Industrial action cancelled at QLD meatworks

The planned industrial action that was set to close Ipswich’s largest meatworks has been cancelled at the last minute.

Workers at JBS Rockhampton abattoir announced plans to walk off the job for four hours today, as they call for a four per cent rise to be included in their bargaining agreement.

The employer responded by declaring the work stoppages would mean the meatworks would have to be closed all day, and workers participating in the strike would not be paid for the day.

Union members voted in favour of the four hour stoppage, which is not the first time workers have walked off the job over the dispute.

But late yesterday, all workers voted not to support the planned industrial action, overriding the union’s plans.

According to Australian Meat Industry Employees Union industrial officer, Lee Norris, further meetings will be held to discuss the issues.

Workers, union members and the employers say they will continue to negotiate in good faith.

 

Injured meat worker wants $500 000

A Rockhampton meatworker injured when three knives plunged into his body is seeking more than $750 000 in damages.

Steven Charles Larson was working as a slaughterman at the JBS Nerimbera abattoir in 2009 when the freak accident occurred, leaving him with stabs to his neck, collarbone and hand.

The now 41-year-old wounds resulted in permanent damage and pain to his neck and left hand, and has also ruined his career possibilities, the court has heard.

Documents lodged with the Supreme Court in Rockhampton stated that at 5:45am on 14 July 2009, the Mount Morgan man was preparing for his shift by sharpening his knives in the "kill floor" anteroom.

The room was located directly below a set of stairs leading to the floor, and when a colleague was walking up the stairs, she dropped her knife kit.

Three knives fell and speared Larson, according to the claim.

Larson is suing for the loss of his weekly pay packet of $800 for the past three years and then for the next 25 years.

The total compensation will total over $500 000.

Larson is also seeking compensation for his medical expenses, both past and continuing, for the injuries sustained in the accident.

Larson has "endured and continues to endure pain, suffering and diminution of the enjoyment of the amenities of life,” according to the statements, which also say the company is "vicariously liable" for the actions of Larson's colleague.

They argue that JBS failed to provide a safe workplace by ensuring proper barricades would stop falling knives hitting employees.

It’s not been an enjoyable time of late for JBS, with news yesterday that it would be closing the Dinmore meatworks on Friday in response to workers walking off the job.

The move comes after a number of work stoppages, as workers fight for a four per cent annual pay rise to be included in a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

Management at JBS Australia’s Dinmore meatworks said the decision by workers to walk off the job for four hours on Friday will mean the entire plant will have to be closed all day.

Goodman Fielder slashes jobs to address rising costs

 

More than 500 Goodman Fielder employees across Australia will be out of work as the company restructures the business to reduce costs.

'It is expected that 115 roles will be removed from the baking division as a result of the consolidation of the three bakery facilities,' Goodman Fielder said in a statement.

'This brings the total number of roles removed across the company to 541 this financial year.'

More than 30 redundancies will impact those employed in central and far north Queensland.

The job losses are the result of difficult trading conditions, according to spokesperson Martin Cole.

Goodman Fielder’s Rockhampton bakery will be close in July, with the one located in Cairns to follow early next year.

"In total it's around 35 positions will be made redundant across those two facilities but we will be expanding the Townsville facility, we'll be offering redeployment opportunities where that's available to our employees," Cole said.

"It's really in response to what are continued difficult trading conditions and we need to make sure we can improve our manufacturing efficiency and that's why we've made this decision."

Goodman Fielder said on Monday that its Townsville bakery would be upgraded to service customers in the north Queensland region.

The bakery at Whiteside in Melbourne would be closed in 2013.

Goodman Fielder is also simplifying its bakery range to improve efficiency, on-shelf availability and already will reduce the current range of 450 products to about 350.

Late last year, Goodman Fielder was considering abolishing daily bread deliveries to save money, blaming the supermarket price wars.

Transportation of the food products accounts for 40 per cent of the company’s spending, but a spokesperson told Food Magazine that it decided not to proceed with the change.

“That was something that was said as an off-the-cuff remark made in a briefing, and it’s certainly not something we’ve progressed with and we do not have any plans to, moving forward,” the spokesperson said.

“It was something we were investigating, but will not be implementing at this stage.

The spokesperson explained that the move was, at that time, not necessary or appropriate for the Australian market.

“Of course we keep abreast of developments in other countries and look at whether they are things we should consider, but this is one we will not be moving on at the moment.”

Then in February the world’s largest palm oil trader bought a 10 per cent stake in the company.

Singapore-based Wilmar International bought the stake for $115 million, and may buy more.

“Wilmar is currently assessing whether to increase its shareholding,” the company said in a statement.

Industrial action closes Ipswich’s biggest meatworks

Following a number of work stoppages, a meatworks in Queensland’s Ipswich has will close completely on Friday, as workers fight for a four per cent annual pay rise to be included in a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

Management at JBS Australia’s Dinmore meatworks said the decision by workers to walk off the job for four hours on Friday will mean the entire plant will have to be closed all day.

Those who do strike will not be paid for the day.

The meatworks is the largest private company in Ipswich, with 2000 employees.

Members of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) began a ban on working overtime in May as part of their fight for the four per cent payrise, and when they did not get the response they wanted, began a number of two-hour stoppages earlier this month.

