Australian women becoming more unhealthy

Australian women are not eating enough healthy food and exercising less, according to a study into women’s health.

Researchers involved in the Australian Longitude Study on Women’s Health have been keeping track of about 40 000 women from different age groups since 1996.

According to recent updates from the longest and largest study into women’s health, more women are considered overweight or obese, are not eating enough vegetables and are not exercising the recommended amount, Herald Sun reported.

Women in the 34 to 39 year old age group had gained the most weight since the last update in 2009, with 45 per cent considered overweight or obese – a five per cent increase.

And only two per cent of women in the 61 to 66 year old age group and eight per cent in the 86 to 91 age group were eating enough vegetables.

Julie Byles, the study’s co-director and University of Newcastle professor, pointed to changes in women’s lives such as career, having babies or retiring, as the reason why health outcomes varied over time.

"The women in their 60s are actually starting to become more active and a lot of this is due them giving up work and having a lot more time on their hands,'' Prof Byles said.

"It's the opposite with younger women who have more work responsibilities or are having babies and have less time to be physically active,'' she said.

Julie Anne Mitchell, NSW Health Director at the Heart Foundation told Food Magazine the issues surrounding obesity could be associated with inactive lifestyles and was largely due to the way our behaviours had changed.

“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 said.

“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.”

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

From $4.5bn profit to $2.7bn deficit: Aus food sector in crisis

New figures released this week have proven what most in the food processing sector already know: the industry is close to collapse.

Financial specialists KPMG and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) joined together to compile the report that offers a snapshot of Australia’s food sector.

And the figures are frightening.

Seven years ago, the sector was one of the most successful and profitable in Australia, producing an excess of $4.5 billion.

In the 2010-11 period it recorded a deficit of $2.7 billion.

In groceries alone, the deficit was almost $10 billion as Australia exported $4.6 billion of product and imported $14 billion in the 2010-11 year.

Australia a net importer of food

A recent Food Alliance report showed that Australia has become a net importer of processed fruit and vegetables, as the price is lower, but unfortunately, the quality often is also.

The Food Alliance report labelled local producers "vulnerable,” as they struggle to compete with the cheap imports, but if the Australian dollar fell to US55 cents, those cheap imports would suddenly become far more expensive.

A $1 tin of Italian tomatoes could become a $5 tin of tomatoes, Elders chief executive Malcolm Jackman warned.

Australia’s peak produce representative body AusVeg has been warning of this for some time, as has the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

In February, AusVeg’s Simon Coburn told Food Magazine that a decision by Coles to slash the price of produce “had the makings” of becoming the next milk price wars.

National Manufacturing Workers Union’s Jennifer Dowell also warned that produce and dairy farmers cannot afford to wait around, losing money, as supermarkets import products, in the hope that they reverse the behaviour and start using local products instead.

“My concern is that if we lose food sovereignty, if we lose control of our food chain we become hostage to other countries supplying our food,” she said.

“How ridiculous is that? In Australia we have the ability to produce the best food in the world, so how are we getting into this situation?

“Once these companies go, they won’t some back, they’re not going to come back and rebuild factories and businesses because Australia is upset after it basically kicked them out in the first place.

“If we rely on imports, and a country decides it is going to give its own market priority, as it very well should, what do we do? Where do we go?

“At a time when the world is saying Africa needs to have food sovereignty, we’re actually participating in a process where we won’t be able to feed our own people.

“We will be reliant on importing food.

“When we finally hit the wall and find that everything is coming from overseas and we no longer have any Australian food industries, it will be too late.”

How much is actually imported?

The supermarkets like to trumpet their success stories and gloss over their failings when it comes to local produce and their treatment of suppliers.

Coles made a song and dance about its decision to use Australian-grown produce in its own brand frozen vegetables, but omitted the fact that none of its 13 private label tinned fruits and vegetables are imported.

For its part, Woolworths imports 13 of 14 home-brand frozen vegetable lines, and 19 of its 21 private label tinned fruit and vegetable lines, according to the most recent report.

Woolworths released a statement labelling the Choice findings “inaccurate,” while a spokesperson told Food Magazine this morning that “we’re working very closely with the Australian agricultural sector, and we buy lot of produce from Australian farmers.”

“96 per cent of our fresh fruit and veg is from Australia.

“71 per cent of our own label products com from Australia, and that’s increasing.

“We’re now importing home brand rice from NSW and our focus is on increasing Australian grown products.”

The spokesperson did not answer questions, however, on whether the price the supermarket is paying local producers for those products is fair, or whether it shoulders some of the responsibility for the dire state of the food sector.

Coles accused Choice of pursuing a "public policy agenda on labelling” when the report was released, but did not respond to requests for comment by Food Magazine this morning.

"We know farmers are struggling": Coles GM

Last week Coles’ corporate affairs general manager Robert Hadler did acknowledge that local processing was in trouble, telling an agribuiness summit in that the high Australian dollar and increased labour costs were "catching many food manufacturers in a cost-price squeeze".

"We're quite concerned … we want security and sustainability of supply, particularly in processed product, so we've upped our game in working with local food manufacturers," he said.

Jackman has warned that it may not be just the supermarkets that are to blame for the state of the industry, but rather popular television shows, including Farmer Wants a Wife and Masterchef, are causing the damage.

"If we're not careful, MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules will all be made with produce produced overseas," he said.

“Long-term investment in agriculture, skills and people working in the field were needed to "drive the future.

"We can't afford to see production and food processing disappear out of Australia because the high Aussie dollar is making imports so much cheaper," he said.

He said food producers and processors needed to educate the public about why they should be willing to pay more for local produce.

How can we fix this important Australian industry? How would you make it profitable again?

Wal-Mart offers discounts on healthy foods: should Australia follow suit?

America’s largest supermarket has teamed up with a leading insurance company to offer healthy foods at a reduced price.

Supermarket giant Wal-Mart’s collaboration with Humana Insurance will allow eligible shoppers to get a 5 per cent discount on healthy products, such as fresh fruit and vegetables and low fat dairy.

All the eligible foods, including eggs, wholemeal bread and almonds, will be marked with a “Great For You” icon, allowing shoppers to easily spot the discounted, healthy products.

The offer, to start 15 October, will be available to more than 1 million eligible customers currently covered by Humana insurance.

The grocery giant said the move is part of its plans to make healthier foods more accessible for Americans, which have the highest rate of obesity in the world.

Last year it announced plans to lower salts, fats and sugars in thousands its private label products and agreed to cut produce prices by 2015.

Australian is also struggling with its collective weight, with latest figures showing one in three children and one in four adults is overweight or obese.

The Food and Grocery Council (AFGC)’s Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RMCI) has reduced the number of advertisements aimed at children promoting unhealthy foods, and a number of manufacturers have voluntarily begun reducing sugar, fat and sodium content of products, but the problem still remains.

Many experts believe more education is needed to curb the rise in obesity, which poses a threat to Australia’s healthcare system, which will struggle to handle the rates of obesity-related conditions if current rates continue.

The high price of healthy food choices as opposed to low-cost unhealthy alternatives has also been slammed in Australia and there have been suggestions we should adopt a "fat tax" or "sugar tax" to improve current obesity rates.

Do you think Australia needs a similar initiative to the one Wal-Mart is implementing? Could it help improve the nation’s health?

Zimbabwe urged to lift ban on GM food

The Zimbabwean government is being urged to lift its ban on genetically modified (GM) food.

The country allows foods that have been genetically modified in other countries to be imported, but currently do not allow it on their own land.

