7 per cent and domestic premiums like Crown Lager and James Boag slumped 11.2 per cent.

The figures represent packaged liquor sales, primarily from bottle shops.

Australians are also turning to more alternatives to beer, with sales down 16 per cent and while cider sales surged, up a massive 53 per cent.

The news comes as Australia’s biggest local brewer gears up to mark the company’s 150th anniversary in May.

Coopers became the largest remaining Australian beer company when London-based SABMiller took over Foster’s in September after months of disputes between the two about the value of the company.

Just before the takeover, Foster’s chairman David Crawford called on shareholders to reject SABMiller’s bid of $4.90 per share because it “significantly undervalued” the company.
 

Coopers is also feeling the pinch on local beer sales, with its domestic premium beer sales down 0.6 per cent in November.

However the year as a whole was successful for the brewer, with sales up 1.3 per cent in 2011 and Coopers currently represents 4 per cent of all beer sales in Australia.

In August it announced plans to install machinery to double its brewing capacity and in 2005, survived a hostile takeover bid from Lion Nathan, saying it will always be an Australian-owned company.

 

Obesity the new smoking?

Australia’s obesity crisis has been labelled “the new smoking” by health experts and industry bodies are warning people to know the health risks associated with being overweight.

Current obesity rates in Australia show one in four is overweight and one in three obese, placing us only just behind Greece, New Zealand and the United States.

It has already been documented that the risks associated with obesity, including heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and stroke, may lead to the current generation of Australian children being the first to not outlive their parents.

Previous generations grew up observing their parents and other adults smoking in the home, car and public places, and most also took up the habit in one of the most obvious examples of “monkey see, monkey do.”

Of course, the dire health impacts smoking had weren’t well known, or accepted, until the 1950’s, and it soon became illegal to directly advertise smoking or to portray it positively through the use of sport stars or celebrities.

Nowadays, we all know the impact smoking has on our health, and that of children.

In 2010, a law was passed in Australia that banned smoking in cars with children under the age of 17 inside.

Is this where junk food is headed? Ten years from now you won’t be able to eat a burger in the presence of children and anti-junk food ads will saturate the media?

The pattern is already there: we’re aware of how damaging fatty, salty, sugar loaded and processed food is for us, but it is still so readily, and cheaply, available that people can’t and won’t say no.

The suggestion of a “fat tax” on fatty foods similar to that implemented in Denmark was suggested, mirroring the increased tax placed on smoking to make it less appealing to take up the habit and providing more reason to quit.

You cannot advertise smoking, you cannot advertise junk food to children, there are graphic pictures and health warnings on cigarette packets, and soon a simple health guide will be developed by the Australian government to appear on the fronts of all packaged foods sold in Australia.

Subsidised counselling for the obese

Now the Australian Psychological Society wants counselling subsidised for overweight people seeking treatment.

It believes Medicare should fund the cost of registered psychologists to provide assistance to those with chronic diseases caused by obesity.

Each session would cost taxpayers more than $80.

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to fund such a campaign?

While it is individuals we’re talking about here, the fact is that it is a problem all of society will deal with at some stage.

Do we fund a program to educate people now, or do we pay for medical costs when their arteries give up and they need round-the-clock support?

The ageing epidemic is already going to completely overrun our medical system in the next decade, so is it a better idea to be proactive?

Corrina Langelaan from The Parents’ Jury, an organisation set up to reduce childhood obesity and get better health education in Australia, told Food Magazine that pointing the finger only on parents is not the right way to fix the problem.

“Obesity is one of the biggest issues facing our society today,” she said.

“It’s easy to shift the blame solely to parents, but they are being constantly undermined by the actions of the food industry and lack of Government action to tackle the issue.

“Families need a positive and healthy environment to raise positive and healthy children.”

She believes introducing counseling could be a positive move towards an entire behavioral change, but but it would need to be supported by other measures.

“In regards to changing behaviour, counselling is an interesting idea.

“We believe there is a need to create a positive and healthy environment to help parents.”

“However, these environmental factors need to be combined with improved regulation.

“This includes banning junk food advertising during the times of day children are likely to be watching and traffic light labelling on packaged foods.