Last Thursday and Friday AMIEU members conducted four-hour strikes, and tomorrow’s planned action will be met with a total closure by the company.

"Unfortunately, the industrial action was extended to four hours on Thursday, June 21, for the night shift and on Friday for the day shift," JBS Australia director and manager of corporate and regulatory affairs John Berry said.

"We will stop operations completely this Friday because a four-hour stoppage causes animal welfare issues and food safety issues and the viability of the whole shift is affected."

Berry wouldn’t speculate about the impact of ongoing stoppages on shifts and said representatives from JBS will meet with reps from AMIEU in an attempt to reach a compromise.

"We've put the three per cent offer on the table, but anything more than that is not commercially viable in terms of the long-term operation of the Dinmore meatworks," Berry said.

"We constantly discuss these issues with the on-site delegate and the union."

AMIEU state secretary Brian Crawford said he was unaware of any official plans by JBS to shut down the plant in response to the workers strike.

"As far as I'm aware the lockout has only been presented as a possibility, but it won't affect future stoppages," he said.

"The issues continue to be a four per cent pay increase, improved employment continuity, guaranteed "no disadvantage" in respect of public holidays due to flexible rostering and payment of reasonable penalty rates (30%) when working additional days.

Reduced quarantine dogs will put WA at risk: union

The decision by the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) to reduce biosecurity measures at Perth Airport has been slammed by a state union.

The Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association branch secretary said the proposed changes would put the state at risk.

The changes include dog handlers performing quarantine duties at the Perth domestic airport, and the eight handlers will be reduced by half.

The change is due to be implemented on 1 July, and will leave the airport without any quarantine inspections after 8pm on weekends.

Walkington believes the changes will increase the risks of prohibited insects, animal pests, plants, animal diseases and weeds entering the state.

"The decision will leave WA susceptible to diseases it has fought hard to be quarantined from," she said.

"This is a clear-cut example of front-line services being affected as department heads are forced to administer the State Government cutbacks.

"With Perth's domestic airport now processing record flight numbers every day, it doesn't make sense to reduce quarantine services."

Walkington has accused WA Premier Colin Barnett of being hypocritical with the decision, after he said he was concerned about federal government plans to cut jobs at customs' district offices and the potential impact on agriculture and public health.

"At the same time Mr Barnett is letting his government compromise border security with quarantine cut backs," she said.

According to DAFWA agricultural risk management executive director John Ruprecht, the job cuts are the result of increased staff at the Eucla's 24-hour quarantine service.

"This is necessary to meet the demands for managing pests and diseases, rather than budget cuts," he said.

"The department is looking at a more targeted risk-based response in regards to quarantine, due to cost pressures and trying to be more effective.

"We are facing pressures such as extra staff, wages, and operating costs."

Ruprecht said the plan involved looking at how long quarantine dogs were on the floor at the domestic airport and if that was the best way to oversee the area.

"Having the dogs on the floor for a longer duration of time didn't necessarily equate to greater effectiveness," he said.

While there will be less dog handlers at Perth domestic airport, the number of quarantine dogs will remain the same, he explained.

"The risk-based approach we will now take will target passengers from those States with the greatest risk and be more effective," he said.

"We are still going to continue with random after hours and weekend inspections."

Image: Perth Airport

AFGC appoints new CEO

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC)’s new chief executive will begin at the end of next month.

Gary Dawson will come to the food and packaging’s peak representative group from Thales Australia, where he is the senior executive in charge of corporate affairs, communications and strategy. 

Prior to this he filled a similar role at the ABC, managing strategy and communications and has also worked at the highest levels of government, spending five years as a Senior Advisor to Prime Minister John Howard, covering both media and policy, and four years as an advisor to ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell.

Carnell stepped down from the role as chief executive of the AFGC in January to take up the same position at the Butterfly Foundation, which provides education and support on eating disorders in Australia.

Chairman of the AFGC, John Doumani, congratulated Gary on his appointment.

 “Gary brings tremendous experience and proven success at senior executive levels in both the public and private sectors, with a career spanning media, politics and business,” he said.

“Importantly, he also has experience in an Industry body, having worked as Director of Communications at the NSW Law Society.

Dawson will officially commence his duties as AFGC chief on 30 July.

McDonald’s takes you behind the scenes, but is is really as it seems?

In an interesting PR move for the fast food giant, McDonald’s has released a video showing why the burgers displayed in its advertising look so different to those actually sold in stores.

As consumers become more aware of the tricks and gimmicks used by food companies to buy their products, McDonald’s Canada has decided transparency is a good move.

The video shows the burger being taken apart and reassembled so that all the ingredients are clearly visible in the advertising.

The appearance of melting cheese is created by a hot iron, and the sauce is carefully placed by a syringe.

The burger perfected by a photographer and food stylist is compared to a Quarter Pounder purchased in a store, and the differences are obvious.

While on the surface, the video is lifting the lid – or seeded bun – on how McDonald’s uses a few tricks to make the food look better, when you dig deeper, their intentions become more obvious.

The tricks that food companies use to make their products look delicious are well known in the industry; everything from nailing pizza to a board, putting marbles in a soup can to make the pasta float to the top and replacing whipped cream with shaving cream to get better peaks went on for years.

The rules surrounding advertising of food products have become more restrictive, but companies all still use some kind of trickery in their ads.

