All GM foods to be declared on labels if Californian bill passes

Genetically modified (GM) food is a controversial issue that is set to become an electoral one in the US, with one state set to vote on the practise.

In November, California will be the first state to vote on whether declaration labels will be mandatory on all genetically modified food.

Up to 18 states in the US have attempted to pass similar laws in the same way, but so far all have failed to make it to the statewide ballot.

But in California, Proposition 37 as it is known, has received over a million citizen signatures, indicating it will be successful and foods that have been genetically modified with have to include that information on labelling.

Those against genetically modified foods believe consumers have the right to know if what they’re eating has been created or altered in such a way.

Major food manufacturers including PepsiCo, Nestlé and Coca-Cola, however, are opposed to the legislation, arguing that fears over the lack of long term health impacts of genetically modified foods are misguided.

They even argue that the benefits of genetically modified food far outweigh the perceived negatives.

"Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world," Bob Goldberg, a molecular biologist who's a professor at UCLA and a member of the National Academy of Science said.

"We've been testing them for 40 years.

“They're like the Model T Ford.

“There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe."

Up to 80 percent of all processed foods sold in the US are made with genetically modified ingredients, including corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cotton oil.

If the proposal became law in California, genetically modified processed foods would be required to include the words "Partially produced with genetic engineering" on the front or back label, while foods entirely made through GM systems would h have to declare so with a sign on the shelf.

Where do you stand on genetically modified foods? Do you think Australians need input, similar to California?

Breakfast cereal alliance to improve industry and consumer health

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has formed an alliance of Australian breakfast cereal manufacturers to develop health and nutrition changes for the industry.

The Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF) members produce about 80 per cent of all breakfast cereals purchased in Australia.

Companies making up the alliance include Freedom Foods, Kellogg Australia, Carmens, Nestlé Australia, Popina Foods and Sanitarium.

The Forum aims to improve consumer understanding of breakfast cereals by being proactive in emphasising the benefits of breakfast cereals, engaging in a positive dialogue with stakeholders and consumers and highlighting the benefits of breakfast cereals and correcting misinformation.

The Australian breakfast cereals industry has received praise recently for its proactive approach to health, particularly in the reduction of sugar and sodium levels.

In June it was revealed Kellogg Australia’s commitment to reduce sodium content across its products by 20 per cent had already been met, eight months ahead of schedule.

AFGC Chief Executive Gary Dawson said the ABCMF will provide evidence-based, practicalinformation for Australians on the benefits of breakfast cereals.

“Through continued education, the ABCMF aims to improve consumers understanding of the important role that breakfast cereal can play as part of a healthy, balanced diet,” Dawson said.

“A healthy start to the day is important and breakfast cereals represent the most cost effective, nutritious way to get your day off to a good start.

Australia’s breakfast cereal products market in is worth over $1.2 billion in retail sales per annum and employs approximately 3000 people, many in rural and regional areas.

“All forum members manufacture locally for the Australian market and rely almost exclusively on Australian grown grain, Dawson said.

“The ABCMF will provide category wide, evidence based information on breakfast cereals to media, stakeholders and consumers.”

Poultry industry criticised for proposed changes to ‘free range’ rules

The poultry industry is copping criticism for its attempts to change the definition of ‘free range,’ to allow more than 140 000 birds per hectare.

The demand for ‘free range’ poultry and eggs is increasing in Australia, and numerous producers have been caught misleading the public over the conditions the birds are raised in.


GetUp!'s infographic paints a scary picture for the future of free range.

Representative body for the largest chicken meat producers in the country, the Australian Poultry Industries Association (APIA) is now asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to allow producers to use the ‘free range’ claim, even when the birds have an area the size of an A4 sheet of paper to move in.

Activist group GetUp! has received an extension on the submission deadline until 10 August, and is calling on consumers to push back against the APIA request, and call  on the ACCC to implement more rigorous regulations regarding free range chickens.

Are you in the poultry industry? Where do you stand on the request?

Should we adopt WHO bottled water standards?

Australia’s food health regulating body is calling for submissions on adopting the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for chemicals in packaged water.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has received an application from the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) to adopt limits to the amount of chemicals, as set out In WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality.

The ABWI said the move would benefit the packaged water industry and bring Australia and new Zealand onto the same international playing field.

“This application will reassure consumers that chemical constituents in packaged water are regulated on a mandatory level to the same levels as those set internationally,” the submission said.

“The inclusion of such limits will also enhance the ability of the industry to compete in export markets overseas.

If the changes were to be adopted in Australia, there would be six times more mercury allowed in bottles water sold in Australia.

Arsenic and lead levels accepted would drop significantly though, and organic matter would be less acceptable.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said adopting the WHO standard would put Australia on the same level as the rest of the world and would mean more limits on the chemicals allowed in bottled water.

But the FSANZ suggests maintaining two existing limits, including for Fluoride, should be part of the changes. Currently in Australian bottled water, 2.0 mg/L of naturally occurring fluoride is permitted, while the WHO limit is 1.5mg/L.

“FSANZ is recommending adopting the WHO limits, with two exceptions.

“We are recommending maintaining the current lower limit for fluoride in packaged water and a marginally higher limit for styrene, which is used as a processing aid in packaged water,” McCutcheon said.

“FSANZ has taken into account safety assessments conducted by expert advisors to WHO and FSANZ’s own assessments conducted for fluoride and styrene.”

FSANZ is asking for comments from government agencies, health professionals, the food and beverage industries and consumers on its report.

The closing date for submissions to FSANZ is 13 September 2012.

More education needed about polyunsaturated fats

Australian medical experts are calling on the leading health research group to include polyunsaturated fats as a necessary new food group.

Polyunsaturated fats, known as ‘good fats,’ are found in foods including avocados, certain types of fish and olives, and are known to improve the risk of heart disease and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

The fats work by making the membranes in the heart more fluid, making the body more sensitive to insulin.

Australian dietitians and cardio-nutritionists want the National Health and Medical Research Council (MHMRC) to recognise the benefits of polyunsaturated fats and include them to necessary food groups.

One of Australia’s most senior cardiac nutrition experts, Professor Peter Clifton, said the organisation should be proactive in advertising the importance of polyunsaturated fats.

Decades of low-fat diets being promoted as the only way to lose fat have had a huge impact on society’s perception of fat, and many people are unaware of the different types of fats and which ones are crucial to a healthy diet.

Many steer completely clear of any kind of fats in the belief it will reduce or maintain weight, but the experts believe the only way for people to accept and consume the good fats is to educate about its importance.

The calls come after the NHMRC released the draft 2012 Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, which only mentions the five basic food groups and advises us to “limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated and trans fats” and “include small amounts of foods that contain unsaturated fats”.

The traditional food pyramid, which for decades advised eating cereals and breads more than any other food group underwent a change last year, and the federal government is currently working on a mandatory front-of-pack nutritional labelling scheme, following demand from health groups and consumers.

In June, a study was release that found 95 per cent of Australian children over two exceeded their recommended intake of saturated fat but almost 70 per cent of children did not have enough Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat.

Do you agree that polyunsaturated fats should be added to the official necessary food groups?

Protect researchers from the perils of public health advocacy

Public health advocates who criticise industries for promoting harmful forms of consumption – the alcohol, food, pharmaceutical, tobacco and gambling industries – increasingly find themselves facing legal action for defamation or other forms of legal harassment.

In 2009, Peter Miller and 50 colleagues (including myself) published a letter in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) stating that we would not accept research funding from the organisation Drinkwise, because we believed that the alcohol industry had undue influence over its research agenda.

Drinkwise was established by the alcohol industry and part funded by the Howard government to educate Australians to “drink wisely”. Many in the public health field were sceptical of its intentions because half of its board came from the alcohol industry and several of the community representatives on the board had worked for or with the alcohol industry.

 

The alcohol industry has a much bigger budget than most researchers and universities. Josh Staiger

 

Although the MJA gave the chair of the Drinkwise board the right of reply, signatories received a personal letter stating that Drinkwise Board members felt they had been “defamed” by the letter. No legal action was forthcoming but the letter was taken as a warning that we could be sued if they continued to criticise Drinkwise.

This kind of threat is not uncommon. The Melbourne public health physician Ken Harvey has been sued for damages by two companies for making a formal complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in which he said that that there was no evidence to support the health claims made for their products.

