Maggie Beer slams supermarket dominance

Celebrity chef and food producer is the latest industry insider to accuse the major supermarkets of failing to support Australian food growers and manufacturers.

“So many Australians seek the cheapest alternative in food, and perhaps this is exacerbated by the big two [Coles and Woolworths], our duopoly, that pits one against the other in price wars, that see the farmer suffer. We have to do something about that,” she told the International Year of Co-operatives conference in Port Macquarie last week.

Beer’s pate, quince paste and ice creams sell through major supermarkets and independent retailers at a higher price than other comparable item, due to their high quality standard and use of Australian ingredients.

She said that while most Australians say they support Australian made and owned products, their purchasing behaviour proves otherwise.

''It's interesting Australians say they will support Australian-made and Australian-grown, but will we?”

“We support what's marketed most, and we so often support what's cheapest, especially with food.''

Beer was awarded an Order of Australia this year, after finding recognition for her cookbooks and television series focussed on cooking.

Beer has echoed the statements of Independent Queensland MP Bob Katter, who earlier this year told Parliament that the major supermarkets are killing our farmers.

''If we don't support our farmers, we will not continue to enjoy the freshness and the diversity of the produce we have now,'' she said.

''I have to say flavour, seasonality, ripeness, can not travel a long way.

Beer is in a good position to comment on the realities of farming, since she owns a farm in South Australia’s Barossa Valley with vineyards, olive groves, quince orchards and a soft fruit orchard.

“I know we live in a global market, but our local farmers can not compete against the imports of a global market when it comes to the cost of our labour.

''It's important that we pay a proper wage to a farm worker that not only sustains a family but sustains farming communities – whole communities.''

Terry Toohey Australian Dairy Farmers Director, told the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit earlier this year that the impact of Coles and Woolworths’ price wars will continue to drive farmers away.

"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,” he 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."

“It’s an unfortunate reality that milk price is a dollar.

“[It’s] simply unsustainable for all involved in the fresh food market.

“You can see the dairy farmers’ dairy families already suffering for Coles’ tactics.

“Given the sheer size of the supermarket duopoly, over 75 per cent of the market is between the two powers, and they are wielding that Australian marketplace and the majority of Australian suppliers, particularly to the fresh food industry,” he said.

“In NSW, my state, I see farmers being asked to sign contracts for 3 cents a litre than their previous contracts," he said.

“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 products 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.”

Beer also joined the myriad of critics of Australia’s current labelling laws, saying they make it very difficult for consumers to understand which products are locally-grown.

''We were bottling some of our olives,” she explained.

“The salt came from South Australia and we had some of our own red wine vinegar in the jar and we were labelling it and then we found out we could not say 'Produce of Australia' because the jar came from overseas.''

Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith, who launched his own food company over a decade ago, has also voiced his concerns about the ability for local companies to compete against cheap imports.

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

“ALDI has taken that decision away.

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

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

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

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

Do you agree with Maggie Beer's comments? How can we fix this problem?

Image: Australian Traveller

Consumers should make own choice on caged eggs: industry body

A leading representative group for the egg industry has slammed announcements from leading supermarkets and other retailers that they will sell only cage-free eggs.

Australian Egg Corporation Limited has labelled the decision by Coles and Woolworths to refuse to sell eggs from one egg production system as “misguided.”

It believes the decision whether or not to purchase caged eggs should be based on a consumer’s personal choice and not a forced decision.

The AECL says consumers are being “manipulated” because cage eggs do actually “deliver welfare benefits to hens.”

Woolworths has announced its removal of caged eggs from its Woolworths Select brand line, and true to form, Coles also decided to follow suit this week announcing that by January it will have the same rules.

Coles had previously committed two years ago to banning caged eggs in its private label line by 2014, but will now bring that forward by a year.

The Animals Australia television campaign currently being shown nation-wide is misleading consumers by using emotive language and well-known personalities to promote their message, according to AECL.

James Kellaway, AECL Managing Director said the proof is in the figures, with current statistics showing 55 per cent of the Australian egg market is made up by caged eggs.

The remainder is made up by barn-laid and free-range eggs.

The government has it wrong on alcohol’s role in chronic diseases

The Commonwealth government looks set to lose its top position in preventative health measures. Despite its world-first efforts on tobacco control, when the government next steps onto the world stage, it will be not be as a leader – its position on alcohol is out of step with the World Health Organization and contrary to evidence.

It’s decision time in the global effort to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the leading cause of death in this country. The United Nations General Assembly reached an historic decision in September last year, when, for only the second time in its 67-year history, it met to discuss a health issue.

Member countries agreed on a 25% reduction in chronic diseases by 2025. And on 5 November, they will attend a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting to reach agreement on a global monitoring framework for these diseases.

Non-communicable or chronic diseases include cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease. They account for 60 million deaths a year worldwide, and share four main risk factors – unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption.

The WHO was given the task of designing and adopting a comprehensive global monitoring framework, including indicators and a set of voluntary global targets. It has published three discussion papers on the subject this year.

The latest discussion paper proposes to identify nine outcome and exposure targets, including alcohol, fat intake, obesity and tobacco, and eleven indicators of outcomes and exposure to risk factors, including adult per capita alcohol consumption.