The interesting part of the McDonald’s video is that nothing that is not actually on the burger is placed on the burger used for advertising.

“I think it’s important to note that all the ingredients that Noah [food stylist] uses are the exact same ingredients we use in the restaurant,” Marketing Manager Hope Bagozzi says in the video.

Also interesting is Bagozzi declaring within the first minute, when purchasing a real burger from an outlet, that it is “hot and fresh.”

So, is it a clever marketing ruse in itself, for McDonald’s to proclaim it is being transparent, when there is far more going on under the surface?

You be the judge. Check out the video below.

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Coal seam gas is coming to Victoria, and we’re nowhere near ready

Coal seam gas mining is rapidly expanding beyond the eastern basin states. The Inquiry into Greenfields Mineral Exploration and Project Development in Victoria recommends the Victorian Government establish a process to consult stakeholders about the future development of goal seam gas. But Victoria’s laws simply aren’t ready for this new form of mining.

Mining is a relatively small component of the Victorian economy. In 2009-2010 this sector contributed $5.9 billion (2%) of Victoria’s gross state product. The primary focus of the Victorian economy is agriculture, which covers approximately 60% of Victoria. Coal seam gas expansion is likely to have a significant impact on this sector in Victoria. Striking a balance between farming and coal seam gas mining will, however, be difficult. The intersection between mining and agriculture, and in particular the impact that coal seam gas mining will have upon food security, is a major concern.

The Minerals Council of Australia has previously noted that “mining and agriculture” have co-existed for 150 years and that “mining operations' water consumption by volume could be largely offset by minor efficiency gains in the agricultural sector”. The Victorian division of the Minerals Council has largely rejected the impact of mining on food security, saying it’s “not a real concern for Australia”.

These conclusions do not, however, have any real cogency for coal seam gas mining, a new form of mining for Victoria. Any mining activity which diverts and degrades large quantities of water will inevitably have a significant impact upon the agricultural sector in Victoria.

Coal seam gas mining involves extracting methane gas from the coal seam. The extraction process involves the use of vast quantities of water, which is diverted from sub-surface aquifers. This diversion will inevitably affect farmers' and others' pre-existing entitlements to aquifers.

Coal seam gas mining also generates vast quantities of highly saline water. This water needs to be properly disposed or it could contaminate fresh water and cause further environmental degradation. The practice of hydraulic fracturing also has the potential to create connection between sub-surface aquifers, thereby generating cross-contamination.

The existing legislative framework in Victoria is patently inadequate. The current law in Victoria is the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (Vic) (MRSD). The MRSD vests ownership of all minerals, defined to include hydro-carbons contained within coal (and therefore including coal seam gas) in the Crown. The MRSD does not mandate notification or consent from the landowner before mining operations start, but an applicant must get Ministerial approval before commencing work within 100 metres of an existing dwelling.

The MRSD allows licencees to enter into compensation agreements with landowners. However, these agreements relate to loss or damage that has already occurred and, significantly, have no connection to the value of the mineral which is extracted.

The MRSD does require mining applicants to obtain a “statement of economic significance” in circumstances where their application covers agricultural land. The Minister can decide to exempt agricultural land from the application of a mining licence. But this only happens when the Minister decides that there would be greater “economic benefit to Victoria” in continuing the use of the land as agricultural as opposed to developing it for mining.

The MRSD does not clearly delineate how an exemption determination should be assessed. It appears, though, that the decision has an “economic” focus and “employment” and “revenue” considerations are highly relevant. The Greenfields Report has a strong focus on “direct and indirect” financial benefits associated with expanding the resources sector in Victoria. So it’s likely that agricultural exemptions will become increasingly difficult to obtain under the MRSD in the future.

The Greenfields report recommends development of a state-wide integrated, strategic land use policy framework to better manage “competing land uses” in Victoria. This recommendation is best implemented, as has occurred in New South Wales, with a Strategic Regional Land Use Policy. Under the policy, Strategic Regional Land Use Plans (SRLUPs) coordinate water management, water-use conflict and land-management.

This initiative should be reinforced by a code of conduct for coal seam gas mining, mandating land-access arrangements between mining applicants and land-owners and requiring proper and adequate disclosure of the nature and volume of any chemical additives which have been used.

These policies should then be supplemented by comprehensive changes to the MRSD as well as the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic) and the Water Act 1989 (Vic). These would ensure coal seam gas expansion is subjected to appropriate environmental and water licencing regulation.

The government should take the opportunity to engage the public in strategic choices concerning the co-ordination of Victorian resources. It must develop a policy framework capable of properly evaluating the consequences of coal seam gas development. In so doing, it should adopt a precautionary approach, commensurate with public expectations, that takes account of the risk of irreversible harm being inflicted upon Victorian land and the industries and livelihoods dependent on that land.

Samantha Hepburn 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.

We source most of our fresh produce locally: Woolworths

Woolworths has unveiled a new advertising campaign, intended to inform consumers that contrary to widely-held opinion, it actually sources 96 per cent of its fresh produce from Australia.

Most consumers believe half or less of fresh meat sold in Australian supermarkets is locally grown, but Woolworths says all of it is.

Consumers are also increasingly aware of the freshness of products by the time it gets to their shopping trolley.

"There is little doubt that supermarkets can be doing a better job in informing customers about who we are and how we are able to deliver the best fresh food in the country,” managing director of Woolworths supermarket and petrol division, Tjeerd Jegen said.