“Parents’ need Government and the food industry to work together to create an environment that helps families maintain a healthier lifestyle.”

Industry, government and society need to work together

Julie Anne Mitchell, NSW Health Director at the Heart Foundation agrees that the issue is a complex one and a solution will only be found through a combined effort.

“I think it’s complex, there’s no single reason for why we’re seeing the increase in obesity, it is largely lifestyle induced, we have too many machines to do for us what we used to do ourselves,” she told Food Magazine.

“Our environment is changing, we’re sitting in our workplace more and in our leisure time, it’s changed rapidly in the last 20 years and it’s changed how we behave everyday.”

While the negative health impacts unhealthy foods can have are as dire as those associated with smoking, Mitchell told Food Magazine it is much more complicated.

“While you can draw parallels between smoking and obesity, it is different,” she said.

“We didn’t realise how damaging smoking was, and it has no benefit to lifestyle.

“We have to eat food, so it’s not a black and white situation like it was with smoking.

“It took 25 to 30 years of implementing a whole range of anti smoking campaigns and restrictions to curb that.

“With food its much more complex, certainly our lifestyle has changed, there’s a greater reliance on convenience.

“We want to improve the food supply in the community, making sure everyone has access to proper, healthy food.

Mitchell says most people “know what they should be eating,” but often lifestyles get in the way.

She told Food Magazine it’s not a case of having to train for hours at the gym and not eat tasty food, but finding the ways people can improve their health every day.

Substituting full cream dairy products with low fat, margarine for butter and taking the stairs instead of the lifts are simple solutions people can make to improve their health.

“It’s about those moments everyday where you can make a choice between healthy and not-so-healthy,” she says.

Traffic light labelling

The Parents Jury has been one of the biggest advocates for the traffic light labelling system, and Langelaan told Food Magazine most people support the idea.

“In August 2011, a poll undertaken by The Parents’ Jury showed overwhelming support for the introduction of traffic light labelling on food with almost 90 per cent of respondents supporting its mandatory introduction,” she said.

“Over 91 per cent of respondents wanted to see traffic light labelling on all packaged food products and a massive 90 per cent want to see it extended to cover all items on the menu boards in fast food outlets.

She dismissed claims from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the Daily Intake Guides (DIGs) are a better solution.

“Many parents simply don’t understand the current daily intake guide and have no idea the suggested servings on many packaged foods don’t reflect reality,” she said.

“Traffic light labelling is a good step to helping consumers purchase healthy foods. It is a simple and recognisable system necessary to help families make healthier choices.”

While Mitchell agrees some kind of simple, easy to understand health guide is needed for packaged foods in Australia, she stresses that it must provide accurate and relevant information every time.

“The Heart Foundation supports some type of interpretive system that is going to help mother or father in a supermarket chose a healthier option in a range.

“People need help, they do need a way to identify a healthier food product amongst other similar ones.

“Were not specifying the type of labelling, but something that allows them to compare like with like in a certain food group.

“It’s not about having the one system for everything, but for each food category or it could become a bit too simplistic.”

Slow and steady won’t win this race

Mitchell praised the changes being made by some food manufacturers and governments, but says more needs to be done.

“It’s a responsibility that government, the food industry and the general public share equally,we all have a part to play.

“Certainly the role for the food industry is to look at the ways they produce food and look at ways to reduce saturated fat and salt in the processing of food.

“The role governments play is giving incentives for the public, as well as industry, to make healthier choices and the educate about healthy food options.

“It is a big problem, it will not go away quickly, we need to work together on this, we have seen great ways the food industry and government is making changes, on menus as of February 2012 restaurants will display kilojoule content of food items so that’s helping the consumer in choice they make.”

Another move by governments to reduce the nation’s ever-expanding waistline is the Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food campaign will begin rolling out across Queensland next week, aiming to re-educate people about how to prepare proper, nutritious foods.

Queensland Health minister Geoff Wilson said the program is a timely arrival.

"There is an urgent need to educate Queenslanders about preparing nutritious meals and help them to lead long, healthy lives," he said.

In August last year the Victorian government spend $40 million on a campaign inspired by the TV chef’s program.

It will provide sessions on healthy eating, exercise and food preparation for the many who find themselves overwhelmed and confused by conflicting health messages.