The WHO meeting is still a couple of weeks away but the Australian government has already indicated its position on the issue of targets and indicators around alcohol.

Its response to the WHO papers (some dating back to February, but only now made available publicly) has been to oppose the adoption of per capita consumption as an indicator and not support adopting global alcohol consumption reduction targets.

 

The government’s position is at odds with the WHO. AAP

 

Excess alcohol consumption is one of the leading risk factors for death and disease globally and there’s a strong link between alcohol and chronic diseases. There’s also strong evidence to suggest a reduction in alcohol consumption at the population level will reduce the rates of health and social harms caused by alcohol misuse.

The government’s position is out of step with the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, which emphasises that the harmful use of alcohol and related public health problems are influenced by the general level of alcohol consumption in a population, drinking patterns and local contexts.

It’s also at odds with science. Its critique of an earlier WHO discussion paper claimed that per capita consumption “does not reflect risk of NCDs”, and added that adult per capita alcohol consumption is “not a target measure that focuses on the primary area of concern with alcohol, namely, long term harm”.

The latest WHO discussion paper directly responds to this, noting “the risk of most alcohol-attributable health conditions is correlated with the overall levels of alcohol consumption…. The available data indicate that the overall levels of alcohol consumption, measured as per capita alcohol consumption, correlate with major alcohol-related health outcomes”.

It would be difficult to find an alcohol researcher in Australia who would disagree with the WHO position and agree with the government.

The failure to support what the evidence shows and what experts agree on puts Australia in a ridiculous position. And it undermines the UN initiative and risks jeopardising Australia’s international reputation.

There’s less than two weeks between now and November 5 for the government to move to a defensible and forward-looking position – a position that supports a reduction in alcohol consumption in the suggested targets and the use of adult per capita alcohol consumption as a relevant indicator for progress.

Robin Room is a technical advisor to the World Health Organization.

The Conversation

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

Children seeing same number of junk food ads as before regulation

Health experts have slammed the self-regulation of the food industry, saying children are being bombarded with advertisements for junk food.

Despite the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) introducing the Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RMCI), the number of junk food ads aimed at children has not slowed, according to a new study by the University of Sydney and the Cancer Council.

The researchers have come out swinging at the food industry, saying the findings of the first comprehensive review of the effectiveness of self-regulatory pledges by food brands and industry show the industry has no credibility and has failed to protect children against obesity, and that there are no incentives for food manufacturers to avoid targeting children.

Despite the introduction the RMCI and other self-regulation pledges in 2009, the frequency of junk food ads remained unchanged from last year, the researchers found.

In a separate study published this month in BMC Public Health, researchers audited food and beverage ads during peak children's programming times, and found various ads which went against mandatory and voluntary advertising regulations.

There were a total of 951 breaches of combined regulations in just two months of data collection in 2010 and more than 80 per cent of all food and beverage ads shown in Australia were for items defined as ''extras'' in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

On of the researchers, Kathy Chapman, said there was barely any independent monitoring to ensure guidelines and codes were enforced, and more needs to be done to ensure companies are abiding by the rules.

The study looked at all ads on three television channels over five years and found children were exposed to the same number of advertisements for junk food brands now as they were before ''regulation''.

''We know that parents have the most important role to play in terms of what kids eat but it is a bit like road safety,'' Chapman, a nutritionist and director of health policy at the Cancer Council, said.

''Parents can teach their children road safety but it doesn't mean we don't also have speed limits and crosswalks to make their job easier.

“Messages for unhealthy foods on television, the internet … means there are lots of ways messages from parents are being undermined.

''These studies combined show industry codes of practice are not having an impact and we are seeing such big loopholes for the food industry to get away with this.”

Many slammed the AFGC’s RMCI after it was implemented, saying companies would not voluntarily self regulate, but rather, government needed to step in to implement regulations.

The AFGC blamed a scheduling error after the number of junk food ads targeted at children last year actually increased rather then decreased.

Earlier this year, Cristel Leemhuis from the AFGC said the industry needs to work towards improving obesity rates if it wants to avoid being forced to make changed.

“The food industry is definitely part of the solution, particularly when you look at overweight and obesity,” she told the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit.

“We’re not part of the problem, we’re part of the solution and I think the more that we can collaborate the better our outcomes will be in the future.

“Responsible marketing to children is absolutely essential, so we do limit what children see in this area, and the research is very much showing that marketing in those areas decreased dramatically since we implemented that in 2010.

While many argue that the only way to improve such marketing in the industry, as well as other issues, is to get the government to legislate around it, Leemhuis thinks the industry can be responsible without such intervention, as is evident from the number of manufacturers and fast food outlets already making significant health changes.

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

“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].”

While the latest reports have found the industry is not doing enough to self regulate itself, the director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute in Western Australia, Mike Daube, said he was ''profoundly pessimistic'' that governments would be heavy handed with food manufacturers.

''The food industry is so large and powerful that it will get away with the cynical pretence of self-regulation for the foreseeable future,'' he said.

Daube slammed the codes, saying they had no credibility, were not well enforced, and failed to protect children from obesity.