“That's why Woolworths is embarking on a multi-million dollar brand and consumer awareness campaign.

"As Australia's iconic fresh food retailer we are reaching out to customers. We have a responsibility as Australia's largest national supermarket to better explain to customers where their food comes from and to improve their shopping experience."

The slight change to Woolworths’ Fresh Food People slogan is sure to be met with some scepticism though, as produce growers still struggle to make ends meet.

The new advertising and branding campaign marks "a fresh promise to our customers" to be 'Australia's fresh food people,’ the company said.

 

4 million Aussies struggle to open packaging: how the industry is improving

Evolving lifestyles and an ageing population will force packaging to innovate, as they attempt to meet changing household demographics and more educated consumers.

“The average household has two occupants,” Paul Curtis, chief executive of the Packaging Council of Australia told the AIP National Conference.

“We’re all seeing increased demand for sealable packages to reduce wastage, portion controlled packaging to meet our diet needs, as well as on-the-go packaging to eat when out and about,” he said.

“Packaging will get more and more attention in the future.”

A collaboration between NSW Health, Arthritis Australia and companies including Nestle, is already making significant changes to the packaging industry, particularly with accessibility.

Accessible packaging is a crucial component in packaging nowadays, with a rapidly ageing population, who mostly want to stay at home rather than going into aged care.

But it’s not just older Australians who struggle to open packaging, as Wendy Favorito, Director and Consumer Representative, Arthritis Australia said.

After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age, Favorito is finds opening a lot of packaging an impossible task.

“When I look at a picture of a jar, you might as well show me a picture of Mount Everest, because it is basically that impossible to me,” she said.

Favorito explained that the impossible task of opening jars, cans and other kinds of packaging takes an emotional toll on the person.

“Every day I struggle to open something and that has a huge emotional toll in trying to live independently and maintain self esteem,” she said.

“I feel angry, I feel frustrated, I feel disappointed and I am not alone.

“I am privileged to tell my story on behalf of about 4 million Australians who are living with some form of arthritis.”

NSW Health has committed to supplying hospitals with easily opened packaging, and Nestle is also working towards improving its standards, as determined by the Accessibility Scale created by Arthritis Australia.

“Accessibility is a key area of development for the NSW Minister for Health,” NSW Health’s Carmen Rechbauer said.

“The issue for food service people is not to go backwards, but to improve the safety of meals delivered to patients.

“They are portion-controlled to ensure patient are their getting their nutrients, but people can’t open the stuff to eat it.

“And I’m not just talking about patients, but staff as well.

“ If you think about hospital patients, they are just the general population, who pass though there.

“It’s exciting to see accessibility is being taken seriously now.”
 

Make sure to check out the in-depths feature on accessible packaging in the June edition of Food Magazine.

Family farms won’t survive and it’s not all Coles and Woollies fault: AIP National Conference

The 2012 Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) Conference has kicked of in Queensland, and food and packaging experts have already shared their thoughts on the future of the Australian industry.

Tom Schneider, President of the World Packaging Organisation began his address to the audience by saying Australians are “very much like Texans, you meet people well and you enjoy people.”

Terry O’Brien, Managing Director, Simplot had some more controversial comments on the state of the industry and what producers and companies need to dot o stay afloat.

“People keep saying things like ‘If we could just legislate against Coles and Woolworths and stop them bullying companies,  it would fix everything.,’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

These retailers take roughly 33 per cent of profit out of the chain; globally, the level is about 25 per cent, so it is higher.

“Woolworths is the second highest profit margin maker behind Walmart.

“The fact that Woolworths is so successful isn’t a fluke, they have worked hard over a number of years and they aren’t stopping.

“And they’re looking for further profit.”

O’Brien shared his view that the rapidly changing food and packaging supply industries will continue to push producers and manufacturers to innovate and improve their business models.

“The press has had a lot of fun with the retailers and the food industry taking shots at each other over these kinds of statistics, rather than getting them together at a table to discuss the issues.

"The AFGC [Australian Food and Grocery Council] has started doing that and some kind of truce has been called.

“There is a responsibility for Coles and Woollies, given their size, for them to respect suppliers.

“When they make decisions to D-list people, they have to understand the impact of that. 

“I think they do understand, but they have to communicate those through the organisation. 

“They’re not the pseudo protectors for companies in Australia, so if you’re  sitting in a company that’s not looking bright, and is not innovating, the future is not bright for you in Australia.

When questioned about yesterday’s news that Woolworths chief Grant O’Brien has extended an olive branch to manufacturers and suppliers to develop an independent body to oversee dialogue between the major supermarkets and suppliers, O’Brien (Terry, who assures there is no family connection) was cautiously optimistic.

“Things are usually settled much better sitting around table than in all out warfare,” he said.

“How far and how deep into issues they would go, I don’t know.

“What he has offered so far is not going to the heart of the issues we have, so we need more discussions about that.”

He said not everything can be blamed on the major supermarkets, and that companies and suppliers cannot expect to continue doing business exactly ads they have done for decades.

“You have to make yourself a corporation rather than a family farm system,” he said.

“I love farmers, I spend a lot of time with them and I wish the model could stay where it is to make money, but unfortunately that won’t be the case.