Imported GM products have been flooding supermarkets since stringent import regulations were relaxed in 2009, when the country suspended the local currency.

The current rules mean that it is cheaper for people to buy the imported goods than those grown locally, which is damaging the Zimbabwean growers and distributers.

Wholesale food importing companies have subsequently sprung up throughout Zimbabwe’s capital, allowing working class families to enjoy foods such as poultry for the first time in a long time, by buying in bulk.

While the consumers are obviously fine with the GM foods coming in from overseas, the local government is still opposed to the practise locally.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made said the country will not allow farmers to produce GM foods because they contain toxic substances that are harmful to consumers' health and are less nutritious than organic foods.

His position has been criticised, however, as Zimbabwean farmers use pesticides and fertiliser during farming, so locally produced food, is not necessarily organic.

But influential lobbyists are putting the pressure on it to rethink the legislation, including the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), which last month announced it was asking the government to allow farmers to plant GMO crops to boost agricultural production after a succession of poor harvests.

"We will continue pushing for the embracing of GMO production, using GMO technology," the CZI said in a statement, adding that exporting such food would be a starting point.

Science and technology minister Heneri Dzinotyiwei has confirmer the Zimbabwean government is reviewing its policy on GM foods.

In Australia, genetic modification of food is allowed, but many are still opposed to the practise and want more transparency about foods that have been altered.

Over in California, about 70 per cent of residents voted last month in support of mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods, while a report out this week found GM corn caused tumours when tested on rats.

What are your thoughts on GM food?

Children encouraged to try alcohol by booze companies: AMA

Australia’s leading medical body is again calling on the government to ban current advertising practises, which it says are encouraging children to try alcohol.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) says marketing of alcohol flavoured chips, biscuits, lip gloss and chocolates is contributing to the binge drinking culture.

A report by the AMA exposed the tactics being used in the industry to promote alcohol to children, including online, where alcohol branding is used during games played by youngsters, promoted on Facebook pages and contained in secret online party invitations.

The report will be officially released at a conference today in Canberra, and the AMA is calling for new laws to be introduced to stop the practise.

As well as being promoted online, mobile phone apps sponsored by alcohol companies that provide cocktail recipes and use satellite technology to recommend bars and clubs nearby are at the top of AMA’s list of concerns.

It also says in the report that the food industry shares some of the blame, by helping children develop a taste for alcohol through Malibu flavoured chocolate, vodka flavoured lip gloss, Tim Tams flavoured with Tia Maria and Jim Beam flavoured crisps.

"By flavouring sweet or salty foods that are popular with children, alcohol companies such as Jim Beam are introducing young consumers to their brand at an early age, encouraging them to develop familiarity with, and loyalty to, their product,'' it says.

The AMA is gravely concerned that in the midst of the current issues Australia is facing with binge drinking and alcohol-related violence, alcohol and food companies are attempting to “normalise” it.

"It's sending a subliminal message that everyone drinks…. your first drink could be a Tim Tam," Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said.

While the Tia Maria flavoured Tim Tams were a limited edition that ended in 2004, and the amount of alcohol contained was miniscule, the AMA is concerned that nothing is stopping Arnott’s, or any other company, from introducing similar concepts.

The report also mentioned some more frightening statistics about youth drinking, following on from various other findings over the last couple of years.

By their 15th birthday, about 90 percent of people have tried alcohol and five Australians aged between 15 and 24 die each week from alcohol related injury, while 200 more are hospitalised.

"Young people are starting to drink at an earlier age, and most drink in ways that put their health at risk,'' the report states.

In July, and report released by Victoria's Auditor-General, Dr Peter Frost, found the number of alcohol-related assaults in Victoria have risen rose by almost since 2001, while the number of ambulance attendances to deal with incidents related to alcohol more than tripled.

In May, an Australia-wide study found that people living in rural areas are more likely to consume alcohol and be overweight and obese, while another revealed almost 80 per cent of Australians think that, as a nation, we have a problem with alcohol.

Following government are attempts to crack down on alcohol-related violence by introducing earlier lock outs at pubs and clubs and raising the price of alcohol, the AMA says self regulation by the alcohol industry on its advertising is no longer appropriate.

Similarly to the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RMCI), which suggests to food companies that it should not market unhealthy foods to children, the current regulation in the alcohol industry is voluntary.

The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code, administered by the alcohol companies themselves, states that companies should not encourage underage drinking, but they have no power to enforce it.

The AMA wants those rules changed so that governments will be able to introduce laws to regulate alcohol advertising, and enforce penalties if they breach them.

It also wants alcohol sponsorship phased out of sport, and alcohol sponsorship of youth music and cultural events banned.

What do you think of the AMA's calls for tougher rules on alcohol advertising? 

Climate change will transform the bush … and we’ll have to think big to cope

Within decades, environments across Australia will be substantially different from those that currently exist.

CSIRO research released today suggests that, by 2030, climate change stress on our natural environments will be significant. By 2070, the impacts will be more widespread and, in many places, more extreme. Many parts of Australia will have environments that do not exist today anywhere on this continent.

Ecological stress

In a scientific first, we investigated how climate change will affect plants, animals and ecosystems across the entire continent.

We found large, ecologically-relevant environmental change for most of the continent. We can expect changes in species distribution and abundance, changes in ecosystem composition and structure (woodland becoming grassland, for example), and changes in how ecosystems function.

We found that the degree of ecological stress is less, or at least develops more slowly, in a climate change scenario where greenhouse gas emissions are lower than the so called “business as usual” scenario. In this lower emission scenario, both biodiversity and conservation institutions will have more time to adapt to the changing climate.

Prediction about the details of change and likely loss of biodiversity are difficult due to the various processes of ecological change, and the differing affects of climate change-induced stress. But we are confident of one thing. Rapid ecological change will be an important feature of Australian landscapes in the future. The bush will look, smell and sound very different 50 years from now.

Accepting change

So what does this oncoming change mean for conservation and environmental management in Australia?

 

The ‘duck hole swamp’ forms part of Henbury Station in the Northern Territory. AAP/Parks Australia

 

Traditionally, conservation theory and practice are mostly about preventing or reversing ecological change – preserving nature in some idealised, unchanging state. Our research implies that this approach may not be possible in the future. We need to adapt our thinking, policies and on-the-ground actions to a situation where change is the new norm.

Of course, minimising the extinction of species should still be a fundamental goal. But doing so may require different approaches than we currently use. This change in conservation thinking will require a broad conversation including government, conservation groups and the public.

Future conservation efforts may need to focus on the existence of species (rather than their abundance and distribution), the health of ecosystems, and the balance of natural and human activities across whole landscapes. It will become more a question of managing change, perhaps even facilitating it in some circumstances, rather than preventing it.

The risk of extinction

The total number of species becoming extinct and at risk of extinction is likely to be considerably greater in the future.

With limited resources and many threatened species, it may be more beneficial overall to prioritise effort on species that have greater likelihood of surviving, rather than the most vulnerable. Naturally, this raises questions about society’s value of particular species that will need to be discussed.

People also value living landscapes for their aesthetic, cultural and production values. Future conservation objectives will need to address how to conserve these values as ecosystems and land uses change in response to the climate.

Current biodiversity management strategies largely assume low levels of species loss, relatively high levels of knowledge about threats and the state of biodiversity, and relatively static environments. These strategies will be less effective as high levels of change occur and uncertainty increases.