Neither are these are isolated events. I know colleagues who have received threats of legal action for defamation from industry advocacy groups and “independent” consultants who work for these industries. In another case, senior alcohol industry officials wrote to the vice chancellor of a researcher’s university attacking his personal integrity and professionalism.

It’s easy to say that researchers should refuse to bow to these attempts at intimidation. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to defend defamation actions brought by litigants with deep pockets. Nor can researchers depend on universities to provide legal defence in these cases.

While universities encourage “community engagement” by their staff, they don’t always provide legal assistance to deal with threats arising from public comment. I discovered this two decades ago when threatened with a suit for defamation for comments made on the ABC about the regulation of psychologists. The university’s lawyers declined to represent me because I was not speaking in “an official university capacity”, even though I was commenting on a matter of public importance within my area of expertise.

 

Universities don’t always provide researchers with legal assistance to deal with threats arising from public comment. Jeff Pearce

 

These issues should be of concern to lawyers. Defamation specialists could provide pro bono legal advice to researchers threatened in these ways. Public advocacy lawyers could examine the extent to which these threats occur and consider ways to combat the use of defamation and other laws by vested interests to silence public debate.

Legal remedies worth exploring include laws such as the one passed by the ACT parliament in 2008 imposing civil penalties on companies that attempt to use lawsuits to stop individuals and groups from voicing their opinions. Such laws may include actions, where possible, to seek protective cost orders.

Free public discussion is essential for good public health policy. Public debate is already heavily weighted against public health interests by the greater access that wealthy alcohol, pharmaceutical and complementary medicine industries have to advertising, and utilise the mass media and specialist legal advice. We need to prevent threats of legal action from being used to silence public health advocates and strangle public policy debate.

Wayne Hall receives funding from the NHMRC. He has previously received funds from the AREF (now the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education).

The Conversation

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

Chile government bans toys with children’s fast food meals

Chile has followed in the footsteps of Australian fast food retailers by removing the toys from children’s meals.

Chile’s government has stepped in to attempt to improve obesity rates by banning toys and other goodies from being served with children’s meals.

In Australia, the government is yet to step in and announce similar regulation, which many health experts have called for since McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s refused to follow KFC’s lead, which eliminated toys with kid’s meals in August last year.

The next month, the decision by Hungry Jacks to introduce sides of vegetables with its meals was met with apprehension from health professionals.

But more than a month after the ban came into effect in Chile, fast food retailers are still including toys with meals, leading Senator Giudo Girardi to file a formal complaint with the health ministry.

“These businesses know that this food damages the health of children and they know that the law is in effect. They're using fraudulent and abusive means,” Giraldi said.

In his complaint, the senator also targets other manufacturers of cereal, iced treats and other products that attract children with toys, crayons or stickers.

If the companies identified in his submission are found to have continued giving toys with children’s meals, they could be forced to remove them goodies or face nominal fines.

The refusal by some companies to obey the law in Chile is one of the reasons Australian experts don’t believe it is necessary or useful to implement government regulation, but instead rely on manufacturers and retailers to listen to consumers and adapt businesses accordingly.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) believes its Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RMCI) has been successful at reducing the number of advertisements for junk food directed at children, but a recently released National Food Plan report suggests these voluntary standards will have to be monitored by the government.

“The food industry is definitely part of the solution, particularly when you look at overweight and obesity, Cristel Leemhuis, Director, Preventative Health Policy Healthier Australia Commitment at the AFGC told the recent Food Magazine Leaders Summit.

“It’s not voluntarily, the consumer is demanding it.

“Consumers push these businesses, so they’re responding to that consumer demands.

“I’m a fan of minimum effective regulation if we do need it lets go down that track, but let’s see what we can do without the regulation to start with.

“Can we actually address the issue without regulation?

“That’s the path we should take first.

“If that doesn’t work then we should step into these other areas, but we really need to try this other area first before we just straight down to [regulation].”

Can Coles and Woollies change public perception of private label impacts?

Despite apprehension about the impact of supermarket private labels and forecasts showing they will dominate shelves in the next five years, Woolworths has attempted to calm the market by releasing information on its range on its website.

Business information research firm IBISWorld has forecasted that the share of private-label products will account for over 30 per cent of all Australian supermarkets sales by 2017-18 and according to IBISWorld’s General Manager (Australia), Karen Dobie, they have been one of the industry’s fastest growing segments over the past decade.

“In 2007-08, private labels accounted for just 13.5% of total supermarket sales – meaning the segment has grown by more than 85% over the past five years”, Dobie said.

Recent studies found that one in four products purchased in Australian supermarkets are private label, and of those, one in two is imported.

The increase in private label

The debate over private label continues to rage, and the impact of the reduced shelf space afforded other companies has led to countless manufacturers and farmers going out of business.

As both Coles and Woolworths appear to be delivering on plans to double private label products in store by 2020, the availability of anything other than private label becomes far less.

Consumers have little choice but to buy private label, as other brands are replaced by supermarket imitations, and according to IBISWorld data, Australians will spend over $21 billion on private label products in the 2012-13 period.

This is already a huge increase from the $19.7 billion in 2011-12, and an even bigger increase from the comparatively tiny $9.96 billion five years ago.

By 2017-18, Australian spending on private label products is expected to hit $31.8 billion, according to Dobie, which is already a 50 per cent growth from five years ago.

“The recessive economic climate has been a strong driver of private-label growth.

"Households have been reining in spending, paying off debt and increasing savings,” she said.

“This, coupled with an increase in the range of private-label products available, has led many consumers to make the shift to home brands.”

“Branded producers have responded to private-label growth by discounting their products to remain competitive.

“However, the dominance of Coles and Woolworths means that they are likely to give preference to their own brands in terms of spacing and design allocations – placing continued pressure on the big brands.

“This can be detrimental to branded producers as their share of shelf space is eroded by home brand products.

Woolworths attempts to address concerns

To address the competition between supermarket private label products and supplier brands, Woolworths has released an Official Range Profile of brands for its Australian supermarkets.

The supermarket giant said the data will be regularly updated on its website and will allow for a “more informed” discussion on choices between private label and branded rpoducts.

Managing Director of Woolworths Supermarkets, Tjeerd Jegen, said Woolworths wants to  demonstrate how they meet their customers’ needs.

“As part of that commitment, we are releasing a snapshot of data about our range to the market to put our business into a correct perspective,” Jegen said.

“The facts show that in packaged groceries and perishables, Woolworths stocks more than 44,000 lines of which 94 per cent are branded products.

“Just 2,500 are Woolworths Own Brand products,” he said.

Complete dominance

While the supermarket is maintaining that their range is heavy in branded products as a way to alleviate debate on the issue, it does not change the fact that the supermarket duopoly is gaining more control of the market all the time.

The Senate Inquiry set up to investigate the anti-competitive practises of the major supermarkets struggled to get people to speak up, and while many will speak of the record, few will go public with the stories of the power the supermarkets’ wield.

There have been calls for an ‘Australian-made’ aisle in supermarkets, a cap on the percentage of private label products that can be stocked and restrictions on the market share the supermarkets can have.

However, while the awareness about the impact of the price wars, particularly on Australian dairy farmers is becoming more widespread, the supermarkets continue to maintain they aren’t doing anything wrong, but are instead encouraging companies to innovate and looking out for their customers.

We invited representatives from both Coles and Woolworths to attend our Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit in June, but because there was one discussion topic, out of a total of six, planned on the impact of the supermarket price wars, we were told they had “no interest” in being involved in what they called a “get the supermarkets” agenda.

When Food Magazine reported on Coles’ failure to respond to more than 73 000 consumers who had “liked” a post on Facebook detailing the impact of the reduced price milk, we received a call a Coles representative, who wanted to point out that they did respond, albeit three days late and to the wrong person.

Food Magazine was accused of being biased towards food manufacturers, but since  this representative from Coles does not usually return Food Magazine’s phone calls, we pointed out that does make it difficult to report from both sides.

We tried to come to an agreement that when we called for comment on stories, he would respond, and Food Magazine, in turn, would provide their perspective on all such stories.

However, he would only agree to this arrangement if we started reporting more favourably on Coles, saying he would “closely observe” the news section to see if we were doing so, before he agreed to participate in stories on the supermarket price wars.