And for those who are finding themselves feeling pretty unhealthy following the holiday period, Mitchell warns crash diets are not the key.

“They are hugely popular this time of year,” she said.

“People ate too much, drank too much over the holidays and they want a quick fix.

“Fad diets are often quick fixes but not a long term solution.

“They often lose weight in the short term, but end up damaging their bodies in the long run and putting the weight back on.

“It’s more about finding the long term solution and sticking to it.”

Do Australians need more transparency on modern farming practices?

Australian farm groups could take on a US initiative to build public trust in farming to address consumer concerns about modern agriculture and food production.

The Centre for Food Integrity (CFI), a not-for-profit group in Missouri in the Midwest of the United States, has found great success in its work to increase consumer understanding of farming, according to Farm Online.

The initiative, which also addresses developments for the environment, productivity and food safety, is now being closely examined by Australian experts.

Next month CFI chief executive officer Charlie Arnot will be back in Australia to further address initial conversations with farmers in two separate visits in 2011.

Comments welcomed in 2011

Arnot made 13 presentations to around 600 people, saying farmers and food companies need to focus on strategies to promote public trust and establish their own strict self-regulated standards.

The messages were welcomed by industry and farmer groups, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) livestock officer at Moree, Greg Mills.

"The CFI model has certainly had a lot of success,” he said.

“It’s now a case of trying to determine if and how it might work in Australia.”

Established by soybean producers in 2007 and funded by farmers, farm and food organisations and private companies, the CFI is committed to undertaking research to create messages to increase consumer trust.

According to Natioanal Farmers Federation (NFF) executive officer, Matt Linegar, "agriculture’s social licences to operate" are under increasing pressure, particularly as the divide between urban and rural Australians increases.

This divide leads to a huge lack of understanding about farming and agriculture for city dwellers, who have almost permanent availability of any fruit or vegetable, despite weather conditions, which has lead many to question the storage and transport of the produce.

Produce pricing

In September, independent Senators Bob Katter and Nick Xenephon introduced a bill calling for the price paid to farmers at the gate to be displayed alongside the retail price in supermarkets, in a bid to provide transparency and ensure farmers are not being ripped off by the major supermarkets.

But even those within the industry said the plan would not work.

The leading trade association for the fresh produce and floral industries, PMA Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ), rejected the calls from Katter and Xenophon, with chief executive Michael Worthington saying it would be almost impossible to implement.

“It takes no account of the fact that the major supermarkets buy some of their produce from wholesalers, so who would then be responsible for determining what the wholesaler has paid the grower?” he said.

“More often than not, produce is consolidated, graded, packed or processed by an intermediary who is sourcing from multiple growers – again, it would be nigh-on-impossible for there to be a clear chain of transactions to determine what was paid to the grower.

Incidents including the milk price wars that inspired an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a Senate Inquiry have highlighted the control the major supermarkets have over suppliers, with many predicting dairy farmers will leave the industry in droves because they can’t make a profit, and the nation’s biggest dairy supplier expecting to record a loss as a result of the $1 per litre milk.

Now the industry wants more information on Australia’s agricultural industry provided to everyone.

"We’re examining the CFI’s activities as part of our greater aim of keeping agriculture’s true value recognised by governments and the public," Linegar said.

"I’m sure the issue of building consumer trust will emerge as an important theme in the NFF’s blueprint for agriculture in the coming year."

Animal exports

Organisations including Horticulture Australia Limited, the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, the Animal Welfare Science Centre and the Australian Egg Corporation discussed the CFI with Arnot’s in November, and sought his opinion on consumer behaviour in Australia.

One of the worst incidents to impact consumer opinion of the industry in the last decade was the Indonesian live export revelations shown on the ABC’s Four Corners program, which led to public outrage and Prime Minister Julia Gillard suspending live exports to the region in mid-2011.

It was also revealed authorities warned Indonesian abattoirs of the impending presence of cameras in its facilities, which industry body Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has defended, saying it was part of due process to pass on such information.

Live export has resumed to Indonesia and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) confirmed in November that since the ban was lifted, 128 312 cattle have been exported to Indonesia.