“Regional areas are going to suffer.”

“No matter which way you cut it, we’re too expensive.

“There’s been a lot of talk about cheap imports, but when I’ve travelled the world, I’ve found that is the normal price, and we pay too much.

“It just costs too much to produce things in Australia, and it comes down to our standard of living.

“We expect to be able to support the standard of living we have, people are widespread geographically and people demand wage increases and things like that.

“But nobody tries to be better than average because average gets them paid.

“We have to be very efficient, and chase constant productivity improvements.”

O’Brien said the increased union activity of late is not beneficial to the industry, nor is the changed attitude to redundancies and retirement.

“The re-energised union movement in Australia is not helping,” he said.

“I’ve always been a supporter of unions, but I’m really pissed off with them now and I think they’re chasing people offshore now.

“And redundancies are just such a big nest egg, people now would love to walk out the door at retirement with a redundancy payment.

“How do you unwind this sort of thing?

Coles and Woollies wiping out regional grocers: lobby group

The Senate Inquiry into Coles and Woolworths’ anti-competitive behaviour is not impacting their mission to take over the grocery sector entirely, and the independents are desperately calling on the federal government to step in.

The independents are banding together to create a lobby campaign group over plans for the big two to increase floor space by over 5 per cent in the next few years.

Coles and Woolworths have undertaken research and development over the last few years which has seen them close dozens of stores and reopen them in other areas.

These areas, the independents say, are usually where they are located.

A local IGA or smaller grocer is then pushed out of business as they find it impossible to compete with the ridiculously low prices the major supermarkets can achieve through their anti-competitive and bullying behaviour.

The Senate Inquiry into the actions of Coles and Woolworths is struggling to get people who will comment on the behaviour of the big two, while factories continue to close and more private label products spring up on shelves.

Last week, Steven Strachan, the outgoing chief executive of the Australian Winemakers Federation, who would only speak once he had left the position, for fear of the consequences if he spoke out earlier, said the major supermarkets are bullying the winemakers too.

''If you're an individual company that speaks out against them or says anything publicly that criticises their tactics, they would have no hesitation in giving you a holiday from their shelves and that is what's creating a culture of fear and compliance in the industry,'' Strachan said

''Whenever I've made comments in the press, I could only talk about retailers in a generic sense, but they [Coles and Woolworths] would religiously follow up on those comments and make it known they were displeased.

The pressure placed on food producers is well-known to everyone in the industry – Food Magazine has spoken to countless manufacturers about the pressures placed on them by Coles and Woolworths, but none will speak on the record – and they have even been accused of contributing to road deaths with unrealistic delivery demands.

A Commonwealth Bank assessment of Woolworths' $1-billion-a-year growth plan, which will see it swoop into more regional centres, including West Dubbo, Ulladulla and Morriset, found the huge supermarkets being developed are too big for the areas.

''Many of the Woolworths developments have been in areas with marginal medium-term economics for supermarkets,'' the Commonwealth Bank analysis said.

''We are concerned that in addition to the poor lending conditions, Woolworths is not helping itself by developing marginal sites.''

The report questioned Woolworths’ ''exceptionally high'' forecast floorspace growth of 3 per cent a year.

Master Grocers Australia, which lobbies on behalf of independents IGA and Foodworks, will use the bank assessment to support its claim that the big two are opening bigger stores than necessary to wipe out the competition.

''Master Grocers Australia believes the strategy is conscious, deliberate and intended to bring about a substantial lessening of competition in those local markets where over-large stores are developed,'' a draft report said, according to The Age.

Master Grocers will use the findings to lobby the federal government and Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), calling for more action to stop the inundation of Coles and Woolworths’ around the country.

It wants MPs and the ACCC to use their powers to probably investigate and assess the profitability of such stores, push for mandatory competition and net community benefit tests in planning stages prior to approval and also legislate that prior notice of proposed property acquisitions by the major chains must be provided.

Coles spokesman Jon Church told The Sydney Morning Herald the claims are ''nice conspiracy theory with no basis in fact''.

''We only open stores where there is a consumer need and we believe we can make a return on our investment,'' he said.

And it’s not just the grocery market the big two are wiping out, they also plan to bring the liquor, hardware, office supplies and gaming, arms of their businesses to “marginal” areas.  

''The effect is the elimination of competition in these local markets,'' the report said.

Master Grocers has identified a number of stores which it says are “oversized,” including a 2383 metre square Woolworths store and liquor outlet in Bright, which has a population of 2100.

There is also a proposed 3100 metre square Woolworths store in Seville, where the population is 1800 and a 2600 square metre store which has opened in Koo Wee Rup, where there is only 2803 people living.

Woolworths spokeswoman Clare Buchanan told The Sydney Morning Herald that the company's competitors would not know the potential profitability of individual stores, but she did admit the company looks to open new stores in growth areas

''Developers look to incorporate amenities such as supermarkets in order to attract people to live in an area,” she said.

“This means we commit to a long-term investment in the future growth potential of a suburb.''

Here at Food Magazine, we've been asking whether we need a Royal Commission into the behaviour of the major supermarkets. Do you think it's come to that?

Pizzas not selling, we’ll make potatoes instead: McCain UK factory to slash 40 jobs

McCain Foods will stop producing frozen pizzas in the UK, amid disappointing sales.