Beyond the national park

We found that protected natural areas such as national parks and indigenous protected areas will continue to play a key role in biodiversity conservation. But, given the increased level of threat and the need to allow movement of species in response to pressures from climate change, additional areas of habitat, outside the protected area system, will be increasingly important. These areas will provide additional and alternate habitats for species, and support ecological processes across whole landscapes.

It will be increasingly important to manage ecological change at very large landscape scales.

 

Ecologist Dr Jim Radford with the tessellated gecko on the Boolcoomatta Reserve, South Australia. AAP/Sarah Malik

 

Larger, diverse areas of habitat will help species survive the multiple pressures arising from climate change, which are likely to affect ecosystems beyond the scale of individual habitat patches or nature reserves. This can be accomplished by ensuring existing large areas of intact habitat are protected from clearing and degradation, and by connecting smaller patches by restoring and maintaining links between otherwise isolated areas.

Interaction with other sectors

Many aspects of Australian landscapes will change as various sectors for example primary industries, water management, bush fire management and tourism, adapt to climate change.

It is possible that responses in the other sectors could add to the climate change stress and further threaten biodiversity.

On the other hand, certain changes in land use could be beneficial if designed also to sustain biodiversity.

Given the scale of change, the differing values, and the need for broad management strategies, it is time to start a conversation.

It will be essential for conservation institutions to engage with local natural resource management bodies, conservation groups, and the general public around the changes that will determine the future of Australia’s natural environment.

David Hilbert received funding from the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Buying local food most important to Aussies, research finds

Australians are more likely to buy locally grown foods than any other products, new research has shown.

Research conducted by the Australian Made Australian Grown campaign has shown that while more than 50 per cent of Aussies will buy cheap imported clothes, hardware, furniture and household appliances, 9 in 10 prefer buying food grown and manufactured here.

The Roy Morgan research commissioned by Australian Made Australian Grown found that for many products, consumers don’t care about buying local or imported.

Australian Made Australian Grown Campaign chief executive Ian Harrison said that while the findings were "extremely worrying" and warned more jobs would be lost unless consumers change their attitude across the downward trending sectors, it was good to see that buying local food and drink is at the forefront of Australian’s minds.

He said confidence in the safety and quality of local produce grown in Australia is one of the main reasons the majority of the 1200 adults surveyed buy local produce.

The AMAG campaign is working to educate consumers about the use of the Australian Made logo, and the definitions of Australian made products.

Only one in three surveyed knew that the products had to be substantially produced or manufactured in Australia to be able to use the logo, and four in 10 consumers surveyed said they find it difficult to identify whether a product is Australian made.

Harrison told the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit in August that the organisation wants the definitions and legal parameters of using the label to be stricter, as more companies are able to find loopholes to promote their products as Australian, when in fact they are made primarily from foreign ingredients.

“Tighten up the definitions of substantial transformation, I think one of the problems we find in the industry and one the consumers don’t like is ‘maybe’ particularly in the area of food,” he said.

“You have to substantially transform the product in Australia, and you have to have more than 50 per cent value add in Australia.

“Substantial transformation, we believe, offers a very important way forward for the government to put a bit of strength and predictability into food labelling.

“We think you can actually make some fundamental changes to what constitutes substantial transformation.”

The iconic image was an initiative of the federal government in 1986, and is a certification trademark, as Harrison explained at the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit.

It is a “very legal instrument, which has a set of rules behind it and those rules can’t be changed without agreement between us and the government,” he said.

For 10 years up to 1996, the symbol and its use was run by the Advanced Australia Foundation, before a change in government saw the funding that was set up for the logo removed.

“We’re non- for profit, we’re a public company limited by guarantee,” he said.

“In 2007, the federal government introduced Australian Grown.

“We rewrote our rules at that time and we changed the name of the symbol from the Australian Made logo to the Australian Made Australian Grown logo.

“It gets a bit more complicated for us because last year we introduced Australian seafood driven by the seafood industry, and internationally we introduced Australian to be used offshore.

“I’m happy t o say has grown significantly in the last five or six years.

“We’ve got about 1,700 companies using it just over, and on about 10, 000 products, so there’s a very, very wide usage across all sectors, and of these companies, 44 % of them export.”

Earlier this month consumer advocacy group CHOICE released the results of their survey into the country of origin of product ingredients, comparing home-branded products from Coles and Woolworth’s private labels with leading supplier brands, which found  just 55 per cent of Coles’ products and 38 per cent of Woolworths’ products were grown or manufactured locally, compared with 92% of market leader groceries.

More than 100 000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector in the last five years, an industry task force released last month revealed, and the rapid increase in private label products on Australian supermarket shelves is reducing the amount of choice consumers have, while also significantly impacting farmers.

A study earlier this year found that one in four products sold in Australian supermarkets is now private label, and of those, one in two is imported.

What  products do you make sure you buy Australian Made? 
 

Boiling water without bubbles – that’s just our cup of tea

Imagine a specially-engineered surface that could allow liquids to boil without bubbling. This sounds counter-intuitive and, in a way, it is. But consider the following.

When a small drop of water is dropped onto a very hot frying pan, it skitters around and takes up to a minute to evaporate. A video of this phenomenon is embedded below.

On initial contact, the hot surface vaporises part of the drop and creates an insulating vapour layer between the drop and the hot surface, much like the air gap in a double-glazed window. This vapour layer can only be sustained if the hot surface is above the so-called Leidenfrost temperature. It also acts as an efficient lubricant and can reduce the drag on a hot sphere travelling through water by up to 85%.

 

 

The Leidenfrost vapour layer also plays an important part in boiling and cooling. If in place of small drops of water in a hot frying pan, we have a hot kettle filled with water, the Leidenfrost vapour layer will collapse when the kettle cools below the Leidenfrost temperature, resulting in an explosion of vapour bubbles as the water makes direct contact with the (still) hot surface.

Until recently, this rather violent explosive ending for vapour, reminiscent of the death throes of a star, was thought to be inevitable when a hot surface in contact with water cooled below the Leidenfrost temperature.

Everything changes

In a report published yesterday by my colleagues and I in the journal Nature, it was found that by modifying the heating surface to give it nano-scale roughness and a coating to render it highly water repellent – or super-hydrophobic – the Leidenfrost vapour layer can be sustained at all surface temperatures, thereby eliminating the vapour explosion.

A video illustrating our work can be watched here.

The research was undertaken by members of the University of Melbourne, the King Abdul University of Science and Technology, Saudia Arabia, and Northwestern University in the US.

It might sound a little complicated but the way it works is simplicity itself. The rough, water-repellent surface acts like the fakir bed of nails so that the water rests on the peaks of the rough nano-scale surface layer and makes very little solid-liquid contact.

 

We’ve nailed it. minipixel

 

With the right combination of roughness and chemical modification, the bubble explosion resulting from collapse of the Leidenfrost vapour layer can be suppressed.

These results may be useful in applications in which “quiet” boiling is required – whether it be for a non-intrusive kettle or boilers that generate minimal vibrations and noise.

The general principle this work reveals is that, in any process in which heat is transferred between a solid and a liquid during heating, cooling or freezing – or more generally a change of phase – the surface properties of the solid heat source or sink should be factored into the design.

Examples of potential areas of application may be controlling ice formation on the ailerons of aircrafts, the fogging and frosting of mirrors and windows and in refrigeration, in which the liquid coolant is a refrigerant, not water.

If you thought liquids had to come to an explosively violent end, we may just have burst your bubble.