Unfortunately for the supermarkets, we can’t be bullied into behaving the way they would like us to and will continue to report the true realities of the supermarket environment for food manufacturers and producers.

Do you think there needs to be limits on market share of Australian supermarkets? Do you buy private label? 

Counterfeit items flooding Australian market

Food manufacturers, packaging organisations and consumers have been warned that counterfeit household items including food products are becoming increasingly common in Australia.

Yesterday NSW Police seized 33 tonnes of counterfeit laundry powder labeled as reputable brand OMO, in Sydney.

The seizure is the result of extensive investigations that have run over several months, which aim to track down and intercept the sale of counterfeit items.  

Police are expected to lay a range of charges against the two individuals allegedly behind the importation and sale of this counterfeit product.

“Sadly this is an increasing threat for all Australians,” Mary Weir, General Counsel of Unilever Australia, which produces the authentic product, said.

“The counterfeiting of consumer goods is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry around the globe and it is important that those seeking to engage in this criminal activity understand they will be subject to the full weight of the law.

“The Police action is part of a larger law enforcement drive necessary to protect consumers and ensure they can buy well known and trusted brands like OMO with confidence.

“However, consumer also need to be wary about products claiming to be trusted brands – particularly from overseas- and should always ensure they deal with reputable retailers.

Food brands including Nestle and Kraft are also dealing with brand imitations and working in collaboration with police to stamp out the practice.

Recently, Food Magazine thought Nestlé had changed its infamous Milo jar, by adding a glass bottle to its range, but when we asked Nestlé about the change, they said it was not a new development, but rather a counterfeit product.

The Milo jar appears to be authentic, judging by the labelling.

The nutritional panels also seem to be authentic.


Although on closer inspection, it appears the label on one side is upside down. Mistakes like these, which the authentic manufacturers would not make, are one way to spot counterfeit products.

It is difficult for consumers to be 100 per cent confident that they are not buying any counterfeit products, but should look for the  "Australian Made” logo to make sure, and if they believe it could be a fake, should return the product to the retailer and request a full refund.

 

How anti-obesity campaigns reinforce stigma

Anti-obesity messages are everywhere – in news, in entertainment, and in public health campaigns. We are constantly being told that fat is bad for us, and that in order to be healthy we need to lose weight. But these messages don’t necessarily improve our health, and they certainly don’t seem to result in weight loss. Instead, popular ideas about fatness and health often reinforce social inequalities across class, race, gender, and ability.

Fat is understood as fundamentally unhealthy. Fat bodies are thought of as “diseased”, and as the result of “unhealthy” habits. There’s plenty of research that challenges these ideas.

But the point of this article is not to engage in the frankly tiresome debates about weather fat people can be healthy (they can). Nor do I want to argue about whether being fat is correlated with an increased risk of certain health issues (it is, but as anyone with a high-school level understanding of statistics can tell you, correlation does not equal causation, and risk is no guarantee of outcome – otherwise we’d all be at the casino getting rich).

Instead, I am interested in what these anti-obesity public health messages do, and who they do it to. This is important since obesity is much more prevalent amongst disadvantaged, vulnerable, and stigmatised groups, especially those of low socioeconomic status, non-English speaking backgrounds, and Indigenous people.

Public health is generally seen as a force for good. Ideally, public health messages are a way for the government to educate the general population about potential health issues, and teach us how to best take care of ourselves in order to avoid illness and suffering.

 

Anti-obesity campaigns aren’t telling us anything new. Stocky Bodies Isaac Brown

 

Over the last few years, the Australian government has run two anti-obesity campaigns: Measure Up and Swap It. The new and controversial LiveLighter campaign from Western Australia is another example.

All of these campaigns convey the information that being fat is bad for your health, and that we should lose weight by eating better and exercising more. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Australia – or anywhere else in the Western world – who isn’t already well aware of this idea.

So if these campaigns aren’t giving us new information about fat and health, it’s worth asking what they are doing, or trying to do. They are trying to do what every advertising campaign tries to do: change our attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviours.

The Developmental Communications Research Report that informed the development of these campaigns categorises people according to “attitudinal segments”, and suggests that those with “undesirable” attitudes are over-represented amongst disadvantaged groups.

The Developmental Communications Report, like much public health research, recognises that there are structural barriers that make it difficult for members of disadvantaged groups to simply change their lifestyles (and presumably lose weight as a result). But the campaigns don’t address these issues. Instead, they simply encourage individual weight loss.

 

Popular ideas about fatness and health often reinforce social inequalities across class, race, gender, and ability. Stocky Bodies Isaac Brown Sitting

 

Leaving aside the overwhelming evidence that suggests significant weight loss via any method is nigh impossible to maintain over the long term, there are several problems with this approach.

Firstly, diseases commonly attributed to obesity are more prevalent amongst marginalised populations regardless of their weight. Despite this, anti-obesity campaigns seek only to change the attitudes rather than the circumstances of those people deemed most at risk.

By focusing on weight as the problem and weight loss as the solution, social and economic inequalities are made invisible. Health disparities between groups are blamed on individuals for not making “healthy” choices, ignoring the ways that the choices available to comfortably middle-class white Australians are often very different to those available to people on low incomes, to recent immigrants, or to Indigenous Australians.

What’s more, the emphasis on individual responsibility amounts to a sort of victim blaming that allows structural inequalities to remain unaddressed. Individuals who don’t or aren’t able to lose weight are branded as non-compliant. Fat people are seen as having a “bad” attitude. And they are seen as undeserving of respect, dignity, or even access to medical treatment, since they apparently have only themselves to blame. If you don’t believe me, just look at the comments section of any story on “obesity”.

As academic Anna Kirkland, argues, these sorts of ideas enable “the pretence that the elites are thriving because of their lifestyles while the poor are miserable because they are fat”. And that is a dangerous message.

Jackie Wykes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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

Half of WA kids not eating enough veggies

Children in Western Australia are getting better at eating their vegetables, but more than half are still not eating their recommended daily intake.

Of the children ages four to 15 surveyed in the Health and Wellbeing of Children in Western Australia 2011 survey, only 49.6 per cent are meeting their daily intake requirements for vegetables.

While the figures that over half of children are not getting the required vegetables are concerning, it is actually a significant improvement on last year’s results, which found only 44.2 per cent were meeting the target.

Only one in five of children aged 12 to 15 years are eating the recommended daily serves of fruit compared to almost all, at 96.3 per cent, of children aged four to seven years.

Over 40 per cent of children aged one year and over eat from a fast food outlet at least once a week.

Western Australia's Chief Health Officer Dr Tarun Weeramanthri is positive about the findings, pointing out that the vegetable consumption levels in the latest study were the best yet, and that in 2002 when the surveys began, only 37 per cent of children were getting the right amount of vegetables.

"Diet also has an important effect on health and can influence the risk of various diseases including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and digestive system cancers," he said. 

The study also found that almost nine out of 10 children aged 15 years and under were considered to by their parents or carers to be in excellent or very good health and just under half of children aged five to 15 years were meeting the recommended amount of physical activity.

Boys were found to be more likely than girls, to complete the recommended amount of physical activity, with 55.5 per cent for boys compared to 35.1 per cent of girls.

Just over a fifth of children spent more than two hours a day in front of a screen.

The survey also found parents are unable, or unwilling, to understand if their child is overweight or obese.

Almost a fifth of children aged 5 to 15 years are classified as overweight or obese according to their height and weight measurements, but only one in 10 respondents perceived their child as overweight or very overweight.

Coles doesn’t respond to 73 000+ consumers concerned about milk price wars

A concerned consumer’s post on Coles’ Facebook page about the impact of its price cuts on farmers has gained more than 73 000 “likes” over three days, but the supermarket giant is yet to respond, despite constant declarations that customers and farmers are its main priorities.

On Friday, Jane Burney posted a heartfelt summary of the supermarket price wars effects on ordinary Australians.