Honesty the best policy

"Farmers often feel like the victims – which they may or may not be – but the fact is consumers aren’t willing to put your farm’s profit concerns ahead of their current principles," Arnot said on the issue during a presentation in Sydney.

"We have to help consumers understand their principles are actually the same as today’s farmers.

"Animal welfare, environmental stewardship, food safety and a passion for doing the food production job well are all basic principals of farming."

The worst thing farmers could do, Arnot believes, is to stay quiet on modern farming activities, and therefore increase the gap in understanding for urbanised Australians.

Mills agrees with the calls from Arnot, saying farmers need to give consumers all the information they can, to prove practises are ethical and safe.

"The aim is to openly establish the credibility or a voluntary code of practice that allows you to operate a farming enterprise or industry without expensive government legislation and the constant tracking and monitoring which law makers might demand," he said.

"If the consumer trust you, sees what they like and believes you’re doing a good job, the industry builds great credibility with the public, but if you flout that trust the public will demand governments step in to crack down and regulate everybody."

Are you a country critter or a city dweller? Do you understand farming practises and would you like to know more?

 

Are supermarkets deliberately trying to mislead shoppers by copying packaging?

Australian supermarket giants have been accused of deliberately trying to confuse shoppers with “copycat” packaging.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) says supermarkets are intentionally imitating well-known product packaging to make shoppers think they are buying the reputable and trustworthy brands.

In September, Mumbrella released a video showing the striking similarities between well-known food and drink products and Coles’ private-label counterparts.

The major supermarkets are under intense fire lately for dominating shelves with their own private-label products and squeezing Australian manufacturers out of the market.

One of Australia’s biggest manufacturers, HJ Heinz has slammed the dominance twice this year, saying the major supermarkets have created an “inhospitable” environment for Australian manufacturers and suppliers.

“This copycat strategy could be seen to be confusing consumers into believing they are buying top-selling branded products,” AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Although the products may look similar, the taste and quality can be quite different between branded and private label products.”

The AFGC is calling for a Supermarket Ombudsman, to stay on top of product packaging becoming too similar to competitors.

Currently, the law allows companies to use similar colours and images as competitors, and the only cause for concern is “passing off” of trademarks.

“Within the Code, there could be a requirement for supermarkets not to directly copy packaging so there’s no confusion for customers,” Carnell said.

“Australians and our political leaders overwhelmingly want a local, value-adding food and grocery manufacturing sector – it’s Australia’s largest manufacturing industry that we can’t live without,” Carnell said.

“Consumers want to be confident about buying affordable, nutritious food and grocery brands that they know and trust.”

Private label products will account for 40 per cent of the market in the near future, and according to a report commissioned by the AFGC, 130 000 workers will be out of employment in the food and grocery sector is nothing is improved.

“The growth in private label is making it more and more difficult for Australian manufacturers to get their food and grocery products on supermarkets shelves.

“In the end, this means consumers will have less choice,” Carnell.

Food Magazine contacted both Coles and Woolworths this morning asking for comments on whether they are deliberately misleading consumers as well as squeezing other manufacturers out of the industry.

“We do not have a strategy to mimic the packaging of branded products,” a Woolworths spokesperson responded in a written statement.

“Our strategy is to differentiate Own Brand from the branded products.

“The main evidence for this is that many of our customers look specifically for Own Brand because it represents quality and value so we want them to be able to identify our products.

The supermarket giant did say it uses techniques to fit product packaging in with similar accepted products in each category.

“There are certain ‘cues’ that consumers respond to around the look and feel of products in particular categoriesm” the spokesperson said.

“These cues are used by suppliers and retailers around the world.

“Woolworths Own Brand products represent international best practice in packaging and we’re always looking at ways to lead in this area.

“In fact, there are plenty of examples where we have led the field in innovation such as putting handles on bulk dry dog food which has since been picked up by the branded products.

Coles had a similar response, responding with a statement to Food Magazine that it does not copy other manufacturers’ products, but rather, has its own design scheme.

“Coles has created its own distinct look and feel for its private label products, we do not follow or mimic anyone’s design," the spokesperson said.

"Our customers are in no doubt that they’re choosing a Coles brand product in our stores.