Derek Chan receives funding from the Australian Research Council. He is affiliated with the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, the National University of Singapore and the Singapore A-STAR Institute of High Performance Computing.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Consumers misled over serving sizes: Choice calls for reform

Consumer watchdog Choice is calling for an overhaul to current labelling standards, after research revealed some manufacturers are misleading consumers over portion sizes to make their products seem healthier.

The Choice study found that some manufacturers using the thumbnail percentage guides on the front of packaging to portray their products as the healthier option are deceiving consumers by using distorted serving sizes.

Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just told Food Magazine the practise has been going on for some time.

“We’re not surprised [by the findings], we know manufacturers are manipulating serving sizes to make products seem healthier than they are,” she said.

“Those manufacturers who use thumbnail percentage [daily intake] labels on the front of packs often look to that serving size because it brings some of those percentages down.

“So for consumers who may use that to compare products, they are getting an unrealistic reading, as the serving sizes may not be the same.”

In Australia, manufacturers are responsible for deciding on appropriate serving sizes, and as such, they often vary between different sized of the same product.

A Mars Bar serving, for example, is stated as 18, 36 or 53 grams, depending on the pack size

Comparatively, the US serving sizes are regulated by government body the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Just said the industry needs to be regulated so that manufacturers can’t select serving sizes that will paint them in a more positive light than reality.

“The daily intake thumbnails are confusing, consumers find them difficult to understand, and we’re saying there needs to be one consistent comparison, using 100 grams or 100 millilitres, so that across products, regardless of serving size, they can find healthy options.”

Just said the design and display of front-of-pack labelling is crucial to its success, as consumers don’t allow much time to make their decisions.

“We think any front-of-pack labelling should be one that allows consumers to find healthy options at a glance, so colours or symbols should be used to make that obvious, because consumers take two to five seconds to chose products, so they have to be able to easily compare.

“It needs to be based not on serving sizes.”

The research found manufacturers are putting up to three servings into packaging portrayed to be a single serving size, leading consumers to consume more than intended.

With the mandatory front-of-pack nutritional labelling due to be rolled out by the government this year, Just said Choice will be assisting agencies to find the best variation.

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders to make sure it is easy to understand, is based on a standard measure and is easily comparable,” she told Food Magazine.

Successfully overhauling the system would result in a healthier industry, according to Just.

“What we know is that a front-of-pack, easy to understand system would highlight those products that are worse, and that’s why some manufacturers wouldn’t support it.

“Having said that, it would encourage regulation, which would see, in turn, more healthier products on shelves, and that is good for consumers and everyone.”

The Choice report refers to the latest food and nutrition publication from the government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that found that our current overweight and obesity rates – 23% of children and 61% of adults – are some of the highest in the world.

“Food portion sizes are increasing,” the report states.

“In the US in the 1950s, McDonald’s offered just one size of soft drink – 7oz (about 210mL).

“It now has 12, 16, 21 and 32oz (950mL) offerings.

“And French fries and hamburgers are now two to five times larger than those originally offered.

“Portion distortion has even occurred in the home, where the sizes of our bowls and glasses have steadily increased and the surface area of the average dinner plate has increased 36 per cent since 1960.

“Why does this matter?

“Put simply, the bigger the portion, the more you eat and the more kilojoules (energy) you consume.

“Between 1983/85 and 1995, energy intake increased significantly for both adults and children in Australia.

"Without an equivalent increase in energy expenditure, increases in energy intake can result in significant weight gain over time.”

Increasing plate sizes has also led Australians to consume more, as natural instinct leads most to fill a plate or bowl, regardless of its size.

Even nutritionists aren’t immune to the behaviour, with one study asking 85 nutrition experts to serve themselves a bowl of ice cream.

A variety of bowl and scoop sizes were handed out, and it was found that those with larger bowls served themselves 31 per cent more ice cream without being aware of it, while a bigger spoon made them dish out almost 15 per cent more.

What do you make of these findings? Does there need to be one standard across the board, or should manufacturers be entitled to make the call on serving sizes themselves?

Image: Choice

Imafe

Govt not amused by big tobacco’s plain packaging “sick joke”

The federal health minister has slammed big tobacco’s “sick joke,” which has seen the first two companies rolling out the plain packaging for cigarettes in ways that do not comply with the new standards.

Imperial Tobacco has unveiled new packaging which shows the traditional Peter Stuyvesant logos and colours being torn away to reveal the new drab green colouring, which will become mandatory from next month.

It’s new packaging, which is essentially a new marketing campaign, aims to show consumers that while the appearance is changing, "it's what's on the inside that counts''.

"Soon no one will see Peter Stuyvesant on the outside but we don't care,” the company says in a leaflet advertising its packaging change to retailers.

“We're going plain early, because we know Peter Stuyvesant will continue to live on inside.”

But Health Minister Tanya Plibersek is not amused by the company’s ballsy move, or that of fellow tobacco giant Philip Morris, labelling them "the ultimate sick joke from Big Tobacco''.

“Diseased lungs, hearts and arteries are the reality of what is happening on the inside to a smoker,'' she said.

The government has also written to Philip Morris, warning that that the new plain packaging of its Bond Street cigarettes “heavily resembles the plain packaging requirements,’ but still needs improvement to comply with the new legislation.

"We note that if these products are sold, offered for sale or otherwise supplied after 1 December 2012 the packaging would not be compliant with the Act,” the health department stated.

''The breach of the act could possibly expose the company to massive fines of up to $1.1 million.

“The department takes issues with the use of the word `cigarettes' in small type on the side of the packet, it says the outer surfaces of the packet must have a "matt finish'' and warns the pack may not be the correct colour – Pantone 448C.”

The department has also referred the health warnings displayed on the packaging to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to determine whether they comply with regulations.

From 1 October, companies will be required to start including graphic health warnings across 75 per cent of the packaging, which will be required to be the specific drab green colour set out by the government.

As of 1 December, all cigarettes sold in Australia must be encased in plain packaging, or retailers risk hefty fines.

Major retailers are expecting to receive deliveries of the controversial new packs of Peter Stuyvesant and Bond Street cigarettes this week, and Plibersek has warned that the department will "be closely watching the new packages to ensure that they comply with the regulations because we know that Big Tobacco will use every trick in the book to try and get around the new requirements''.

"Where we identify any examples of possible non-compliance before the implementation dates we will be letting the companies know so they can rectify any issues,'' she said.

What’s your thoughts on the moves by the two companies? Do you agree with Plibersek that it’s a “sick joke,” or are these companies entitled to market their brands?

Australian, Italian researchers developing “super spaghetti”

Australian researchers are joining with experts from the land of the pasta to create a new “super spaghetti,” which would provide extensive health benefits for consumers.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide’s ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls have joined forces with their Italian counterparts from the Universities of Bari and Molise, and will begin work next month on developing the new super food.

 The aim of the ARC Centre of Excellence is to look at the fundamental role of cell walls (biomass) in plants and discover how they can be better utilised. 

The new projects will investigate key aspects of the cell walls in durum wheat, which is commonly used for making pasta.

 In collaboration with the University of Bari, the first project will look at how the growth of durum wheat affects the levels of starch and dietary fibre within it, and how the fibre levels in pasta can be improved, while the second, in conjunction with the University of Molise, will investigate the important roles played by two major components of dietary fibre – arabinoxylans and beta-glucans – in the quality of pasta and bread dough.

Associate Professor Rachel Burton, Program Leader with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and chief investigator on both projects said there has already been extensive interest in the projects.

“The term 'super spaghetti' is beginning to excite scientists, nutritionists and food manufacturers around the world,” she explained.