Dear Coles,

Your $1 per litre of milk deal is killing the lifeblood of our dairy industry. The ramifications of it are finally rearing their ugly head. Dairy Farmers has announced it's price for Tier 2 milk at 13 cents per litre. This is not sustainable in an industry where costs of production can be as high as 30 cents per litre. The consumer is paying $1 a litre and the only winner here is the supermarket. It is time for us to go back to the old fashioned way; in which we bought real milk that tastes like milk; no permeate and where our fruit and vegetables were grown in our beautiful country. Stocking garlic from China, Argentina. What is going on? Obviously it is cheaper to buy it from overseas then from our country; grown in God knows what. And for our farmers and the towns they support and encourage capital growth; it is heartbreaking. Your latest ad campaign sprouting that you support Aussie growers in insulting. You are misleading the public in how you support Aussie growers. Not only have you ruined the fresh milk market but you have also lowered the price on your cheese and butter. The only winner here is you. Eventually all the Aussie growers you so called support will be out of business. Dairy farmers who work 7 days a week, 14 hours a day, who have been dairy farming their whole life, whose cows are their whole life will have to stop farming as it is no longer economically viable to continue. Our "fresh"produce will be flown in. The consumer will be stuck buying expensive, overseas produce. What will happen to our economy and our country towns? I urge people to think about what they buy. The more Australian made produce we buy, the more our money stays here and benefits us. Your $1 milk is a nail in an already suffering coffin. I am ashamed to watch you ads and us farmers burn in resentment when we do so.”

Over 4 500 people have commented, supporting Burney’s position about Coles’ decisions, and more than 73 000 have “liked” the post.

But just like its other notable social media fail earlier this year, Coles has failed to respond to the outpouring of support for Aussie farmers and disdain for the supermarket giants actions.

Not the first social media fail for Coles

In March, the supermarket giant copped criticism from consumers, who insisted it stop ripping off farmers and profiting from pokie machines.

"Finish this sentence: In my house it's a crime not to buy…” it wrote, and finish they did.

One responded with “In my house it’s not a crime to buy BREAD AND MILK AT PRICES THAT ALLOW PRIMARY PRODUCERS TO SURVIVE,” while others shared similar concerns about farmers and Australian workers.

The impact of $1 milk

After Coles cut its retail milk price to $1 a litre in January 2010, the flow-on effects of the decision have continued to damage the sector.

“In NSW, my state, I see farmers being asked to sign contracts for three cents a litre than their previous contracts,” Terry Toohey, Australian Dairy Farmers Director said at the Food Magazine Leaders Summit.

“This will have astronomical effects on fund and profit margins.”

"In my case I'll have 40 per cent of my tier 2 of milk [purchased] at 18 cents [per litre]. 

"The cost of producing it is 40 cents [per litre]. 

"So, you start to look and say, I'm only one person, there are 800 dairy farmers in NSW alone."

The current practice is for milk companies to announce what is known as an Anticipated Full Demand (AFD) to Dairy Farmers Milk Cooperative (DFMC), which is bought at a somewhat reasonable price and referred to as Tier 1 milk.

Any milk deemed ‘surplus’ is then paid at a much lower price and referred to as Tier 2 milk.

However, the buyers of the milk produced on Australian farms are deliberately underestimating the amount of milk that each can deliver, meaning they are not obligated to buy a considerable portion of the milk they know a farm will produce at the reasonable price.

There is no transparency at farmer level as to what Tier 2 milk is being sold to other processors for.

"The retail actions are certainly impacting the dairy farmers in a negative way, this combined with the uncertainties and other factors [impacting] dairy or other farming, it's making it unattractive for the next generation, because it's not profitable for my children,” Toohey said.

"If I was old and had children ready to take over the farm, I will tell them blue in the face not to come into agriculture. 

“And that's pretty sad after 107 years on the one farm."

And as farmers leave family farms because they can’t make enough money to survive and Australian food manufacturers continue to go bust because they can’t meet supermarket expectations, Coles recorded a three per cent growth in sales on Friday.

Update: Coles contacted Food Magazine this afternoon to inform us that they did, in fact, respond to the comment posted on Friday afternoon, at 7am this morning.

The supermarket giant did not actually respond to the original comment, but rather one of the many Facebook users who have re-posted the original comment.

They said: Hi Brent, we are committed to paying a fair price for our milk and actually increased the prices we paid to processors before we cut fresh milk prices in store last Australia day. This meant that processors did not have to reduce the price they pay to farmers. Helping Australian families buy more Australian milk is good for the dairy industry. We also have to disagree about importing fresh produce because we only import when products are not available in Australia. We call this our “Australia First” policy and it means that 100 per cent of our fresh meat, all our milk and 96 per cent of our fresh fruit and vegetables are grown right here at home. Why not take a look next time you are in store.”

What do you make of Coles' comments? Do you agree with the original comment posted on Facebook?

 

 

Katter criticises National Food Plan, Coles returns fire

Bob Katter’s criticism of the National Food Plan (NFP) has been slammed by Coles, but many of his suggestions would drastically improve the current food industry if they were implemented.

The government released the discussion paper on the NFP, which examines consumer concerns regarding food safety, land use and foreign ownership, last week for public consultation.

One of the key recommendations of the paper was implementing steps to improve relationship between suppliers and supermarkets, and the Queensland MP has declared his support for the move.

In a statement to media last week that discussed foreign investment in Australia and the supermarket domination, Katter predicted that within three years Australia would be a net importer of food and “unable to feed ourselves”.

His comments are not at all outlandish, considering other industry experts, including union members, food companies and produce growers have all said the same thing in the last year.

If elected, Katter’s Party would create legislation that would impose labels on imported produce with potential health hazard warnings (as chemicals used in foreign farms have often been banned in Australia for decades) reduce the duopoly’s supermarket share to no more than 22 per cent and return arbitrated prices for milk.

Katter says that reducing Coles and Woolworths’ market share would drastically improve the rights of farmers and small business “against the might of a supermarket share concentration, unseen anywhere else in the world”.

“The Americans are screaming blue murder because WalMart and their competitor have now reached 23pc market share,” he said.

“Here we have two supermarkets with 92pc; so if they decide to cut down the amount of money they are going to pay farmers, they can, because there is no competition.

“On top of this, they are bringing in product from overseas, yet it has been revealed that the Chinese are putting formaldehyde into cabbages.

“And we all know that the antibiotic streptomycin is being used on foreign-grown apples to fight fire blight; and that water contaminated with raw sewage is being put in overseas prawn farms.”

Katter called on all Australian farmers to appeal to their local MP’s to vote for the measures his party is putting forward.

“It’s fighting time,” he said.

“This country will no longer accept a pell-mell rush into not being able to feed itself.

“And this country will not accept a continuation where two giant supermarket chains are able to cut the price to the supplier and increase the price to the consumer, because there is no free market where there is a duopoly.”

Coles Corporate Affairs general manager Rob Hadler said Katter's criticism of the NFP should be ignored, saying it is “xenophobic fearmongering, old-fashioned jingoism, protectionism and false claims about our national food situation”.

While he argued that  Australia has been a net food exporter for well over 100 years, he admitted that ensuring we maintain that position for coming decades would only happen  “if we get the right policy settings in place”.

“Our strong belief is that a strong and competitive domestic food production system is required to support export growth in the longer term,” he said.

“Coles has an ‘Australian first’ sourcing policy that gives preference to Australian grown and made products where they are available.”

But as food manufacturers, producers and farmers will tell you (off the record), while the supermarkets pledge to source food locally, the prices they pay are not sustainable for the future, although Hadler denies this.

“Coles has funded lower prices from being more efficient, not by squeezing farmers and food manufacturers,” he said.

Katter also slammed the increase in foreign investment, saying it is tragic that the government will sit down and talk with Chinese interests but won’t do the same with Australian farmers.

“It is a great tragedy indeed that we have to sell our own country out to get any investment in food production.

“The average Australian may well shake their head – we’ll sell our country off to the Chinese but not develop it ourselves.”

The draft National Food Plan: putting corporate hunger first

The Federal Government released on Tuesday the green paper for Australia’s first-ever National Food Plan. According to Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, this plan “will ensure Australia has a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply that supports access to nutritious and affordable food”.

Ostensibly, the plan is for the benefit of all Australians, but on closer inspection it is really a plan for large agri-business and retailing corporations. This should surprise no-one, given it was conceived at the urging of the former Woolworths CEO, Michael Luscombe, for a food “super-ministry” prior to the 2010 Federal Election. The plan’s early development was guided by a corporate-dominated National Food Policy Working Group, established after that election to “foster a common understanding [between the Government and the food industry] of the industry’s priorities, challenges and future outlook across the supply chain”.