The AFGC maintain international regulations of advertising to children have not resulted in positive public health results so they would not work in Australia and chief executive Gary Dawson, said industry has been successful in removing non-core food advertising that was directed at children.

Australia’s commercial kangaroo industry: hopping to nowhere

Australia’s commercial kangaroo industry is the world’s largest consumptive mammalian wildlife industry. Calculated on a ten-year period, an average of three million adult kangaroos are killed each year in the rangelands for pet meat, meat for human consumption and hides. But pressures on the industry may well see its collapse.

For example, despite years of negotiations, Russia is still refusing to lift its ban on Australia’s kangaroo meat. Russia once accounted for 70% of exports from the commercial kangaroo industry. But in August 2009, the country banned imports of kangaroo meat from Australia due to hygiene concerns, citing high levels of E. coli and salmonella. Despite the Australian Government investing at least $400,000 to address these issues, Russia remains unconvinced about food safety. The ban may be here to stay.

Another lucrative kangaroo product is leather, used for soccer shoes and other high value products. Adidas, a leading supplier of sport shoes, has also banned kangaroo leather due to concerns for the welfare of dependent young kangaroos killed or abandoned as a result of the commercial kill.

These bans do not bode well. A representative from the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia was recently reported saying: “I think we are starting to have to seriously consider the end of the kangaroo industry nationally.”

But how did we end up here? And where can we go?

European and colonial contact with kangaroos

In 1770, Captain James Cook described the kangaroo as being like a mouse in colour, a greyhound in size and shape but a hare or deer in locomotion. Europeans killed kangaroos initially as a food source for the colonies and then later for recreation. However, in the 1800s pastoralists increasingly saw kangaroos and other marsupials as “pests” that needed to be killed.

By the 1880s, all of the states of eastern Australia had introduced legislation for the destruction of kangaroos and wallabies. For example, NSW’s Pasture and Stock Protection Act 1880 declared kangaroos and wallabies to be vermin and bounties were offered for their heads. As a result, a massive number of these animals were killed.

From 1883 to 1920, NSW killed around 3 million bettongs and potoroos (Potoroids). Three of these species are now extinct (possibly due in part to the introduction of the red fox). Although all macropods are now protected species, the long shadow of these efforts at extermination are still felt today.

Concern for kangaroos

Scientific study of kangaroos developed during the 20th century, resulting in an increased interest in their conservation. In 1969, CSIRO researcher John Calaby argued that the red kangaroo had become endangered due to “uncontrolled meat hunting and drought”. In 1974, the United States Government banned the import of kangaroo products.

In response, the Commonwealth Government banned the export of kangaroo products and took some power over the industry from the state governments. The Commonwealth’s ban was later lifted and a regulatory system with quotas was put in place. This still operates today.

 

The Australian government carefully regulates the export of kangaroo meat. jazzijava/Flickr

 

Pest status

From its earliest beginnings, the kangaroo industry has relied upon popular perceptions of kangaroos as “pests”, particularly in rural communities. Even today it is frequently argued that kangaroo populations must be reduced. Common reasons cited are that they compete with livestock for resources in the rangelands and that their numbers have increased because of the installation of artificial waterholes.

However, the programs of management have not correlated with increased pastoral productivity, and long-term observations in north-western NSW indicate that kangaroos and livestock only compete when pasture is drought-affected. Kangaroos and livestock have different foraging styles that generally lead to the two groups being ecologically separate.

The red kangaroo, which is the most abundant rangeland species, does not show water-focused grazing as livestock do.

The latest economic assessment found that kangaroos cost pastoralists around $44 million a year. The cost to graziers was estimated at $15.5 million. The cost to crop farmers was estimated to be $11.9 million and fencing damage was estimated at $16.7 million.

This assessment did not take account of any of the benefits of having kangaroos in the landscape. Indeed, kangaroos have 16 million years of evolutionary history in the Australian landscape and may contribute to its well being.

Where to from here

If the commercial kangaroo industry collapsed tomorrow, it appears likely that some landowners may take matters into their own hands and shoot kangaroos non-commercially. Such an occurrence may present a risk to the conservation of kangaroos and to their welfare. Research by the RSPCA found that there is a far higher degree of cruelty in non-commercial killing than in commercial killing. Issues arise around the decreased accuracy of shooting by farm personnel.

It is time for the federal and state governments to reassess kangaroo management. The industry has been based upon erroneous underpinnings, portraying kangaroos as “pests” without any clear justification. Landowners may need options in the cases where kangaroos are reducing the productivity of their properties. But shooting kangaroos does not need to be the first response.

One option being trialled in other countries are insurance policies whereby pastoralists are able to insure against damage caused by a particular wild species and receive payments when damage occurs. Another approach is for landholders to benefit from wildlife via ecotourism. Perhaps it is time for Australia to consider such approaches and take pride in our kangaroos.

This article is partly based upon Keely Boom et al, ‘'Pest’ and resource: A legal history of Australia’s kangaroos' (2012) 1(1) Animal Studies Journal 17-40.

Keely Boom works for THINKK, the Think Tank for Kangaroos at the University of Technology Sydney. THINKK is supported by the Sherman Foundation, the Institute for Sustainable Futures, Voiceless: the animal protection institute, WSPA, the Clover Moore Salary Trust Fund, IFAW and the Albert George and Nancy Caroline Youngman Trust.