"In simple terms, 'super spaghetti' means that it contains a range of potential health benefits for the consumer, such as reducing the risk of heart disease or colorectal cancer.  

“Our research – in collaboration with our Italian colleagues – is aimed at achieving that, but we're also looking to improve the quality of pasta as well as its health properties.”

The centre's Director, Professor Geoff Fincuiher, said the new projects could provide opportunities for pasta manufacturers in South Australia and Italy to carve a niche of people looking for pasta products that will provide health benefits.

 "Being able to sell high-quality South Australian durum wheat within a competitive market like Italy could bring economic benefits,” he said.

“Approximately 27kg of pasta is consumed per year per person in Italy, compared with just 4kg per person in Australia," he says.

 
 

EU overhauls food labelling requirements

Consumers around the world are demanding greater transparency when it comes to food labels and it seems the EU is one government that is listening, having just announced that new food labelling laws will come into effect by the end of 2012.

Products sold on the European market will be required to display eco-labelling, informing consumers of the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted during the manufacture, packaging, transport, and overall lifecycle of consumer products, allowing shoppers to have a direct influence on whether products with a high-environmental impact survive in the marketplace.

By providing consumers with the data they need to make an informed choice, the EU hopes that demand will increase for items that are produced in more sustainable ways.

The EU has a pretty solid record when it comes to keeping consumers informed, with requirements in place around GMO labelling and increased efforts in the last few years to address obesity through labelling and other government initiatives.

This is in stark contrast to the US where a very public war is being waged between Big Ag and consumer & environmental interest groups as to the merits of compulsory GMO labelling. 

Biotech giant Monsanto has spent US$4.2 million so far opposing California’s Proposition 37 which would require mandatory labelling for products containing GMO ingredients.

This once again highlights where the power lies when it comes to food policy in Europe vs the US, where food policy is determined by Washington wrangling and deal-making between politicians and lobbyists, who decry governmental intervention as an infringement on American freedoms.

As more countries, including Quebec and Japan, introduce these measures (France is coming towards the end of a year-long trial of mandatory eco-labelling) it remains to be seen how long Big Business in the US can fight consumer demands to be informed.

Branding drives children to make healthy choices too: study

Branding that’s targeted at children can make healthy food a more attractive option than unhealthy food, according to a new US study.

Researchers from Cornell University found that a sticker of the popular character Elmo was associated with children increasing their choice of an apple over a cookie during school lunchtime.

“There is concern over what impact branded products in lunchrooms might have on children’s selection of food. In contrast, this study suggests that the use of branding or appealing branded characters may benefit healthier foods more than indulgent, more highly processed foods,” the authors wrote in an article published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The study included 208 children between the ages of 8 and 11, and involved the children being offered the choice of an apple or a cookie alongside their regular lunch.

The study found the children were more likely to choose an apple when the Elmo icon was on it than when there was no icon, and there was no effect of the Elmo icon on the cookie. The Elmo sticker led children to nearly double their apple choice compared to the pretest control session where both items were offered without a sticker.

“Putting fun figures and cartoon characters on food certainly sells to kids” said Deakin University professor of public health, Boyd Swinburn. “It’s good to see it applies to healthy food and it’s quite a big effect size.”

The challenge, experts say, is competing with the companies and marketers that have big budgets to help sell processed food.

A 2007 study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health found children chose foods wrapped in McDonalds packaging over the same snacks wrapped in unmarked packaging.

“The problem is that most of these things have to be paid for and the fruit growers don’t have any money,” said Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist and visiting fellow at University of New South Wales.

“All of those branded things are popular, but they cost money so we need somebody to be altruistic,” Dr Stanton said. She added that there could also be problems with licensing, given almost all the characters that are popular with children are also licensed.

Dr Stanton said companies that use athletes to sell their product pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars because they know they will get it back.

“Any Olympic athlete willing to volunteer?” Dr Stanton asked.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Frankenfood or crops of the future? Gaps in the perception of GM food safety

Humans have always faced tricky safety problems with food because we eat plants, which are the most ingenious pesticide chemists on the planet. Plants produce an amazing panoply of chemicals to deter animals from eating them. We’ve responded biologically to this challenge by evolving chemical detoxification mechanisms in the liver.

Culturally, we’ve responded by inventing cooking and other food pre-treatments that allow us to eat dangerous foods, such as kidney beans, rapeseed oil and tapioca.

We even add spice to life by adding low quantities of plant poisons to recipes to improve flavour. And we breed our crop plants to reduce toxins. In short, “natural foods” are not necessarily safe and most of our crops are not as natural selection produced them.

Safety regime

 

Cooking and other pre-treatments protect us from the chemicals in plants. Alpha/Flickr

 

Safety assessment of genetically engineered food (called GM or transgenic food) is yet another application of human ingenuity and the harnessing of past experience to obtain sustenance. It starts by careful comparison of the genetically-modified food (and any new components that are deliberately added to that food) against the safety record of existing dietary components for which we have a history of safe human consumption.

All new genetically engineered foods are assessed in a systematic way by food safety agencies (such as FSANZ in Australia), and detailed descriptions of these assessments appear on agency websites.

Assessments involve tests of proteins for toxicity in animal-feeding trials and tests for changes in the allergen content of the food. Scientists have completed numerous animal-feeding studies to ensure the safety of genetically-modified foods.

A comprehensive analysis of chemical composition is also carried out. The genetic stability of crop varieties is checked, as are the detailed structure of the DNA inserts. Extensive use of gene and protein databases enables better assessment of the chance of adverse outcomes.

Nagging doubts

 

Heavy spotting on corn kernels reveals the activity of a mobile DNA parasite. Celebrated American maize geneticist Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of the mobile DNA parasites that cause much genetic variation in plants. Damon Lisch PLoS Biology Open Access License

 

But many people continue to worry about unexpected changes to food when it is genetically engineered. This concern has caught the attention of many scientists, whose response has been to evaluate the odds of unexpected adverse outcomes by comprehensive chemical and genetic surveys of crop varieties (chemical fingerprinting).

The good news from 44 different genetically-modified crops' chemical fingerprinting studies (including work on maize, soybean, wheat and barley) is that the chance of unintended changes with transgenic crops is less than the risk of unintended changes occurring in new crop varieties created by conventional breeding.

These food fingerprinting investigations show the precise composition of a crop is readily affected by the position of the plant in the field in which it is being grown, climatic differences between farms, variation in soil chemistry and differences in crop composition generated by conventional breeding. These factors all produce more unexpected alteration of food composition than do the methods used to make GM food crops.

In a recent critical report by an anti-GM group, these major findings are not given adequate recognition. Indeed, one may reasonably ask why anti-GM reports should be given credence when they ignore well documented science from numerous independent laboratories.

Natural genetic engineering

A huge body of basic discoveries in genetics demonstrate that in nature and in farm fields, plant chromosomes are continually subjected to numerous DNA insertions and chromosome rearrangements that mimic the changes that occur when new DNA is introduced by genetic engineering.

These DNA changes come from a variety of processes, including radiation damage and the activities of numerous virus-like DNA parasites that are abundant in plant chromosomes. This frequent natural DNA scrambling is ignored by critics of GM technology.

 

Orange juices blond and red. The red pigments arise from a natural DNA rearrangement that’s similar to what happens in laboratory-based genetic engineering of plants. John Innes Centre

 

One example of such “natural genetic engineering” was recently found in studies of an unusual (non-GM) orange tree variety growing in Sicily. This is a variety that produces blood-red oranges. The red fruit pigments are anthocyanin plant chemicals that are absent from the juice of conventional sweet oranges and may well have beneficial health properties.