About 40 jobs are under threat at the Scarborough factory, which will move away from baking and topping pizzas in favour of producing backed potatoes.

The statement released by the company confirmed that declining pizza sales are the reason behind the move, and that the surge in demand for its Ready Baked jacket potatoes, which are sold frozen in boxes of four, would offer a better return.

While the cost of converting the prepared food facility currently used to produce the pizzas will be significant, the company believes it will be money well spent, as sales are expected to continue increasing.

“The scale of the work required means decommissioning the current unit and extensive installation of new equipment,” McCain managing director Alan Bridges said.

“As a result, we have met employers and made preparations for a period of consultation because, regrettably, up to 40 jobs may be at risk of redundancy.

“The exact number will become clearer once the consultation takes place and all options for sustainable alternative employment have been fully explored.”

Image: The Scarborough News

World food prices drop to 8-month low

World food prices dropped to their lowest level in eight months, according to a U.N. Agency.

In the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s monthly report, it said food commodities fell by four per cent in May, as fluctuations in currencies and supplies continue to impact the industry.

The agency, based in Rome, monitors food prices closely, largely because it has observed increases in staple foods lead to violence in some countries in recent years.

In September, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has said wars and political uproar could become a reality if Western counties don’t address global food security.

We need plans and education to protect agricultural land: farm group

As the debate over foreign ownership of prime agricultural land and Australia being Asia’s ‘foodbowl’ rages, a new review by a leading farming group has found that the land needs to be preserved.

The Australian Farm Institute (AFI) found that everybody thinks their particular interest in land should be prioritised, whether they’re environmentalists, farmers, miners, or even overseas and urban developers.

The Does Australia need a national policy to preserve agricultural land? report also looked at the suggestion that local production would have to increase by 70 per cent to become the world ‘foodbowl’ Prime Minister Gillard wants us to be.

She made the comments last month, saying Australia should embrace the growing Asian middle class, and gear itself towards supplying their food.

But it has been slammed by experts, who say Asia won’t need Australian food because it has already made contingencies to supply for its own people, and by farmers who say the PM is out of touch with farmers and that current policies are hindering the industry, not helping it.

The AFI recommended in its report that  Australian policy-makers should think carefully about future farmland management.

The report is largely focused on mining and the onset of coal seam gas and its impact on farming and the environment, but it also touches on the hugely controversial foreign ownership of agricultural land, and the governmental policies to encourage investment from overseas companies.

"We can only go by what the statistics tell us and there are no useable statistics on how much agricultural land is being lost to competing interests and foreign owned farming companies each year," AFI executive director Mick Keogh said.

There were calls earlier this year for a register of all the investors in Australian land, to provide transparency for the industry and wider Australian society.

"An increasing number of people are starting to express concerns that Australia is being too reckless with its best agricultural land and future generations might regret decisions that are currently being made about the future use of that land," Keogh said.

"Agriculture productivity is directly related to the quality of a soil and prevailing climatic conditions and while Australia appears to have plenty of land in reality only about three per cent is actually suitable for cropping and even less of this is considered to be prime agricultural land.

"With urban, mining and environmental demands taking up more land and foreign investors also purchasing significant areas it's legitimate to ask whether Australia can realistically plan to become the future food bowl of Asia."

The AFI's research also found Australia did not have a good understanding of where our prime land is located or how much of it was not being used for agriculture.

Earlier this week, the Federal Government’s plans to make Australia the Asian food bowl were labelled “a waste of taxpayer’s money” by the Wilderness Society, and a poll found over 80 per cent of Australians are also against plans to encourage Chinese investment in agricultural land.

Is anyone really listening? The Murray Darling and the limits to community consultation

On 28 May 2012 the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) handed down its long awaited revised blueprint to restore health to the Murray Darling Basin.

The plan was the result of a 20-week community engagement process launched in October 2011. The consultation process involved 24 public meetings, 56 round table and technical meetings, 18 social and economic briefings for representatives from rural financial organisations, five regional briefings on water trading issues, and an Indigenous consultation process. There were also 31 bilateral and working group meetings with basin states.

At the conclusion of the process almost 12,000 submissions had been received, resulting in 300 alterations to the draft plan.

This stage of the MDBA’s public consultation process was, however, only the formal phase of its engagement strategy, as required under section 43 of the Water Act 2007 (Cwth). Even before the formal consultation process had been initiated, the MDBA had convened 110 round table and technical meetings and more than 200 multilateral and bilateral meetings and working group sessions with state and territory government officials. It had even consulted on the best way of consulting with stakeholders.

Robert Lisle

 

Community consultation mechanisms have become a familiar fixture within the policy maker’s tool kit. Such strategies became increasingly popular both in Australia and internationally in the 1990s, even if government rhetoric about their purported value has not always lived up to reality.

Public engagement strategies can assume a variety of formats and they can run for varying lengths of time. They are almost always costly exercises in financial terms.

Any assessment about the likely benefits and risks associated with public consultation is deeply rooted in particular conceptions about the preferred role of the citizen in the democratic process.

Proponents say these arrangements are inclusive of the body politic (and thereby extend democratic forms of participation). They can also (re)energise and mobilise disaffected citizens back to the political mainstream.