The Conversation

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

Another egg producer on Name and Shame list for misleading ‘free range’ claims

An egg farm in Western Sydney is the latest producer to be added to the NSW Food Authority’s Name and Shame register for misleading ‘free range’ claims.

Paul Galea and Son Egg Farm, run by Glensung Pty Ltd has been found to be making false claims about its eggs, labelling ‘barn eggs’ as ‘free range.’

The company has been fined $4620 for the misleading labelling and added to the Name and Shame register after receiving three warnings from the NSW Food Authority.

It found that the chickens producing the eggs at the Paul Galea and Son premises did not actually have any outdoor access or space to roam and therefore did not meet the industry-set guidelines for what constitutes ‘free range’ or ‘roam free.’

Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said the fine handed down to the egg producer was necessary to ensure national standards for free range labelling were being met.

Farmers and suppliers who produce actual free range eggs want a crackdown on the definitions of ‘free range,’ after leading national suppliers were found to falsely make the claim.

NSW Greens MP John Kaye has also called for better regulation of the egg industry, saying the model code is not ‘legally binding,’ leading consumers continue to be ‘misled.’

In August the poultry industry copped criticism for its attempts to change the definition of ‘free range,’ to allow more than 140 000 birds per hectare, with activist group GetUp! who calling on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to uphold the current standards. 

Last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it would be taking a number of chicken suppliers to court, claiming they wrongly advertised chickens as free range.

It was also revealed in July this year that Australia’s largest duck producer was being sued for misleading advertising which claimed the birds were raised in ‘open range’ farms.

Activists filmed the birds at Pepe’s Ducks, showing not only that they were crammed into metal crates, but also that some of them were covered in faeces and had their wings stuck in the metal grates, despite labelling claiming they were “grown nature’s way.”

Earlier this year it was found that Steggles chickens were still being advertised as “free to roam” despite the consumer watchdog labelling such claims by the company as misleading and deceptive last year.

Do you think the 'free range' labelling needs tougher rules? 

Hershey bows to pressure, commits to 100% certified cocoa by 2020

US confectionary manufacturer Hershey is the latest company to declare its commitment to ending child labour in West Africa, by pledging to use 100 per cent certified cocoa in all its products by 2020.

Activists have slammed the company, who say Hershey is the only major chocolate producer in the world that hadn't made a commitment to use certified cocoa.

Mars, Arnott's, Nestle are amongst other confectionary makers who have previously announced their commitment to ending child labour in the cocoa growing regions in West Africa by using only certified cocoa.

Last September, research found that the Australian chocolate industry has taken huge steps towards using accredited cocoa products.

Following the pressure, Pennsylvania-based Hershey confirmed its plan to use certified cocoa on Wednesday.
Certified cocoa is produced according to certain social, economic and environmental standards. 

West Africa produces about 70 percent of the world's cocoa and currently, certified cocoa accounts for less than 5 percent of the world's cocoa supply, according to Hershey.

According to the fourth annual report produced by Tulane University under contract to the U.S. Department of Labor to monitor progress in the protocol, about 1.8 million children, aged 5 to 17, work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The report revealed 40 percent of the 820 000 children working in cocoa in Ivory Coast are not enrolled in school, and only about 5 percent of the Ivorian children are paid for their work.

Hershey earlier this year said it would invest $10 million in West Africa to reduce child labor and improve the cocoa supply, as part of its commitment to reducing the harsh working conditions in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The commitment by major manufacturers to only use certified cocoa is a huge step in towards fairer conditions for the workers in the region.

Hershey has also pledged to continue its support of community development programs, including village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, training in modern farming techniques and literacy and health programs.

"Consistent with Hershey's values, we are directly addressing the economic and social issues that impact West Africa's two million cocoa farmers and families," J.P. Bilbrey, company president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"I am confident that we can make a substantial difference in West Africa by 2020."

Independent auditors will verify the certified cocoa was produced by the highest labor, environmental and farming practices, the company said.

Staff at Melbourne food plant claim extreme bullying was ignored

Staff at a Melbourne gourmet food manufacturing facility, which provides food for Ikea, Qantas and Costo have allegedly suffered extreme bullying at the plant.

More than half the workers employed at the Glendal Foods factory in the inner-city suburb of Brunswick say they have been bullied for years, and despite informing management and a trade union, the allegations were never followed up, The Age reports.

Of the 38 staff employed at the plant, 18 say they have been bullied by their employer, and one allegedly harmed herself two weeks ago as a result of the treatment.

She was admitted to the Western Hospital as a result and doctors there contacted WorkSafe to become involved.

An investigation is currently being conducted into the incident by the work safety authority.

Another staff member has alleged that a heavy trolley was pushed into her stomach while she was pregnant.

Most of the staff speak little English, and since their concerns have allegedly been ignored, they have decided to go public with their story.

They say the inappropriate treatment has been going on for at least six years.

The workers allege that management at the factory had allowed a senior staff member to regularly yell at them and make sexual and personal comments, tell workers they needed to give 48 hours' notice if they wanted to take sick days and demand staff work overtime on any day, without any notice.