Blood-orange varieties emerged several centuries ago as a natural mutation. We now know that this mutation occurred by insertion of a mobile genetic parasite near a key gene, called Ruby, whose activity is needed for successful red pigment formation. Ruby was turned on by the accidental insertion of parasitic DNA near her location in the chromosome.

This is the type of genetic manipulation that genetic engineers do in the lab but, in this case, a natural DNA parasite did it in a Sicilian orange grove.

Another example of natural genetic engineering was discovered in an Illinois soybean field in 1987, where a (non-GM) colour-mutated soybean flower appeared spontaneously in a field of soybeans.

This natural mutation was named wp. It’s interesting to crop-breeders and farmers because it produces larger soybean seeds that are richer in protein. Further investigation showed that in the wp mutation, a complicated new DNA insertion into the soybean chromosome triggered flower pigment formation. This complicated DNA rearrangement was catalysed by a natural DNA parasite.

 

Pink wp mutant soybean flower on the right, parental purple on the left. Gracia Zabala and Lila Vodkin

 

DNA parasites?

DNA parasites are foreign DNA. They are triggered into movement to a new chromosome site when plant cells are stressed. This happens when inter-species crop hybrids are formed by cross-pollination (which is often the case in conventional breeding of major food or feed crops such as wheat or Triticale), or by the stresses of cold nights in Sicilian orange groves.

Geneticists have discovered numerous inter-species transfers of genetic parasites, but more to the point, they have discovered examples of movement across species boundaries of other types of genes, such as those involved in important crop physiological activities.

 

Mark Rain

 

Just this last February, for instance, scientists from Brown University in the United States showed that genes providing more efficient photosynthesis have moved between distantly related grass species.

All the key features of laboratory genetic manipulation of crops — random DNA insertion in chromosomes, foreign DNA, altered expression of genes, DNA rearrangements — are exhibited by natural genetic mutations that occur in plants.

Our exposure to unexpected genetic events occurring in genetically-engineered food is lower than our exposure to the unintended genetic changes served up by conventional foods we’ve eaten for years. And underpinning this more recent scientific finding is the fact that there’s solid assurance of GM food safety from the intense scientific scrutiny and government oversight that GM food has received at all stages of its development over the last 30 years and more. Food from GM crops is at least as safe as traditional foods.

David Tribe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article except the University of Melbourne, where he is paid for teaching research and community outreach by a standard salary arrangement with the University. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Steggles and Sydney Roosters join forces for children’s charities

Chicken supplier Steggles and NRL team the Sydney Roosters will donate more than $60 000 to and dedicate this Sunday’s match to four children’s charities.

The charity match between the Roosters and the West is dedicated to raising much needed funds for the four children’s charities the Steggles Roosters Charity Nest supports, the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia, Lifestart, Children’s Health Foundation Queensland and Save Our Sons.

The annual charity match is one of a number of events taking place during Steggles Charity Nest Week and 5000 free entry tickets available at the gates.

The Steggles Roosters Charity Nest initiative has already raised $114,000 this season and this Sunday’s match will see Steggles and the Roosters present $15,000 to each of the four charities.

The Sydney Roosters will play in a special Steggles Charity Nest jersey, and at half time Steggles Chook Raffle will raffle a family holiday valued at $4 000.

The children from the charities will also form a guard of honour for the players as they enter the field and activities including face painting, a jumping castle and pass the ball competitions will be on offer.

Steggles is also donating 30 cents from every specially marked Steggles Family Feast chicken sold during the month to the charities, which alone is expected to raise $90,000 for the Steggles Roosters Charity Nest.

Roosters chief executive Stephen Noyce said the Steggles Roosters Charity Nest, which began in 2010, is raising more money each year.

 

“The Steggles Charity Nest is a wonderful community initiative – one we are all incredibly honoured to be a part of at the Sydney Roosters.

“We are so proud to have worked together with Steggles to make such a substantial donation.”

The unique partnership between Steggles and the Sydney Roosters sees Steggles has already raised over $531 000 for Australian children’s charities  

Steggles will also donate $1000 for every winning point in the match, and the Roosters $250. 

Dick Smith only wanted controversy: News Ltd

News Limited has offered its perspective on debate over its decision not to include marketing material from Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith in its papers.

David Penburthy writes for The Punch:

“When you walk into the Commonwealth Bank you don’t see advertisements on the walls attacking banks for paying obscene salaries to their executives. McDonalds would refuse to place banners outside its stores stating that Big Macs are rubbish and the Whopper is a superior burger. In a similar vein, News Limited, the publisher of this website, has taken the unremarkable commercial decision not to use its products as a vehicle to trash its reputation.

The person in question is Dick Smith and the material is a 28-page magazine he has written called Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media.

As a businessman, Smith has harnessed the concept of martyrdom – be it real or imagined – as his preferred marketing technique. He has made millions presenting himself as a nuggetty Aussie battler taking on the big guys, despite being bigger than most in Australian business.

ndeed some of his wealth has come from pinching market share from local businesses, such as the family-owned preserves producer Beerenberg,whose boss said last month that it was struggling to sell its productsbecause of Smith’s posturing as one of the only patriots in the field of jam production.

In a way, the last thing Smith would have wanted was to have his magazine inserted in News Limited publications, as it would undermine his claim of persecution as the basis for making profits. The magazine is so totally out there that it seems he deliberately went overboard to ensure it wouldn’t be carried as an advertisement, as it is filled with conspiracy theories involving Rupert Murdoch’s American citizenship, this company’s (non-existent) refusal to run pieces calling for a smaller Australian population, our alleged bias against climate science, our supposed determination to attack Smith for using patriotism to make money.

Even the independent website Crikey, hardly a friend of News Limited, rana piece by former Media Watch producer David Salter saying it was “not surprising” that News refused to run the insert, and attacking its content as the work of an “egomaniac” falsely claiming a conspiracy.

I would not be so disrespectful as to call Mr Smith an egomaniac, even though, as Crikey points out, there are 29 photos of him in his 28-page insert. He is certainly a conspiracy theorist and his theories do not pass muster.

Smith’s obsession with News Limited is so acute that he misrepresents both our general conduct and our specific treatment of him. A few years ago I heard him on ABC Radio after the Victorian bushfires saying News Limited had never given a cent to charity. I rang the station and asked (fruitlessly) to go on air to point out that in the previous week News donated $1 million to Victoria. I could fill the rest of this column with similar examples, be it families who made the news for tragic reasons, cultural bequests for the arts, money for our State Library, the Pride of Australia awards for unsung community heroes.”

Read the full article at The Punch.

What do you make of the controversy between Dick Smith and News Limited? Who is in the wrong here?

Supermarkets are killing farmers: Katter’s address to Parliament

Controversial Queensland MP Bob Katter has slammed the actions of Australia’s largest supermarkets, saying the market share between the big two is unsustainable and killing farmers.

“In 1991 in Australia, two supermarket giants had 50.5 per cent of the food market,” Katter told the Federal Parliament on Wednesday.

“In 1999, John Howard, the Prime Minister, agreed to an inquiry.

“By that time the market share of the two supermarket giants had risen to 65 per cent.

“Everybody knew that their market share was shooting through the roof.

“The inquiry, comprising all parties, including the Australian Democrats, effectively recommended that nothing be done.

“There were three alternatives.

“One was, as the National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia, or NARGA—the independents—asked for, a capping at and divestment down to 22 per cent of market share for each of the giants.