The Issues Paper, released in June 2011, contained 48 questions, half concerning the need to develop a “competitive, productive and efficient food industry”. There was only one question about environmental sustainability. The nature of the “consultation” as a top-down, tightly-controlled process was clear, with the Government setting the parameters of acceptable topics, and corporate representatives having an inside and direct channel to decision-makers. The further liberalisation of trade in food and agriculture, for example, was not a matter on which the Government wanted the opinion of the Australian public; free trade was assumed to be of unquestionable public benefit.

Despite this unpromising trajectory, many members of the community engaged in good faith with the public consultation. Two hundred and seventy-nine written submissions were received, with several identifying the need for bold and transformative policy changes if Australia was to develop a sustainable food system. Melbourne University’s Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, which produced the ground-breaking Food Supply Scenarios report in April 2011, commented that:

Substantial, unavoidable and imminent changes in our food supply systems … require fundamental shifts in how we manage land and resources for food production … These potentially non-linear changes mean the past is not necessarily a reliable indicator of the future and care must be taken in avoiding ‘lazy’ assumptions about the possibility of continuing in a business-as-usual trajectory.

Unfortunately the green paper is largely based on precisely such assumptions. According to the green paper, Australia “has a strong, safe and stable food system” and “Australians enjoy high levels of food security”; our food industry is “resilient and flexible” and we “have one of the best food systems in the world.” The paper focuses on our food industry “seizing new market opportunities”, reflecting the Prime Minister’s recent urging that we become “the food bowl of Asia”. Last week on The Conversation, Allan Curtis gently exposed that claim – which underpins much of the green paper – as a frankly preposterous example of wishful thinking.

Here we discuss some of the more significant flawed assumptions of the draft National Food Plan. These tend to be implicit, reflecting an underlying commitment to the free market, free trade, and constantly expanding production – an unavoidable imperative in a capitalist economy.

 

Flickr/Rainforest Action Network

 

Assumption 1: Food insecurity will primarily be met through increased food production

The green paper makes some concessions to the multidimensionality of food insecurity: poverty, distribution inefficiencies, and political instability are mentioned, for example. Yet the overwhelming message is that more food must be produced, and that such production will, when combined with further liberalising agricultural trade, deal with food insecurity.

When the Food Plan was first announced, it was presented as an effort to “develop a strategy to maximise food production opportunities”. Now the green paper states that the first strategy to ensure Australia’s food security is to “build global competitiveness and productive, resilient industry sectors” positioned to “seize new market opportunities” created by anticipated rising demand.

Yet food insecurity is increasing in a world awash with food. In Australia, conservative estimates indicate that around 5% of the population experience food insecurity, although we produce enough food for 60 million people. Globally, the world produces enough food for 11 billion with a global population of 7 billion, and yet nearly 1 billion people are chronically malnourished, and as much as 40% of food purchased is wasted.

The green paper says little about the fundamental cause of food insecurity: inequality. Hunger – and other related social pathologies, such as the obesity pandemic – are the result of a corporate-controlled food system that distributes resources according to the ability to pay, rather than by need. The over-riding imperative of this system is to generate profits, not to feed people well.

Assumption 2: The future will look much the same as the past

The green paper states that:

even though Australia’s food supply is secure overall, we cannot be complacent in preparing for natural disasters, adverse weather conditions and other sudden and unexpected events … these events have the potential to temporarily disrupt food production and distribution and could expose some individuals, communities or regions to transient food insecurity

These transient risks are the only ones identified as explicitly threatening Australia’s food security. The green paper is equivocal about climate change impacts, citing ABARES models suggesting that agricultural productivity might increase with more rain in some scenarios. This flies in the face of recent detailed assessments by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO which confirm a decades-long drying pattern along the east coast, and south-east and south-west regions.

According to the Minister, “Australian inventiveness” will “find the solutions”; and our excess production will emerge unscathed, even enhanced, if only, it would seem, our farmers embrace bio-technology. Yet the world’s leading agricultural scientists and development experts, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food have made it clear: we need holistic and systemic change in agriculture. We cannot rely on the same practices that have led us to the current food and resource crises to get us out of them.

Assumption 3: Farm incomes will be higher when more is produced

According to the green paper:

The real value of world food demand [is expected] to be 77 per cent higher in 2050 than in 2007 … This gives our food sector good prospects over the long term, due to our comparative proximity to Asia … and our existing strengths in commodities such as beef, wheat, dairy, sheep meat and sugar

The assumption here is that demand growth will outstrip supply, and so there will be a more or less permanent dynamic of increasing returns to Australian producers through higher volumes supplying niche markets in Asia. But any farmer knows that price-taking commodity producers suffer price reductions in a glut. Targeting niche markets, no matter how big they are, is a response to oversupply and price squeezes. In a free and unrestricted market, lower cost producers, quite likely from South America, will target these niches. The consequences will be more of the same for Australian producers – diminishing returns.

Assumption 4: Food prices adequately embody environmental, health, and social costs

It’s well known that markets externalise, or socialise, many costs associated with production and consumption. Nowhere is this more true than in the industrialised food system, where the “real costs of cheap food” are exceedingly high, but the green paper, with its relentless focus on the need for a competitive, productive, food industry is seemingly oblivious; the phrase “cheap food” is not mentioned, and at only one point is it acknowledged that fresh food is rising in price faster than unhealthy food.

On the basis of work by Australia’s top scientists, the findings of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovations Council Reports of 2010/2011 on water, energy, and food security are at odds with the green paper’s predictions about the costs and reliable supply of food. Unlike Scandanavia, Australia has no junk food tax – nor is any proposed in the green paper – which means that food corporations can receive handsome profits, while the taxpayer picks up the hefty healthcare tab of the obesity pandemic, and our children face reduced life expectancies.

Assumption 5: Food corporations and markets will solve the problems of inequity and social justice

 

 

We’ve noted earlier the central role that Government has signalled for Australia’s food industry in “feeding the world”. Yet by any measure, the food industry has failed to achieve the basic objective of maintaining a healthy population in this country, with current projections showing that nearly 80% of the adult population will be overweight or obese in little over a decade. The principal burden of the associated ill-health falls on lower socio-economic groups. It’s richly ironic that the green paper assigns a major responsibility for redressing this to the corporations who have profited so well from cultivating consumer preferences for unhealthy products:

the food industry has a key role to play in addressing health-related messages and is implementing initiatives to help Australians maintain a balanced diet … The Australian Government will continue to work with the food industry to change the dietary behaviours of Australians

Here as elsewhere, the green paper reads as though the GFC and its continuing reverberations never happened. Its rigid ideological adherence to “market-led solutions” (see below) keeps those companies, who are the principal source of the food system’s social, environmental, and economic dysfunctions, at the helm of the system’s evolution.

Assumption 6: The free market-based food system is efficient

According to the green paper:

The Australian Government’s overall approach to food industry policy is part of a general economic policy approach that aims to foster a flexible economy and a sound and stable business environment … A key objective of the market-based approach is to improve competition and productivity across the economy, allowing resources to gravitate to their most valued use. Competition in domestic industries can, in turn, improve international competitiveness of domestic firms by encouraging improvements in productivity, flexibility, innovation and efficiency

If free markets are the most efficient economic system known, why is it that, in 1940, the more localised short chain food system produced 2.3 calories of food for one calorie of oil; but, after several decades of “market efficiency dividends”, it now takes between 8 and 10 calories of oil – and often much more – to deliver that same calorie of food? What’s worse, in 1940 oil was easily extracted from a few hundred feet at a cost of one barrel of oil to produce 100 barrels. Today the ratio is 1:10, dropping to 1:3 for “non-conventional” oil sources such as tar sands and coal seam gas.

In truth, the “market efficiencies” are largely illusory. Cheap and easily accessible oil allowed the industrial food system to flourish, but this era is ending. Oil is an extremely compact and versatile energy source with no simple replacement. Biofuels are one of the market’s responses to the price rises of this dwindling resource (coal seam gas is another); but the corporate rush to produce them, underwritten by state subsidies and targets in the name of the “green economy”, has been identified as a chief cause of the mass suffering that occurred in the 2008 food crisis.