"Before we launch a new Coles product, we do extensive research to understand what customers want in the packaging and design.

"Sometimes this research shows that customers expect a product to have certain visual cues, such as coffee beans on the label of instant coffee, and we incorporate them into our product – as do branded manufacturers."

Coles also disputed claims from manufacturers and analysts that the increase in private-label products are negatively impacting Australian food manufacturers.

“Coles brand products are sometimes produced by the major branded manufacturer in a category, but typically they are produced by smaller manufacturers.

"In many cases, these smaller manufacturers have been able to dramatically grow their business, take on new employees and develop new product lines on the back of securing a Coles brand manufacturing contract.”

 

Laxative chemical permitted for use in Australian wines

Food Standards Australia has ruled that a chemical used in laxatives and toothpaste is safe for use in wine.

Winemakers will begin using sodium carboxymenthyl cellulose, more commonly known as cellulose gum in wines manufactured in Australia, according to The Australian

The chemical, also known as food additive E466, prevents crystals and cloudiness in white and sparkling wines.

The Winemakers Federation of Australia has been calling for permission to use the chemical, because they say it will be cheaper than the current reliance on filtration and refrigeration.

Now Food Standards has concluded that the chemical is safe for use in wines.

"As a result of changes in temperature during transport and storage, tartrate can crystallise in wine, resulting in cloudy wine with sediment, which is undesirable to many consumers," the ruling states.

"Sodium CMC is added to the wine towards the end of the production process . . . (so that) chilling or filtration steps are not required."

Food Standards concluded that chemical, which is extracted from wood fibres treated with an alkali and acid, does not raise any public health or safety concerns.

"Use of the additive to stabilise wine and sparkling wine is technologically justified and would be expected to provide benefits to wine producers and consumers as an alternative to current treatments,” it said.

Cellulose gum is already used in some European wines, the report said.

Up until now these wines could not be imported because Australia had a ban on the additive.

The major problem with using the chemical is around Australian labelling laws, which will not require manufacturers to disclose on the bottle whether the contents contain cellulose gum.

The move may encourage more Australian wine drinkers to move more towards organic wines, and industry that is increasing at a steady rate.

If the consumers concern is with the change to taste, rather than purity or ethical reasons, Winemakers Federation spokesperson Tony Battaglene does not believe there will be any difference.

"It’s environmentally very friendly because it doesn’t use a lot of energy," he said.

"I don’t think consumers would be concerned one way or another."
Hunter Valley boutique winery Pierre’s Wines calculates the additive will cut production costs by 20c a bottle.

Owner Peter Went said drinkers often mistook crystals in wine for glass fragments.

"This will improve the quality and the economics of wine production," he said.

"In Australia traditionally we cool the wine down to a temperature of minus four degrees for a few days before bottling it, but it costs a lot of electricity to cool down 100,000 bottles of wine."

Coke explains why ‘Share a Coke’ has been so successful

Coca-Cola says the reason its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign has been so successful is because it is communicating effectively with its consumers.

Following the unexpected success of the campaign, the beverage giant extended the campaign through Christmas, with some holiday-inspired names printed on cans.

Lauren Thompson, Communications Manager Coca-cola South Pacific told Food Magazine the company is reveling in the success of the campaign.

“This is a fun and exciting campaign for Coca-Cola – experiential, fluid and dynamic in many ways,” she said.

“We’ve had an unprecedented consumer response… a response so inspiring it simply can’t be ignored.

“As such, we’ve launch the second phase — which wasn’t in the original plans, or to take the campaign past December.”

The list of Christmas-themed names that will appear on cans are Santa, Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Vixen, Donner and Blitzen.

But the bottles will not be neglected either, and Thompson said the decision to use Facebook as the platform for consumers to nominate and vote on the 50 additional names to be printed on bottles seemed the most obvious, considering the amount of bottles with people’s names on them flooding social networking sites.

“Consumers have been talking to us, and we have been listening,” she told Food Magazine.

“There has been a wave of positive engagement to the 150 names on packs [and] consumer interactions with all of our virtual and live mechanics.”

“62,208 virtual Cokes created of which 56,211 were shared. This generated 1,719,227 newsfeed impressions!”