“A second was to go to American trust laws.

“The third alternative was to considerably strengthen the Australian Consumer and Trade Practices Act.

“Not one of the three alternatives was adopted by the committee.

“No-one can read their report—an excellent report, I might add—and not understand that the major parties in Australia are controlled by Woolworths and Coles.

“No other country on Earth would accept this situation.

“Let me give you the figures for other countries.

“The report I am referring to, Fair market or market failure, gives the figures for other countries. “There is not one other country on Earth where the big three have even 25 per cent.

“But in Australia, when this report came out, they had 65 per cent.”

Chemical dangers

Katter said Australia’s free trade agreements are damaging the health of consumers who are unaware of the origin of their food or the way in which it is grown and manufactured in foreign countries.

As Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) Director Terry Toohey told the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit recently, the reliance on imports could leave not only Australian companies and farms out of business, but also pose a risk to consumer safety.

“How can we encourage people to buy Australian products, certainly it appears that they can buy the products cheaper overseas, and they will do so,” Toohey said.

“Some of the issues, as farmer I can relate to are things like apples for example, or oranges, these products that those fruits and veggies are soaking in, we can’t [use] those chemicals here in Australia.

“Yet the imports can come in.

“We use clean water to wash these fruits but some of the chemicals they use over there have been gone for 10, 15 years out of Australia.

“But that’s quiet alright, we have no say and the government just won’t listen to us.”

Katter agreed in his address to the Parliament.

“We cannot sell on the world market because of the massive subsidies from the other countries,” he said.

“It is almost impossible for us to compete on the world market.

“So we come back to the Australian market, and week after week, day after day, product is brought in from overseas.

“Hardly a week goes by where there is not something in the papers about some new commodity coming in from overseas.

“I am told that Woolworths has a whole three-storey building employing people doing nothing else except sourcing cheap food from overseas.”

“We cannot compete in apples.

“I said, 'Hold on, it's America and New Zealand,' and they said, 'Yes, $9 an hour.' We would pay $19 an hour, and so we should, but the wage in the United States in California is $9 an hour, and in New Zealand it is $9 an hour.

“The apples will also be coming in from China, where the average income is $5,000 a year.

“How can we compete against those apples?

“Everybody knows they have fire blight.

“You had the reason to keep them out, but you did not.

“You are so in love and enamoured with and obsessive about free trade that you will bring those apples in knowing that they have been sprayed with streptomycin, antibiotics, to get rid of the disease.

“You know that.

“So I will be moving legislation in this House so that, if you want to bring an apple in from those three countries which have fire blight and spray with streptomycin—because we have no way of checking whether it is sprayed with streptomycin—every apple will have a marker on it.

“We heard the minister stand up today on cigarettes.

“There is a serious danger to our health from these apples.

“Everyone will have a marker: 'This product has not been grown or processed under Australian health and hygiene standards and may be injurious to your health.'”

Katter discussed his disappointment with the current prawn farming industry in Australia, saying they also pose a risk to public health and safety.

“I say with very great pride that, as a minister [in the Qld Government], I have been attributed with the creation of the prawn- and fish-farming industries of Australia—and no doubt my department played a very key role in the establishment of those industries.

“Prawn and fish farming in Australia rose up to $600 million at one stage.

“We have virtually no prawn farming at all now in Australia.

“We thought we would catch Thailand at $2,000 million. Thailand has gone up to $8,000 million; we have gone down to nothing.

“And that is because Woolworths and Coles are bringing their prawns in from Vietnam, China and Thailand.

“In Vietnam they actually use raw sewage in the ponds.

“In Thailand, they put the raw sewage in the river, and in China they put raw sewage in the river and take raw sewage out.

“We have to have pure, bacteria-free water going in and pure, bacteria-free water going out, which is impossible, so forget about any prawn farming in Australia.

“But those prawns are coming in, and we know they are carrying diseases.

“They have to be.

“They are being brought up in a bacterial environment.

“So once again, as far as I am concerned, every single little box of prawns anywhere in Australia will carry that label on it.

“At the very least, that will slow Woolworths and Coles down from bringing them into Australia.”

Unbalanced market share

“Every other country has laws protecting against monopolistic powers—oligopolistic, if I want to be technical.

“Every country on earth has that.

“We have no laws that protect.

“Clearly, if they could rise from 50.5 per cent in 1991, after inquiry after inquiry after inquiry, up to 92 per cent—and these are their own figures, not mine; they are not my figures.

“Every year they claim they have a growth in market share, and I have been tracking them since the ABS series was discontinued and the AC Nielsen series was discontinued.

“There was to be a review in 2002.

“Both series were discontinued in 2002, so we could not prove anything because there were no series there anymore.

“I am not a conspiracy theorist, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is pretty difficult to write around that one in 2002.

“But, since 2002, Coles and Woolworths have skited to their shareholders about their growth in market share.

“Add that to the 74 per cent they had in 2002 and you have 92 per cent, and we are still doing nothing in this place.”

Katter echoed the comments from various experts within the food industry, who are already noticing the flow-on effects of the reduced farm-gate prices on local communities.

“There will be no newsagents.

“There will be no chemists.

“There will be no florists.

“There will be no bakers.

“There will be nothing.

“They want it all, and this place [Parliament of Australia] has facilitated giving them it all.

“Woolworths and Coles must be acted upon.

“Every four days, a farmer in Australia commits suicide. And that is the note upon which I conclude.”

What do you think of Katter’s comments? Do you agree? Disagree?

High Court rejects tobacco industry’s plain packaging appeal

The tobacco industry’s appeal against mandatory plain packaging was dismissed by the High Court this morning and the legislation will take effect from October.

The majority of justices rejected the argument from Australian cigarette manufacturers that the laws were unconstitutional, but the reasons for the decision have not been published by the court.

The tobacco industry’s stance was that the government had not acquired their trademarks on “just terms” and they were therefore owed billions of dollars in compensation.

Chief Justice Robert French said the majority of justices found that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill was not in contravention of Section 51 of the Australian constitution and the tobacco companies have been ordered to pay the Commonwealth's legal costs.

From October, cigarettes made in Australia will be required by law to be packaged in ‘drab brown’ boxes.

Only standard fonts will be allowed, with a ban on all logos, slogans colours and other branding and larger graphic health warnings will be mandatory.

From December all tobacco products on Australian shelves will be in plain packaging.

Tobacco companies still have a legal challenge against plain packaging through international trade laws pending, but it is expected these will take several years to conclude.

Director of the anti-smoking group McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Jonathan Liberman, welcomed the decision, saying it would set the standard around the world.

"It shows to everybody that the only way to deal with tobacco industry claims, sabre rattling and legal threats is to stare them down in court," he said.

“It would be great if the tobacco industry would just say ‘We understand our products are addictive, they kill up to half of long term users and we will cop on the chin whatever the Government decides needs to be done to reduce their harm’.”

British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said plain packaging will benefit black market cigarette products.

“Although the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act passed the constitutional test it’s still a bad law that will only benefit organised crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets,” he said.

“The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy.

“Plain packaging will also put pressure on the industry to reduce legal tobacco prices.”

Health groups are heralding the decision as a major victory for public health.

"Today’s High Court decision that tobacco plain packaging can proceed is a massive win for public health and also the global tobacco industry’s worst defeat yet.” Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube, who chaired the Federal Government committee said.

"The global tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure because they know that plain packaging will have a major impact on smoking here and other countries will follow.”

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said it was a significant for public health over commercial interests.