 

Flickr/Sterneck

 

In short, contrary to the Government’s claims, the green paper is a recipe for increasing vulnerability, lack of resilience, and heightened inequality in our food system. A different approach, based on a different set of values and priorities, is required. That is why the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance is inviting all concerned members of the public to join us in a participatory and democratic conversation to develop a food system that is truly fit for the challenges of this century.

We look to the the Canadian People’s Food Policy Project and the Scottish Food Manifesto as examples of what is possible; and we ask all who think there is more to food policy than meeting the needs of corporations, to join us in the months ahead as we develop a “People’s Food Plan” which will highlight best practice in creating a food system which is sustainable, healthy, and fair.

Comments welcome below.

Nicholas Rose is affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, a not-for-profit association, incorporated in the Australian Capital Territory, whose mission is to work towards fair, diverse and democratic food systems for the benefit of all Australians.

Michael Croft is affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, a not-for-profit association, incorporated in the Australian Capital Territory, whose mission is to work towards fair, diverse and democratic food systems for the benefit of all Australians.

The Conversation

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

The 5 strangest ways food will be different in future

Food that comes out of a printer, giant skyscraper farms to meet the increased world food demand, drinks made of urine and jelly made out of humans.

These are just some of the wackiest ways food is set to change in the future, according to experts.

Check out the full list at Cracked.com, but be prepared to be utterly grossed out.

Govt outlines plans to improve food industry

 

A new government report has defended foreign investment in prime Australian agricultural land, and argued that the only way forward for the country is to embrace the rising Asian middle class.

The green paper for the National Food Plan has forecasted a rise of almost 80 percent rise in demand for food by 2050 and believes Australia should embrace the opportunity.

The middle classes around the world will increase to almost 5 billion by 2050, 85 per cent of which will be in Asia.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in May that Australia should gear towards becoming the ‘Asian foodbowl,” but farmers and agricultural experts slammed the suggestions, saying current regulation is hindering the industry rather than helping it.

There have also been calls for a public register of all investment in Australian farming land and companies, which were only spurred on by revelations in May that a company owned by the Chinese Communist Party wants to buy the entire Ord Expansion Development in the north of Australia.

But the government maintains that investment, foreign or otherwise, is crucial for Australia’s economy.

''Any reduction in foreign investment in the agricultural sector would likely result in lower food production with potentially higher food prices, lower employment, lower incomes in the sector and lower government revenue,'' the paper says.

The paper also acknowledges the confliction between farming and coal seam gas mining, and the importance of finding a compromise between them.

''The government is confident that mining and farming can co-exist without affecting Australia's food production capacity but recognises land use planning is a significant policy issue that must be considered carefully.''

It also suggests that a forum between the supermarkets and manufacturers needs to be established, to improve strained relationships cause by the supermarket duopoly.

And while the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) believes its Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RMCI) has been successful at reducing the number of advertisements for junk food directed at children, the report suggests these voluntary standards will have to be monitored by the government.

“The food industry is definitely part of the solution, particularly when you look at overweight and obesity, Cristel Leemhuis, Director, Preventative Health Policy Healthier Australia Commitment at the AFGC told the recent Food Magazine Leaders Summit.

“It’s not voluntarily, the consumer is demanding it.

“Consumers push these businesses, so they’re responding to that consumer demands.

“I’m a fan of minimum effective regulation if we do need it lets go down that track, but let’s see what we can do without the regulation to start with.

“Can we actually address the issue without regulation?

“That’s the path we should take first.

“If that doesn’t work then we should step into these other areas, but we really need to try this other area first before we just straight down to [regulation].”

Are people born by caesarean section more likely to be obese?

A study recently published in the British Medical Journal (project Viva) has found that children born by caesarean section have a higher rate of obesity at age three than children born naturally. At first glance, how someone is born seems unlikely to cause obesity, so should expectant mothers considering a caesarean birth be worried?

The study recruited women during early pregnancy and then followed their children after birth (1,255 in total). Data were collected on a wide range of lifestyle and health factors from both parents and children.

Just over 20% of the children were born by caesarean section. Even after accounting for differences in birth weight and the mothers' pre-pregnancy weight, infants born by C-section had twofold higher odds of developing obesity. The authors postulate that a caesarean birth somehow alters our biology in such a way that there’s a greater risk of developing obesity.

A very basic view of obesity biology is that it’s a consequence of skewed energy balance – if you pump in more calories than your body needs, it will store the excess energy as fat. Although there’s a lot of truth in this model, it’s a gross oversimplification of how our bodies work. It certainly offers no explanation for why rates of obesity should differ between children born by different routes.

So we need to consider what other factors are involved in obesity and how they might relate to birth mode. The prime candidate among these is gut microbes.

 

A sensory survey of healthy people pooing will confirm we all have individual differences. Kevyn Jacobs

 

Obesity can be readily induced experimentally by feeding a high-calorie diet to mice. This makes it sound like a cut-and-dried case for diet being the main factor. But the microbes that live in the gut (the gut microbiota) also contribute to our nutrition.

The involvement of gut microbiota in nutrition has been tested by keeping mice delivered by caesarean section in germ-free isolators to have them grow up with no microbes. Researchers found diet-induced obesity was extremely difficult to generate in the absence of microbes.

The killer experiment, however, was when researchers re-introduced microbes into these previously germ-free mice. Mice that were colonised with microbes from fat mice (who’d been fed the high-calorie diet) put on a lot more weight than those that were colonised by microbes from lean mice. This indicates that the microbes in our gut influence how much of the food we eat actually gets turned into fat.

So the risk factor is what gut microbes you have and what we really need to be asking is whether a caesarean birth change our gut microbiota. Addressing this question requires you take a great interest in poo, since much of it is basically gut microbes.

In healthy adults, the microbial community is stable over time, but individually distinctive – each of us has a unique collection of microbial mates. Even a brief sensory survey of healthy people pooing will confirm we all have individual differences.

How we get these differences is essentially a combination of what microbes we are exposed to (our environment), what food we give them (our diet) and time (our developmental stage). Babies born by caesarean section will definitely have a different initial exposure to microbes and this latest study forces us to consider the possibility that this initial difference could cause lifelong differences that predispose some to obesity.

 

A stable microbial community isn’t formed until we have a fully developed immune system and an adult diet pattern. Steven Depolo

 

Although birth is when we first encounter microbes, the process of acquiring a stable gut microbiota takes time. As any parent knows, an infant’s poo will change dramatically in texture, smell and even colour over the first year and introducing anything new to the diet often precedes an interesting experience. A stable microbial community isn’t formed until we have a fully developed immune system and an adult diet pattern – well after age three.

To assess the risks of a caesarean birth for later obesity we need to know the relative importance of birth mode and postnatal environment on microbial colonisation. Studies in both animals and humans suggest that diet and environment over the postnatal period are more important than events immediately around birth.

Those aspects of the postnatal environment that appear most important are infant diet (especially breastmilk as opposed to formula milk) and the gut microbiota of the people most closely exposed to an infant (both parents, any siblings and childcare).

Interestingly, the Project Viva study also found significant differences between paternal and maternal body mass index (children delivered by caesarean were more likely to have overweight parents) and breast-feeding patterns (children delivered by natural birth were more likely to have initiated breast-feeding and to have been breastfed for longer).

This fascinating study shows how environmental factors influence our insides. Whether caesarean deliveries drove the difference in obesity observed in the Project Viva cohort or were simply associated with other postnatal environmental factors is a question that requires further study. For now, I wouldn’t let worry about obesity trump other reasons for considering a caesarean birth.

Andrew Holmes receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health & Medical Research Council.

The Conversation

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

Industry-sponsored self-regulation: it’s just not cricket

OBESE NATION: It’s time to admit it – Australia is becoming an obese nation. This series looks at how this has happened and more importantly, what we can do to stop the obesity epidemic.

Today Rob Moodie and Kate Taylor talk about how little the Australian government is doing to stop the epidemic while Kerin O'Dea considers measures that could work.