They were also told, when they went from casual to full-time workers, they must ''celebrate'' by buying lunch for the entire workplace, or buying a supervisor a gift.

Employee Hiep Nguyen said when she was given a full-time job with the company, she was instructed to shout the entire factory lunch, because ''it was the rules,” and would face termination if she did not.

''I am a new arrival,” she said through an interpreter.

“I came to Australia legally.

“I work, and pay tax and try to be a good citizen.

“But because I have really limited English, I don't know a lot of rules.

“And for someone who has been here a bit longer than me to make my life really difficult is not fair for me.”

It is also alleged they were banned from making any contact with the company's owner and wages of some employees were withheld for up to eight weeks.

Most of the bullying complaints are against one supervisor, Van Phan, who the staff allege, pressured most of them to pay her 10 per cent of a backpay payment made to them in July after they signed a new workplace agreement.

They apparently had to make the payment in cash, and while Phan wouldn’t discuss the other allegations on Friday, she did say employees who gave her a cut of their backpay had given it as a gift.

''They were happy to do that,'' she said.

When the union became involved in the case, the company asked Van to voluntarily pay back this money, but it is unclear whether this has occurred.

Very few of the Glendal Foods employees were members of the National Union of Workers until August, when Nguyen filed a complaint with the union.

She also contacted the federal government's Fair Work Ombudsman, which referred her to WorkSafe.

Qantas and Ikea have confirmed that Glendal Foods is one of their suppliers,  among their suppliers but would not comment further.

Glendal Foods, which makes samosas, filo pastries, soups, curries and casseroles for its clients, is owned by Melbourne chef Chandra Kanodia, and the staff all allege he was aware of the incidents in the plant, but he ignored it.

He declined to discuss the allegations, but did comment on the fact that WorkSafe is investigating.

''WorkSafe will take care of this; the allegations are going to be sorted out by them,'' he said.

When asked why so many of his staff had complained of bullying, he said: ''They are all union members, are they? That says something, don't you think?''

He later issued a brief statement saying his company was concerned about the matter and taking it very seriously.

National Union of Workers organiser Monique Segan, who has regularly met staff at Glendal Foods since August, said the bullying was some of the most extreme the union has seen.

She also said that raising the issue Glendal Foods had increased problems, pushing the workers to go public with their story.

Authorities pledge continued commitment to sheep in Pakistan

The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the Australian High Commission in Pakistan have pledged to continue their involvement in resolving the large consignment of sheep being held in Karachi.

News of the inhumane treatment of the sheep in Pakistan first broke last week, evoking memories of the infamous Four Corners story this time last year, which led to Prime Minister Julia Gillard banning live export to Indonesia.

In that case, sheep were shown in video footage to be distressed and brutally murdered.

The latest Pakistan incident led to the culling of Australian livestock in Pakistan being formally suspended on 22 September after the importer successfully applied for a court order to prevent the cull from continuing.

Video has emerged of thousands of Australian sheep being brutally culled in Pakistan, with the animals being clubbed, stabbed and buried alive.

The 21,000 sheep arrived in Karachi earlier this month after being given a clean bill of health by both Pakistan and Australian government officials.

However, local authorities ordered the culling, stating the animals had salmonella and anthrax.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said that while his department would conduct a full investigation in to the incident, he insisted the live export program works well and would continue.

The DAFF said it is aware of, and is looking into, the adverse reports regarding culling practices in Pakistan, and will continue to be actively involved in the case.

On 28 September the High Court of Sindh in Pakistan adjourned delaying its decision on an application by the Pakistan importer, PK Livestock, to overturn a cull order from the Sindh Livestock Department. 

The intention of the delay is to allow further testing and diagnostic analysis to be conducted by an independent also ordered PK Livestock to continue having full and unhindered access to the sheep to ensure they are adequate cared for.

This encompasses ensuring the supply of feed, water and veterinary medicines, which will be done in collaboration with Australian exporter, Wellard Rural Exports.

Wellard Rural Exports reports that the sheep, exported under the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), are in good condition, have access to feed and fresh water and display no signs of disease.

Australian livestock exporters responsible for ensuring they meet the requirements of ESCAS, which stipulates exporters must ensure that livestock will be handled in accordance with internationally accepted World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards up to and including the point of slaughter.

Previously, Wellard Rural Exports self-reported a loss of control over their supply chain in Pakistan when local Sindh authorities entered the facility and commenced culling of sheep under an order issued by the Sindh High Court.

Both the importer and Wellard representatives were ordered by local authorities to leave the facility during that time.

DAFF says it will conduct a full investigation of the ESCAS non-compliance and continue to provide further information as it becomes available.

Genetically modified corn and cancer – what does the evidence really say?

French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini caused quite a stir last week when he claimed he’d shown cancer in rats increased when they were fed genetically modified corn and/or water spiked with the herbicide Roundup. The paper, which seven of his colleagues co-authored, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

France’s ministers for agriculture, ecology and health responded swiftly by commissioning the National Agency for Health and Safety to look into the claims. Depending on the findings, they could invoke an emergency suspension of imports of the Monsanto GM maize strain NK603, used in the study, into Europe. Now that’s what I call high impact.