What do you think plain packaging will do for Australia's health? Will it be beneficial or create more problems?

Govt needs to stop Coles and Woolworths dominance: lobby group

The representative body for smaller grocery retailers in Australia are again calling on fairer competition in the sector, releasing a report outlining the consequences if regulators and governments don’t step in.

Master Grocers Australia (MGA)’s report “Let’s Have Fair Competition,” says the independent supermarket industry is at risk of being annihilated by the unabated growth of the duopoly, Coles and Woolworths, according to an industry report.

They say unless the Australian Government and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) take action now, Australians will have no competition in the sector, leading to prices increases and the end of freedom of choice.

The report refers to the enormous growth of the chains in the last decade and how their massive market power has resulted from practices such as anti-competitive price discrimination, store saturation strategies and shopper docket schemes.

“We want a ‘fair go’ for the smaller independents. It’s time to take action against this powerful Goliath that is growing stronger every day,” Jos de Bruin, chief executive of the MGA said.

“If the Regulators sit back and do nothing to foster fair competition in the grocery and liquor retail industry, then the Australian consumer will literally pay the price in the long term.”

Food manufacturers produce growers and farmers have been warning of the same problems for years, but have been forced into silence in recent years as the power of the duopoly means those who do voice their concerns are punished with reduced shelf space or non-renewal of contracts.

The MGA also wants state and local governments to strengthen retail assessment criteria to prevent the major supermarkets from building oversized outlets in small towns that push smaller retailers out of business.

“The independent supermarket industry strongly supports competition, but we want fair competition because without it, there will be no one left to challenge the big retailers and they will become even stronger.”

Earlier today Australia’s largest bread maker, Goodman Fielder admitted its $1 private label bread deal with Coles was unprofitable and unsustainable and managing director Chris Delaney admitted it was “not a good investment and I wouldn't do it again if I had a choice.”

Coles only response on the issue came in the form of a written statement that seemed somewhat threatening in its attitude towards cost absorptions and contracts.

"Coles is happy to review any supplier requests for cost price increases that can be appropriately validated,” the Coles spokesperson said.

In reponse to the MGA report, Coles told Food Magazine "Coles is not in the business of opening unprofitable stores as the Master Grocers Association report claims.

"We only open stores where we believe there is customer demand for our offer.

"Some other points that might be of interest in the debate are store openings.

"Coles has 749 stores. IGA/Metcash (whom the MGA represents) have 1365 stores, and 700 Foodworks stores.

"Metcash’s 2012 annual report advises that they opened 58 new IGA stores in the last financial year.

"In the same period, Coles opened 19 new stores and closed 11."

A Woolworths spokesperson told Food Magazine that “given it’s an industry issue, you need to speak to the industry body,” and would not provide any further comment.

Food Magazine then contacted industry representative body the Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) for comment, but received only a media release singing the praises of Woolworths and Coles.

"A report attacking Australia’s leading supermarket retailers has been rejected as long on accusations and short on facts, by Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) CEO, Margy Osmond," it states.

“The Master Grocers Australia (MGA) report is designed to be as sensational as possible at the expense of two highly successful Australian companies, Coles and Woolworths,” Osmond said.

The MGA represents the IGA group of retailers and far from ‘fair competition’, what they recommend will tilt the playing field in their favour, at the expense of consumers, she said.

“It is time that IGA came out from behind this myth they are a small business – they have a substantial slice of the grocery and liquor market in Australia.

“Aldi, a foreign owned entrant to the market, has grown from zero to 300 stores in less than a decade, a clear indication of the demand and the level of competition.

“More regulation, as called for in this report will only damage companies that employ more than 300,000 Australians and support hundreds of local businesses.

"The major chains play a critical role in regional communities where they represent jobs and cheaper prices for local consumers.

“The Australian supermarkets are leading the charge to bring the lowest possible prices to consumers, while still supporting local growers and manufacturers.

"Australian families struggling to cope with cost of living challenges like increasing electricity prices benefit from the price cutting competition that exists between the major supermarket chains.

“To suggest that Coles or Woolworths are deliberately establishing loss making stores to limit local competition is a nonsense. It does not make good business sense.

“This IGA-inspired report suggests that Australian shoppers need the Government to make their decisions for them and tell them, where, when and how they can shop.

"Nothing could be further from the truth,” Osmond said.

When we contacted a representative from ANRA to discuss the impact of the supermarket price wars on Australian workers and families who are out of business due to the duopoly, Food Magazine was told they did not speak about the pricing and operations of the business and we should go back to Woolworths for responses.

Here at Food Magazine, we are always hearing the shocking stories from manufacturers, farmers and suppliers about the impact of the supermarket duopoly’s power, but so few are ever willing to go on the record with their complaints.

The Senate Inquiry struggled to get anyone to speak up, because they were afraid of the consequences, we suffered the impact of the same fear campaign in organising the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit and Coles and Woolworths continue to maintain that what they are doing benefits their consumers.

Unfortunately, it is putting more Australians out of work as facilities move offshore and companies go bust.

Food Magazine was also told by a Coles representative that more favourable coverage of the supermarkets would result in more requests for comment being returned, but we are not willing to bow down to any form of bullying.

Do you agree with us that we need a Royal Commission into the supermarket powers? 

Bread prices to increase due to US drought, but who will absorb the cost?

Australia’s largest baker has confirmed that the price of bread will increase due to the US drought.

Goodman Fielder’s managing director Chris Delaney said the increase in grain price as a result of the drought in the Midwest of the United States  and that “the consumer would have to pay for that increase',” meaning higher shelf prices for shoppers.

Now that the US corn harvest is forecast to collapse by 100 million tonnes to 274 million tonnes due to the drought, prices will increase throughout the rest of the manufacturing process.

The price of wheat, often used as a substitute livestock feed grain, has also suffered as a result of the unseasonable weather.

Since May, the price of Australian east coast milling-grade wheat has increased by almost half, from $214 a tonne to $310 a tonne.

Experts predict it could remain around $300 a tonne by the end of the year.

The company has also revealed it regrets its choice to manufacture $1 bread for the Coles private label, as it is already unprofitable.

Like so many other industries, including the dairy, produce and food manufacturing, the bread sector is suffering the impacts of being forced to sell their products at prices less than the cost of production for the sake of supermarket private labels and their war on price.

“Dollar bread is at a loss,” Delaney said.

''This was not a good investment and I wouldn't do it again if I had a choice.”

Countless industry insiders and experts have labelled the current private label environment as unsustainable, as farmers and manufacturers leave their sectors because they can’t break even, let alone make a profit.

While Goodman Fielder says the flow on effects of the grain price increases will flow on to consumers, it remains unclear whether the supermarket giants will actually change the shelf price.

They could absorb the costs within their own businesses, but if past experience is any indication, that would be unlikely and it would be more probable that the bread companies and others impacted by the cost increases would absorb the costs within their already struggling structures as Coles continues to sell bread for $1.

Delaney said clauses surrounding rises and falls such as grains allowed commodity prices to be factored into product pricing, but Coles’ response to questions by Food Magazine about the cost absorptions and private label pricing came in the form of one sentence that would seem somewhat threatening to suppliers.

"Coles is happy to review any supplier requests for cost price increases that can be appropriately validated,” the Coles spokesperson said.

When pushed further for comment the response was “sorry, not appropriate to speculate on outcomes.”

The baking company’s private label contract with Coles is up for renewal in the first half of 2013.

 Goodman's private label contract with Coles will be renewed in the first half of next year.