The world keeps getting fatter and no country has yet successfully managed to reduce adult rates of overweight and obesity. Rates are levelling in a few countries – sometimes at low levels as in Japan, Korea, and Switzerland and sometimes at levels comparable to Australia, as in Hungary and England. Australia has also seen instances of flattening in trends (but at high levels) in pre-school children, but adult rates continue to rise.

 

Country Year Prevalence %
USA 2008 33.8
Mexico 2006 30
Scotland 2008 27
New Zealand 2007 26.5
Ireland 2007 25
Australia 2007 24.5
Canada 2008 24.2
England 2009 23
Ranked rates of measured obesity 2010

 

Countering obesity should be a government priority, because excess weight creates a significant drag on countries’ health budgets and productivity. And the role governments can play was the focus of a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. The report outlines key policy actions to improve health and nutrition.

They include:

  • Taxing unhealthy food, including soft drink, and subsidising fruit and vegetables;

  • Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar;

  • Regulating to reduce unhealthy food advertising to children, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Interventions like these are important because they protect the most vulnerable in society – the poorest and the young.

Local efforts

In Australia, the Preventative Health Taskforce has provided a blueprint for action against obesity. It recognised governments' key role in reducing unhealthy food marketing to children, improving labelling, and investigating tax and pricing strategies.

 

Click here to open in new window or republish.

 

Sadly, such measures have yet to be implemented or seriously considered. Rather, the government has focused on elements such as policies in children’s settings around food supply and active play, funding for community interventions and social marketing campaigns – all softer options favoured in the political satire, The Hollowmen.

At the same time, there’s been a focus on partnership with industry. While this is important, it has also led to a clear reluctance to leverage regulatory and fiscal measures because of lobbying by the many industries that profit from high and growing consumption of their products.

This is a significant lost opportunity because tax and pricing measures result in the largest health gains in the shortest time frame. Australian research has shown that they are also the most cost-effective interventions, with a 10% tax resulting in large health gains, particularly for low-income groups. A number of countries – including Denmark, Hungary, Finland, and France – have legislated to tax fat or sugar.

Labelling of packaged food has also been considered. Former health minister Dr Neal Blewett led a review that recommended traffic-light labelling on the front of packs, among other things. In a surprising move, however, the Australian government argued that there was not enough evidence to justify this system.

 

A number of countries have legislated for a fat tax. Jun Seita

 

Instead, it has established a working group of food industry and public health organisations to develop options for an alternative scheme. Yes Minister, anyone? It appears we haven’t learnt anything from Europe, where industry spent more than one billion Euros fighting against traffic light labelling.

One of the key battlegrounds in Australia remains unhealthy food marketing to children, a major driver in normalising poor diets for life. With marketing becoming increasingly sophisticated and integrated over a range of platforms, direct targeting of children and adolescents is easier and cheaper than ever before. And social media makes it ever more effective. Advertisements masquerading as games, for instance, are increasingly popular, moving from television to the internet into mobile phone apps.

The dangers of self-regulation

This is what is happening under government-endorsed, industry-formulated self-regulation – marketers are way ahead of any weak, industry-sponsored controls. Despite calls for a national approach, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and Australian health ministers have treated the issue as a hot potato, currently vesting responsibility with the Australian National Preventative Health Agency. This group has been asked to do yet another review of the evidence, organise a seminar and undertake some monitoring. At best we might see stronger self-regulation.

All over the world, governments fear the power of the many industries associated with the obesity epidemic. It’s not just the producers, manufacturers and retail giants, but also the advertisers, public relations companies and media. All have major economic interests in marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, including alcoholic drinks.

 

Numerous industries have economic interests in marketing unhealthy foods and beverages. Tom Lawrence

 

And, of course, a country as interested in sport as Australia also has to contend with powerful bodies, such as Cricket Australia, who benefit from the sponsorship of junk food companies and from the money made by leading players who relentlessly promote such products to Australian children. In this light, the recent move by the government working with a range of sporting groups to reduce the influence of alcohol should be welcomed and expanded.

We have a lot of experience in good public health policy we could build on. Successive Australian governments have strong records in tobacco control, particularly the current government. It must use these experiences in its efforts to drive down overweight and obesity. It’s unfortunate but unavoidable that the long-term benefits of managing obesity require taking a political stand in the short term. The action the government is taking on tobacco is tremendous. We need similar determination in the face of the obesity epidemic.

This is part fifteen of our series Obese Nation. To read the other instalments, follow the links below:

Part one: Mapping Australia’s collective weight gain

Part two: Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?

Part three: Explainer: how does excess weight cause disease?

Part four: Recipe for disaster: creating a food supply to suit the appetite

Part five: What’s economic growth got to do with expanding waistlines?

Part six: Preventing weight gain: the dilemma of effective regulation

Part seven: Filling the regulatory gap in chronic disease prevention

Part eight: Why a fat tax is not enough to tackle the obesity problem

Part nine: Education, wealth and the place you live can affect your weight

Part ten: Innovative strategies needed to address Indigenous obesity

Part eleven: Two books, one big issue: Why Calories Count and Weighing In

Part twelve: Putting health at the heart of sustainability policy

Part thirteen: Want to stop the obesity epidemic? Let’s get moving

Part fourteen: Fat of the land: how urban design can help curb obesity

Part sixteen: Regulation and legislation as tools in the battle against obesity

Rob Moodie receives funding from Department of Health and Ageing.

K Taylor declares no conflicts of interest.

The Conversation

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

Accessing the market with innovation

Over 60 years ago, expert psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a crucial breakthrough for understanding human behaviour and requirements, and it is still used today.

The most important of the needs outlined in his pyramid are the ‘Basic,’ or ‘Physiological’ needs: food, water, shelter and warmth.

Basically, the things essential to keep you alive.

But why is this relevant to packaging? Because what we’re talking about here is how everyone gets some of these most important requirements.

If a person can’t open the package to consume food or water to keep them alive, it is more than a little problem.

Without being dramatic about this, it is a matter of life and death, or at the very least nutrition.

Even the most able-bodies and healthy people know the frustration of not being able to open a package, whether it be food or electronic goods or a packet of pens.

But for an increasing number of Australians, the ability to open many packages is impossible.

“In packaging, there has been a shift towards portion control items andsmaller pack sizes.

“Statistics show that there are 6.4 million people with arthritis or a disability in Australia, seven million people are 50-plus, 1.7 million have problems with their eyesight,” Fergal Barry from Arthritis Australia told Food Magazine.

“If you combine the over-50’s with the number of people with arthritis or a disability, that means one in two are facing some kind of restriction with opening packages.”

“When you to open a jar if pickles, for example, you’re actually performing several tasks at once.

“You’ve got to pick it up and hold it, so the weight and shape of the jar impacts that.

Then there’s the friction, if it’s damp for example, it might be more difficult to hold.

“Then there is the labelling and font size and the effectiveness with how messages are communicated.

“And then the lid!

“The width and the depth of the lid will come into play, as will breaking the seal and resealing it.

“So because it is a combination of tasks, it becomes more difficult.”

Dealing with an ageing population

Our ageing population is growing quicker than medical and assistance services can keep up with, and a recent report found that more than 40 per cent of older Australians living in community housing are “malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.”

Much of this malnourishment can be attributed to the quality of food elderly Australians have access to, how easily they can prepare it, but most importantly, if they can open the packaging it comes in.

And it’s not only in their homes that elderly people are struggling to open food packaging, with those in hospitals often not much better off, as Jacky Nordsvan, Packaging Specialist at Nestlé, told Food Magazine.

“The report by the health services basically showed that poor ease-of-use food packaging is a significant contributor to malnourished elderly in public hospitals,” she said.

“Particularly in public hospitals, where the food is bought in packaged meals, this obviously makes it more difficult for patients to feed themselves.

Nestlé is leading with way in accessible food packaging, to address the needs of not only elderly Australians, but everyone who has ever struggled to get a package opened.

“As they get older, people are less likely to want to ask people to do stuff for you, so it is a real problem we need to address.”

This is where a bunch of Maslow’s other needs on his hierarchy come into play, including safety needs on the rung up from the most basic of needs, all the way up through the self-esteem needs including achievement and respect, to self actualisation needs at the top of the pyramid, which includes talent and fulfilment.

When you look at it like this, and think that packaging is often overlooked by the majority of society, it makes you realise that more has to be done in this market.