But how did the authors come to their conclusion? And can such a significant claim be made using the study data?

Rat selection

The study focuses on cancers in rats. For this they use the Harlan Sprague-Dawley strain of rat, which is known to be predisposed to getting cancer. Lots of them. Over 70% of males and 87% of females from this strain reportedly get cancer during their lifetime, whether they have been fed GM corn or not. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many of Seralini’s rats were found with cancer.

To make sense of this study you have to ask the simple question: “does feeding rats GM corn and/or Roundup increase the frequency of cancers compared with rats that have been given non-GM food?”

To do this, the authors of the study split up 200 rats into ten groups. One “control” group (ten male and ten female) were fed non-GM corn and had access to plain water. The researchers monitored for the development of cancer over a period of two years.

Nine other groups of twenty rats (ten male and ten female) were also monitored, but this time, these groups were given food containing 11%, 22% or 33% of NK603 GM corn, 11%, 22% or 33% of NK603 GM corn treated with Roundup*, or just had Roundup spiked in their drinking water at different concentrations.

The male and female rats in the control group lived for just under two years. Other studies identified that these rats die from cancer or kidney failure around this time. But the authors don’t mention this. They simply write:

“ After mean survival time had elapsed, any deaths that occurred were considered to be largely due to aging.”

They have effectively chosen not look at – and therefore don’t have to report on – why rats in the control group died. This assumption alone is sufficient grounds for rejecting this paper from publication.

Treatment group vs the control

In the study, Figure 1 (view here) shows Kaplan Meier plots the number of rat deaths by “control group” and other “treatment groups”.

What do these mean? Well, not much because the authors failed to use a statistical test to tell if there was a difference between the control groups and treatment groups.

This is important, as all their claims relate to the incidence of cancers (and other “diseases”) in the “treatment group” compared to the “control group”. These comparisons can only be made if a statistical test shows that what you observe is not happening by chance.

 

The Harlan Sprague-Dawley strain of rat is predisposed to getting cancer. jepoirrier

 

Overstating the evidence

Still on Figure 1, we see that several “treatment groups” of male rats receiving GM NK603 corn (the 22% group and 33% group) actually had fewer cancers than the male control group at their arbitrarily determined point of assessment.

Similarly, a treatment group of male rats receiving 33% GM corn and Roundup had no difference to the control group, and two treatment groups receiving Roundup (A and C) had the same or less incidence of cancer compared with the control group.

By their perverted logic, they could equally claim that for male rats:

a) high percentages of GM corn (22% and 33%) was “protective” against getting cancer compared to group of control male rats

b) having 33% of GM corn with Roundup showed no difference to the control group and therefore wasn’t harmful to male rats, and

c) using 0.5% Roundup in the drinking water was protective against cancer in male rats compared to the the male control group.

But you can’t. You can no more make these statements than the claims about the increased incidence of cancers in the female rats in the various treatment groups. No statements can be made because no statistical test has been applied.

The full picture

One sentence that should set alarm bells ringing is the claim that “All data cannot be shown in one report.”

The retort to that statement is, “Oh yes it can. Please show it to me”. If you are reporting data, you need to show all the data.

Not enough space? Put it in the supplemental data.

In the data section, the authors show examples of pathology, histology and electron microscopy images of affected organs in the treatment groups and mention results from genetic testing of samples. All well and good, but for the genetic tests, they don’t show any data other than a statement of claim.

They also don’t present any biochemical data from the male rats – half of all their studied rats. In the legend for table 3 (which shows the “Percentage variation of parameters indicating kidney failures of female animals), they claim "Male kidney pathologies are already illustrated in Table 2” (which shows a “Summary of the most frequent anatomical pathologies observed”). But we’re not shown the raw, unmanipulated data, tested with standard statistical tests, for males and females.

Nonsensical statements

The authors then go on to describe the cancers in detail. They state:

“ Up to 14 months, no animals in the control groups showed any signs of tumors whilst 10–30% of treated females per group developed tumors, with the exception of one group (33% GMO + R).”

Well done. They have just created a non-predefined outcome measure and made a biologically nonsensical statement.

Do they mean to imply that female rats eating the highest percentage of GM corn with Roundup are mysteriously no more affected than the female control group, compared to other female “treatment groups” which were somehow more affected?

Once again, no statistical test is applied and no conclusions can be drawn.

Further, they don’t describe diseases affecting the “control group”. At all. By neglecting to state if there were any changes in the “control group”, you cannot make any statement about the “treatment groups”. That’s why you have controls.

So, what have we learnt?

This study has shown that old Harlan Sprague-Dawley rats get cancers and other diseases. This has been shown before.

What this study does not show is that exposing these rats to GM corn and/or Roundup makes any difference to the frequency of cancers or other diseases. It can’t because no statistical tests have been applied, and perhaps most worryingly, the authors do not comprehensively report on why rats in the control group died.

This study can hardly be the basis from which any government should make policy decisions or draw conclusions about the safety of the NK603 GM maize or Roundup.

Read an article about the murky release of the paper – Modifying the message: how tricks masked home truths about anti-GM science

*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated this group had Roundup spiked in their drinking water at different concentrations.