Public consultation can serve as a useful information-gathering tool that draws ideas from a diverse array of perspectives. This can improve the quality of policy outcomes because decisions are informed by a more comprehensive fact finding endeavour. But it also subjects the policy making process to a modicum of transparency that is otherwise lacking in the more traditional model of policy making.

When deployed effectively, public consultation can even enhance the legitimacy of outcomes. The bringing together of the protagonists may produce a more rounded understanding of the complexities of the matter in dispute. This may, in turn, enhance voluntary compliance once a decision is reached. The shared ownership that comes with being granted a voice can help motivate affected parties to comply with the final outcome.

But public consultation does carry risks. It can slow down decision-making. Outcomes may have to be deferred until the consultation process has been exhausted and the views of participants collated. The agents who are most likely to benefit from time delays are policy makers grappling with contentious decisions.

 

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Moreover, implicit in support for public consultation is the assumption that citizens are not only inclined to engage but that they are equipped to do so.

The MDBA’s consultation process, along with its resultant recommendations, exemplifies some of the complexities associated with public engagement.

The concerns of stakeholders have hardly been assuaged by the MDBA’s final report. Not only has the consultation process been denounced as a farce but there have been substantive criticisms of the Authority’s final recommendations.

Nor has the process facilitated rapprochement among the duelling stakeholders. All sides agree that a sustainable basin is critical in both environmental and economic terms. The stakeholders further recognise that the basin has not been managed in the national interest. But this is the extent of the consensus. With the basin stretching one million square kilometres from Queensland to South Australia, the diversity of views held by the stakeholders are as diverse as the area is extensive.

Although the MDBA claims that the feedback it received during the consultation process has strengthened the revised report, little appears to have altered from the original draft plan. The one substantive modification is the imposition of tougher limits on the amount of groundwater that should be extracted over the long term. Yet to the consternation of many, the MDBA adopted a status quo position on the volume of water that should be returned to the river system. The consultation still does not mark the end of the decision-making process. This plan is now subject to ministerial and parliamentary processes across two levels of government.

The future of the basin plan seems bleak. The Victorian State Government has declared it to be “a death warrant that will force agricultural industries across northern Victoria out of business”. The NSW Government has denounced the plan for its failure to clarify its environmental outcomes and its huge impacts on local communities. The depth of the South Australian Government’s displeasure has resulted in preparations for a High Court challenge if the plan is instituted in its present form.

While community engagement has significant merits, it is far from a panacea to resolve contentious policy matters; particularly when the gulf that divides the stakeholders is immense. This is not to say that such processes are a waste of time, only that the outcomes are likely to be mixed.

Narelle Miragliotta 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.

Over 80% of Australians against Chinese investment in agricultural land

Yesterday the Federal Government’s plans to make Australia the Asian food bowl were labelled “a waste of taxpayer’s money” by the Wilderness Society, and now a new poll has found over 80 per cent of Australians are also against plans to encourage Chinese investment in agricultural land.

The Gillard Government’s plans to encourage investment in the north of the country from Chinese investors, in a bid to develop agricultural land was slammed by Wilderness Society spokesman Gaven McFadzean, who said the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce determines some time ago that the region was not ever going to become the ‘foodbowl’ the government is portraying.

When she first made the claims that Australia should work towards being the food bowl for the rising Asian middle class, agricultural groups and farmers were quick to criticise Gillard’s comments, saying saying current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

And it seems there is also opposition coming from other part of Australian society, with the annual 2012 Lowy Institute poll finding 81 per cent of Australians are against foreign investment in prime agricultural land, one of the strongest results recorded on any question the poll has asked ever asked.

Of the 81 per cent opposed to foreign investment, over 60 per cent were strongly opposed.

The federal government is allowing too much Chinese investment in Australia, according to 56 per cent of those polled, and 54 per cent believe food production should stay local.

The Lowly poll asked 1005 people for their opinion on foreign and security policy in Australia between 26 March and 10 April.

The findings show a "general anxiety among Australians about the volatility of the global economy and about the exposure of Australia's economy to global forces,” according to Lowy Institute of International Policy executive director Michael Wesley.

It’s the first time the survey had asked questions about foreign land ownership, and Wesley said the results should implore government’s to "take note of the strong reaction,” before implementing any measures encouraging investment from abroad.

Farmers to receive up to $15 000 for sustainable projects

A joint project between Landcare Australia and Woolworths will award up to $15 000 for individual farms or organisations to support projects improving water use, the carbon footprint of farming or nutrient management.

In a bid to encourage, develop and improve sustainable farming practises throughout Australia, the project has made $150 000 available, which will be awarded to projects that best fit the criteria.

Pat McEntee, Woolworths General Manager Fresh Food, said the project is an important investment into the future of the Australian agriculture sector.

“As Woolworths continues to invest in Australian farmers, the Fresh Food Future open grants program provides farming groups and organisations with a great opportunity to support and develop new ways to increase the sustainability of their operations,” he said.

According to chief executive of Landcare Australia, Heather Campbell, the innovation in the farming industry is often overlooked, and this project plans to reward some of the new ideas Australian farmers are coming up with all the time.

 “Having seen the incredibly innovative projects funded through the Woolworths Fresh Food Future open grants program last year, I am delighted that we can continue to support the sustainable agriculture sector in this way and cannot wait to see what other fantastic projects come our way through this year’s program,” she said.