Thompson said the response has not only been limited to online arenas, as people, particularly those with unusual names or spellings have been catered for with the Westfield kiosks springing up everywhere.

“126,000 consumers have had custom named cans created for them at our Westfield kiosks — this is 5 times our original estimations,” she explained.

The company has also experiences a 92 per cent increase in the number of posts on its Facebook page, with almost 29 000 posts about the campaign alone since the launch.

“The Share a Coke” campaign has been led by deepening relationships with consumers,” Thompson said.

“We’re pleased with the campaign’s results thus far, but the highest impact for us has been building brand love, learning from our social media executions and furthering our connections with consumers.”

“We’d love to put every name in Australia on our packs for this campaign, but by opening up phase 2 to consumer nomination and vote we think we’re found an exciting and engaging way for people to have a say in the names that are selected.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what Australia has to say.”

Coca-cola was not able to disclose who makes the labels for the bottles at this stage, but Food Magazine will bring you this information when it become available.

New directions in the organic supply chain

As the organic food sector has grown on a global scale over recent years, there has also been an evolution in how these food products are stored, shipped and monitored through the supply chain.

With the focus on product quality control, advanced supply chain technologies are being deployed throughout the organic food sector.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is already being deployed in the organic beef sector to help ensure both product quality and adherence to government food safety regulations (in Australia, the National Livestock Identification System legislation mandated, in 2005, RFID tagging for cattle stock).

As a result of this push, organic beef producers in the country are tagging individual animals with RFID, ensuring rapid and accurate traceability as they move through the livestock chain.

RFID technology is also helping organic beef producers to meet one of the key drivers to growth in the organic sector, as identified by Farmers of Australia’s General Manager, Holly Vyner – ‘buying food produced with animal welfare’ in mind.

The Expert Committee on Organic Agriculture (ECOA) and Animal Welfare Task Force (AWTF) identifies in its publication ‘Animal Welfare on Organic Farms’ that in relation to cattle branding, ‘cattle should not be branded (given it can be a painful procedure for the cattle) alternative methods of identification such as RFID tags should be used.’

International regulations

Today, the majority of organic food is sold through mainstream supermarkets and therefore local organic food exporters need to adhere to stricter international food safety regulations if they want to access growing global markets.

In 2005 the EU mandated that all food and feed businesses must have effective systems and records to ensure that all foodstuffs, animal feed and ingredients can be traced throughout the food chain (‘from farm to fork’). Known as the ‘one-step-backward, one-step-forward’ approach, each business must be able to tell who all their suppliers are and who they supply to themselves (with the exception of consumers). They should also have withdrawal/recall procedures for unsafe food, and must notify authorities immediately in the event of a food and/or feed safety scare.

Organic food producers, manufacturers and their retailers alike can take advantage of advanced track and trace technology to help meet international food safety standards and quickly identify and locate organic foodstuffs that may be affected by a recall.

Using barcode or RFID technology to automatically capture serial numbers or lot codes on cartons processed at distribution centres and received in retail environments, provides a new level of traceability without requiring time-consuming manual data collection.

By accurately and efficiently capturing organic food product codes, retailers could target their recalls so unaffected organic products would not have to be pulled from stores and that customers perceptions aren’t unduly influenced by one particular suppliers organic produce – compared with all organic foodstuffs in the store having to be taken off the shelves.

Advanced barcode and RFID technologies can also aide organic food producers to back up their claims about how food products are raised or grown and where they have come from.

This is particularly relevant to the organic food sector given the rise in popularity around what is known as the ‘100 mile diet’.

Locating local

The ‘100 mile diet’, made famous by two Canadians who only ate food from within 100 miles of the where they were eating, is widely touted as minimising the impact on the environment, contributing to the local community and in many cases, ensuring greater freshness due to lesser transit times.

Obviously, of integral importance for people who are looking to follow the rigorous requirements of the diet (who are known as locavores) is the assurance that the food is in fact, from within 100 miles. In the case of this specific niche market, both RFID and bar code technology can help organic food retailers provide accurate and credible information as to where the food has come from and where it has been prior to coming in contact with the consumer.

Intermec
www.intermec.com.au
1800 333 120 or +61 2 9330 4400.