Ashley Ng receives funding from the Cancer Council of Victoria, The Leukaemia Foundation of Australia and Cure Cancer Australia.

The Conversation

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

Buying local food most important to Aussies, research finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In 2007, the federal government introduced Australian Grown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What  products do you make sure you buy Australian Made? 
 

ACCC pledges to crack down on supermarket dominance

The Chairman of Australia’s competition watchdog has come out swinging over competition in local markets including the food industry.

Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Rod Sims, outlined the current ACCC priorities at the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leaders Lunch in Perth yesterday.

According to Sims, of the 40 to 50 cases the ACCC always has in the Federal Court, about a quarter is related to competition.

“We currently also have 35 separate investigations underway into misuse of market power, cartels, or cases involving a substantial lessening of competition,” he told the audience.

“While these cases are complex, and take considerable time and resources to investigate and then prosecute, the deterrent effect of our work is substantial.”

As part of the ACCC’s bid to improve competition in Australia, which would include taking on even more competition cases, he outlined a strategy it would be using.

It will be focused on the online economy, cartels and misuse of market power and other anti-competitive behaviour, especially in concentrated markets, such as the supermarket industry.

In terms of the digital and online markets, which the ACCC has outlined as a key priority after a strategic review this year, as it poses two of the biggest regulatory challenges.

Digital marketplaces

They are ensuring consumers enjoy the same protections in the digital and online economy as they do in other environments, and making sure there is fair competition in the digital and online economy between new and innovative competitors and their older counterparts.

“We are examining whether certain current bricks and mortar leading firms are seeking to prevent online competition in ways that breach the Competition and Consumer Act (CCA),” Sims said.

“I recently heard one such retailer claiming that bricks and mortar incumbents will dominate online shopping in future and see off completely new solely online competitors.

“It would be a missed opportunity for competition if this became the inevitable outcome.

“Our cases against Ticketek and Flight Centre are two prime examples of our enforcement work to ensure competition online.

“A related case is our successful court action against Apple for misleading consumers about Apple 4G iPad’s capacity to connect to the 4G network in Australia which also has competition implications.

“Other firms, Samsung for example, sell tablets which compete with the iPad and which can connect to Australia’s 4G network.

“Those firms are entitled to compete in a market that is fair in terms of the claims that are made about what the devices can do,” Mr Sims said.

Sims also discussed the misconceptions cartels have about legal conduct, saying the key focus area for the watchdog could result in prosecution.

“Combating the damage cartels wreak on other businesses, consumers and the economy has been a major ACCC priority for some time,” he said.

“For over a year now we have been taking a more proactive approach to cartel conduct, following results from the 2010 Melbourne University Law School research that showed 58 percent of businesses don’t know that fixing prices, rigging bids, sharing markets and restricting supply is a criminal offence that can result in a 10 year jail sentence and of the 42 percent of businesses that understood the potential criminal nature of cartel conduct, almost one in 10 said they’d still be likely to join a cartel if the opportunity arose.”

“Our proactive enforcement and education program aims to bed down the new laws and increase awareness of them.

“We have 10 current cartel enforcement matters before the Federal Court.

“We have a number of active cartel investigations currently underway.

“We have conducted a direct mail and email campaign to targeted and general industry sectors informing them of the criminal penalties and how immunity can free them from prosecution.

"This includes letters to 2,500 executives in the heavy construction and construction supply industries.

“We have made and distributed a short film called The Marker that shows how involvement in cartels can ruin your business and your life – I have personally sent copies to the CEOs of the 300 top ASX listed companies urging them to show it to relevant employees at all levels of the organisation

“We have gained significant media publicity around our most recent court case and the launch of The Marker”.

Misuse of market power

Sims pointed out that due to the size of the country and our distance from other markets, there are many concentrated markets in Australia, and the misuse of market power must be stopped.

He said the ACCC is carefully observing key markets where this is occurring to make sure no mergers or arrangements that substantially lessen competition, are occurring, and where the obvious market power is not misused to prevent or damage competition.

Anyone within the supermarket industry would know that it is one of the markets the watchdog must be keeping an eye on, following an intense couple of years of price cuts and damage to suppliers’ businesses by the big two dominant forces,  and while Sims maintained the markets being targeted are confidential at this stage, he did outline the three most pressing areas.

“Issues relating to the treatment of suppliers by the major supermarket chains,  which include competition issues as well as allegations of unconscionable conduct, business-to-business, which we are keen to pursue generally,” he said.

“Investigating the sharing of information about prices in the fuel retailing sector, and examining the longer term competition implications of the large shopper docket discounts provided between the fuel and supermarket sectors in particular.”

Mergers and acquisitions

The ACCC will be closely monitoring the impacts of potential mergers and acquisitions to ensure they are used for the right purposes – to make companies more efficient – rather than for lessening competition.

“Some of the mergers and acquisitions we review clearly attract a lot of publicity,” he said.

“Understandably, the parties involved in a transaction have an interest in having their merger dealt with as quickly as possible and this can lead to criticism of the length of time the ACCC takes to reach a decision on a proposed merger.