The Australian farming industry has had a rough trot of it lately, with the average farmer aged over 60, and nowhere near enough new workers coming through the ranks to fill the void left when they retire.

Children in Australia even think that yoghurt grows on trees and cotton socks are an animal product, a report buy the Australia Council of Educational Research found, and agriculture degrees across the country are being discontinued as enrolment numbers continue to dwindle.

Dairy farming has been deemed the second worst job, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook, and farmers are leaving the industry in droves as they struggle to make ends meet in the supermarket milk price wars.

How much extra support do you think the farming industry needs? Do Aussie children need better education about faming?

 

Government’s encouragement of Chinese agricultural investment “a waste of taxpayers’ money”

The Wilderness Society has slammed the Federal Government’s plan to attract Chinese investment to agricultural development in northern Australia, labelling it a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Gillard Government has spoken of plans to encourage investment in the north  of the country from Chinese investors, in a bid to develop agricultural land.

But Wilderness Society spokesman Gaven McFadzean has told the ABC the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce determines some time ago that the region was not ever going to become the ‘foodbowl’ the government is portraying.

"It is virtually in drought (for) seven or eight months of the year, evaporation is very high," he said.

"The geology and the topography of northern Australia does not suit major dam construction.

"It is very flat and most of the rainfall falls very close to the coast, so dam construction is very hard.

"Overwhelmingly the soils of northern Australia are impoverished and nutrient poor."

Last month farming groups dismissed Prime Minister Gillard’s declaration that Australia can be a ‘foodbowl’ for Asia, saying current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

In the same month, there were also reports that a Chinese investment group has made a bid to buy 15 000 hectares in the Kimberly for beef and sugar production to meet the demand of China's rising middle class.

The company, trading as Kimberly Agricultural Investments (KAI) apparently wants to purchase the entire Ord Expansion Project in Western Australia’s Kimberly region, according to The Australian. 

The Ord is newly irrigated land which comes with permanent water rights attached.

KAI is proposing to build a $100 million sugar mill and an abattoir which could process 500 000 cattle per year on the land, if it wins the entire 15 000 hectares of Stage-2 land.

It wants to be able to grow up to 40 000 hectares of sugar crops in the region.

It has been reported that KAI’s indented production on the land will aim to meet the demands of China’s growing middle class for more sugar, beef and biofuel.

The WA government is spending $311 million expanding the Ord irrigation scheme and 14 companies and individual farmers are vying for a part in it as it becomes one of Australia’s major food regions.

But McFadzean said previous studies have shown irrigated agriculture in northern Australia could only be expanded by about 40 000 hectares and that the federal government’s plans are not realistic.

"We are extremely concerned by the scale and size of what is being proposed across northern Australia … very large agriculture and development projects involving dams on rivers, major land clearing, major new infrastructure, with significant environmental impacts," he told the ABC.

"We think (it) will be a waste of taxpayers' money."

Reliance on transported foods could leave entire towns starving: govt report

A new report from the federal government has found that Australia’s growing reliance on foods transported long distances could be deadly in the case of natural disasters or other crises.

The Resilience in the Australian Food Supply Chain report, by the Department of Agriculture, found that the increasing dependence on perishables including milk and produce being transported thousands of kilometres would spell disaster, particularly for smaller towns, if a disaster occurred.

''The key question is whether, following a natural disaster or other major disruptive event, Australians in affected regions would go hungry,” the report says.

“The risk that this could happen is growing, especially if separate events in Australia's eastern states were to coincide.”

Over 75,000 truck trips are conducted each week across Australia to deliver more than 40 million cases of food, which is then sold from about 80,000 retail outlets including supermarkets, shops and restaurants.

Late last month the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused Coles and Woolworths of contributing to road deaths by placing unrealistic demands on truck drivers, and the DAFF report also pointed to the increasingly complicated distribution networks created by the supermarkets as a contributing factor in the potentially dangerous situation.

''Longer supply chains expose transport routes to more points of potential vulnerability from such events as flood, fire and earthquake,'' the report states.

The Queensland floods in late 2010 and early 2011 highlighted some of the major issues with the current supply chain, with Rockhampton cut off by road, rail and air for more than two weeks and Brisbane coming within one day of running out of bread completely.

While nobody starved during the floods, it did highlight the potential risk of larger disasters, or more than one occurring at the same time.

If the Queensland floods had occurred at the same time as the bushfires of 2009, it would have been impossible for food to be delivered to far north Queensland, the report found.

As global warming increases, weather extremities increase and it becomes almost impossible to predict seasons, the possibility of two such disasters occurring simultaneously, or close enough to, is not unrealistic.

''If we had multiple emergency experiences happening around the same time – flood in Queensland, fire events in Victoria and another event in, say, South Australia – then the national system would struggle.,” Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Allen Grant told the current Senate inquiry into food processing.

Last week it was revealed the one in four products currently sold in Australia’s major supermarkets is private label and of those, one in two is imported.

The reliance on imports and lower quality foods to reduce costs in the cut-throat supermarket price war has led to countless Australian farmers, growers, processors and manufacturers being pushed out of work, but the current Senate Inquiry is struggling to get anyone to publically criticise the big two, for fear of punishment.

The departing chief executive of the Winemakers Federation of Australia, who would only speak out because he was leaving the representative body, came out swinging over the weekend, saying the supermarkets are also bullying winemakers, as well as food producers.