1 in 2 Australians struggles to access packaging

“It’s not just focused on that [elderly] part of the population, anything that is hard to open that we can make easier is good for all consumers,” Nordsvan said.

“The reason we’re seen as leaders in the area is because at a packaging conference a couple of years ago, we laid out our packaging and asked people if they could open it and they could use their hands or a knife of hammer and we even had a little mannequin of a husband when it got that hopeless and I think that had our packaging reps been there they would have been mortified about how hard it was.”

Nestlé is one of the partners in Arthritis Australia’s mission to improve packaging accessibility, which Barry points out is about more than just getting a package opened.

“The British use the term ‘openability,’ but I think it suggests by its very nature that it is just about opening packaging, whereas the term we use, ‘accessibility’, is much broader than that,” he said.

“There is more to ‘accessibility,’ there is the openability requirement, which is about being able to open a package.

“There’s the labelling, and people’s ability to read messages and other communications, and lastly the cognitive elements, which is the ability for the consumer to understand messages.”

The collaboration of Arthritis Australia, NSW Health and a number of other manufacturers is a huge step forward for not only developing accessible packaging, but making consumers aware of the importance of doing so.

Fighting for a spot

With all the mandatory information, such as nutritional guides and ingredient lists, added to the essential marketing aspects, on packages which are frequently being cut down to create portion-sized offerings, it’s very crowded place these days.

Add to that the pressures of the high Australian dollar and its impact on exports as well as the strain placed on companies through the supermarket price wars, and you have a very competitive, difficult situation for manufacturers and suppliers.

But if companies are willing to innovate their packaging, like Nestlé has, they will find that they have an extra selling point in the market.

While there will be some costs to changing current packaging to make it accessible, Nordsvan explained that the most crucial way to cut those costs is to consider these needs in the design stages, not when it has been launched and problems identified.

“If you put the consumer in the front of your mind when designing packaging, it is a driver for innovation and when we compare designs, we come up with improvements,” Barry explained to Food Magazine.

“For manufacturers and brand owners in this country with private label increasing in the way that it is, how do you compete with China on cost in Australia?

“We have the Accessibility Benchmark Scale which ranks packaging from a plus eight to minus eight, so if a supermarket is trying to decide between two companies supplying private label packaging, and these isn’t much difference on food quality or price, but the packaging is higher on the accessibility scale, it could win the contract.”

“Now you can say ‘ours is a plus-six and there is a plus-two so ours is far easier to open and will make more sales because unlike us, they have already eliminated parts of the market.’

“It could be your brand that gets deleted from shelves.

“Failure to act when the competition is innovating will lose you the business.

“It will help win business for some, but it will lose it for others.

“And if anyone is sitting there saying ‘that won’t happen,’ well it already is.”

 

Fat of the land: how urban design can help curb obesity

OBESE NATION: It’s time to admit it – Australia is becoming an obese nation. This series looks at how this has happened and more importantly, what we can do to stop the obesity epidemic.

Here Billie Giles-Corti and Carolyn Whitzman discuss ways to change our obesogenic environment through urban design while Jo Salmon looks at the role physical activity and exercise play in healthy lifestyles.


Compared with our grandparents, feeding, clothing, and entertaining ourselves has never been easier: a one-stop weekly shopping centre trip in a car, facilitated by convenient parking and light-weight maneuverable shopping trolleys that allow us to whiz around the supermarket with ease.

In fact, these days people don’t even need to leave home to do their food shopping, order takeaway food, bank or pay bills, shop for clothing or household goods, “visit” with their friends, read the newspaper or amuse themselves. Using the internet or telephone, activities that used to involve some level of activity or a short walk, can be done with “anywhere, anytime” convenience.

 

The internet and telephone have made life easy but it's not all good news. teoruiz/Flickr

 

If we couple this lifestyle of convenience with a media environment that advertises and provides an attractive array of easily-accessed, low-cost and tasty, high-fat, high-sugar foods – it’s not surprising that obesity is such a huge problem.

Australia is one of the global leaders in the obesity epidemic, with two-thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of Australian children, overweight or obese. Alarm bells are ringing in health circles about the impact this will have on all the major preventable diseases: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These diseases will get worse unless we can help people maintain a consistent belt size throughout their life.

Poor diet, lack of physical activity and other sedentary behaviours are the main culprits in the obesity epidemic. People choose how active they are and what they eat. But their local environments – their neighbourhood, local parks and streets, as well as their homes, workplaces and schools – provide opportunities and barriers that affect those choices.

There’s widespread agreement that we’ve created obesogenic environments that encourage both inactivity and overeating. So what can be done about it?

 

People are more likely to walk and cycle if they live in safe, compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. Marionzetta/Flickr

 

For a start, we could improve neighbourhood design to get people out of their cars and onto the streets. People are more likely to walk and cycle if they live in safe, compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods characterised by connected street networks, access to nearby destinations such as shops and parks, mixed uses of building such as housing above shops, and high population density.

People living in the suburban sprawl walk less, drive more, and spend more time in sedentary pursuits, such as watching television or cruising on the internet, than those living in compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. We need to plan services in new communities so that schools, shops, public transport, and parks arrive at the same time as housing – so that residents can develop good walking, cycling and public transport habits from the outset.

At the same time, we need to share the resources available in established suburbs closer to the city where there’s already good access to parks, jobs, and public transport. This means increasing the number of people who live in inner-city suburbs and giving more people access to existing shops and services.

We also need to think about quality and access to open space: parks, ovals, play grounds, and school grounds. The way open space is designed gives people cues about how it is to be used – is this open space simply for vandals and hoons, or does it say to local residents (regardless of age), “this space is open for active business, come and join in”?

 

The way open space is designed gives people cues about how it is to be used. Grant MacDonald

 

Similarly, we need to make the most of what’s called “blue space” – waterways, such as creeks, lakes, rivers and beach fronts. We know that in wealthy areas, blue spaces are opened up and invite the public to be active with walking and cycling paths, but is this true in lower-income areas?

There’s growing evidence that people who drive long distances to work are more likely to gain weight. Reducing commute times would not only be good for the environment, it would also be good for our waistlines – particularly if it involved walking or cycling to rapid public transport. This requires the right types of jobs to be available locally – what type of local business activation models could assist?

We need to give people choices so that healthy options are easy to pick – in neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. Policies ensuring there’s plenty of fruit, water, and healthy take-away food – not just high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar alternatives – give people the opportunity to make healthier choices.

Providing access to community garden spaces encourages children and adults to develop a love of fresh food has the potential to have a positive impact on our waistlines too.

 

Community gardens encourage people to develop a love of fresh food. RDPixelShop/Flickr

 

And we need to think carefully, as a community, about how happy we are about the way unhealthy food is marketed and actively promoted so readily to children and young people. This normalises unhealthy food choices. We may need restrictions on the marketing of fast food to children in the mass media, at school and at sporting events.

These are choices to be made not only by individuals and families, but also by society. Planning and policy interventions are crucial to correct a serious market failure that is promoting unhealthy lifestyles, at the expense of the health and well-being of the nation and the future life expectancy of our children.

We have choices to make as a society. We know what we prefer – how about you?

This is part fourteen of our series Obese Nation. To read the other instalments, follow the links below:

Part one: Mapping Australia’s collective weight gain

Part two: Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?

Part three: Explainer: how does excess weight cause disease?

Part four: Recipe for disaster: creating a food supply to suit the appetite

Part five: What’s economic growth got to do with expanding waistlines?

Part six: Preventing weight gain: the dilemma of effective regulation

Part seven: Filling the regulatory gap in chronic disease prevention

Part eight: Why a fat tax is not enough to tackle the obesity problem

Part nine: Education, wealth and the place you live can affect your weight

Part ten: Innovative strat egies needed to address Indigenous obesity

Part eleven: Two books, one big issue: Why Calories Count and Weighing In

Part twelve: Putting health at the heart of sustainability policy

Part thirteen: Want to stop the obesity epidemic? Let’s get moving

Billie Giles-Corti receives funding from the NHMRC and Australian Urban Infrastructure Network. Professor Giles-Corti is a Fellow of the Public Health Association of Australia.

Carolyn Whitzman receives funding from Australian Urban Infrastructure Network and is a member of the Planning Institute of Australia.

The Conversation

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