“The length of time our reviews take, and the potential impact on the parties’ commercial time-frames, is something the ACCC is acutely aware of and is taking a number of steps to address.

“The publication of a Statement of Issues is part of the ACCC’s processes that ensure transparency of our consideration of merger proposals.

“We will take account of the reactions from the market and the merger parties to the concerns we have outlined.
“At this stage we aim to make a final decision on this transaction in mid-October.

“Close scrutiny from the ACCC will be particularly the case in concentrated markets.

"As I noted above, we want to ensure that mergers will not result in structural changes leading to a substantial lessening of competition.

“While there are a range of factors to take into account in assessing mergers under section 50, market concentration is a key factor.

“When a merger is a “3-2” – so, when a merger reduces the number of key players in a market from three to two – the parties should not be surprised that the ACCC would want to carry out a full review.

“With only two principal players remaining in a market, each will learn to anticipate the actions and reactions of the other. 

“In these circumstances, the ability of the two remaining firms to raise prices or reduce quality for consumers generally increases.”

What are your thoughts on Sims' comments? Do you think the new plan by the ACCC will improve the food sector? What else needs to be done?

Confronting corporate power in the food system

The Federal Government’s current national food plan process is heavily dominated by business interests. It is built on flawed assumptions that the market can provide the solutions that our broken food system sorely needs.

Australia’s food system, like the food system globally (see also The GROW Report), is dominated by a handful of corporate players in pursuit of profit. Far from the rhetoric of “free” and “competitive” markets, our food economy is governed by an oligopoly of private interests.

(Super)market domination

Concentration of economic power in the Australian agrifood system is probably best understood through the example of the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, controlling around 80% of retail grocery sales. Lesser-known corporate giants include Cargill, the world’s largest grain trader, which became Australia’s largest grain trader when it purchased the privatised Australian Wheat Board in 2011.

Since deregulation of the dairy industry, one multinational food and beverage company, Kirin, controls around 80% of Australia’s drinking milk market, forcing out farmer-run cooperatives. Two companies, Weston Foods and Goodman Fielder, control more than half of the bread and bakery markets.

Private control of agriculture, food processing and retailing means that decisions about what food is produced, how it is processed and where it is sold are driven by profit motive, and not by human needs. Moreover, the huge market share controlled by the small number of companies that dominate Australia’s food system creates the potential abuse of market power.

Farmers' struggle

Farmers feel this impact of this market power keenly. As suppliers to the two big supermarket chains, and to companies like Kirin in the milk market, farmers are forced to accept lower and lower prices in order to win supply contracts. In the milk sector, farmers are receiving a decreasing proportion of retail revenue since deregulation in the early 2000s. The start of the so-called “Milk Wars” between Coles and Woolworths in early 2011, pushing milk retail prices to $1 per litre, only exacerbates this downward pressure on farmgate prices.

In addition to low prices, farmers are forced to meet exacting standards regarding the appearance of fruit and vegetables, to package and label produce at their own expense, and risk having produce returned at the whim of the retailer. Negotiations between supermarkets and their suppliers are not transparent and the resulting contracts, with no standard terms of trade, provide little consistency for suppliers. At times, suppliers are notified of the prices they will be paid after the sale is completed.

It is not only farmers who suffer as a result of the enormous economic power of the handful of companies that dominate the food system. A survey of hundreds of truck drivers working for Coles earlier this year found that the majority felt pressure to drive above the speed limit in order to meet the company’s demands.

Drivers were forced to work for hundreds of unpaid hours per year, waiting in delivery lines, and loading and unloading cargo. Health and safety standards dropped, putting workers’ lives at risk, when the company failed to allow sufficient time for vehicle repairs.

Need for change

It is unacceptable that powerful food companies obtain profits by extracting unreasonable concessions from primary producers and workers in the food system. This imbalance of economic power undermines farmer and rural livelihoods, and threatens the future of Australia’s food production industries.

There has been significant discussion in Australia of the power of the supermarket duopoly. The ACCC issued an astonishing report in 2008 which pronounced the retail industry sufficiently competitive, despite the two largest retailers controlling, at the time, 70% of grocery sales, 50% of fresh fruit and vegetable sales and 60% of all supermarket stores.

Nonetheless, the ACCC did find that some adjustment measures were required, such as lowering barriers to entry for other firms. There has been little progress on this point as Coles and Woolworths have further consolidated their market positions and are refusing to agree to a more “streamlined” process proposed by the ACCC for approving mergers and acquisitions. The retailers are reportedly concerned that the new process will enable the ACCC to block deals and limit their growth plans.

Amid many complaints from farmers and other industry stakeholders, the ACCC’s new Chairman has made several attempts to curb the duopolists' power, including the streamlined approval process for acquisitions. The ACCC has also investigated claims of unconscionable conduct regarding suppliers and misuse of market power regarding private label products. The outcome of these initiatives is yet to be seen.

The national food plan process has been particularly dismissive of concerns regarding the impact of the duopoly. The government has refused to intervene in the relationships between Coles and Woolworths and their suppliers, preferring to “let the market decide”.

The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance decided in early 2012, after seeking to engage with the government’s flawed food plan process, to initiate the “People’s Food Plan” project. The national food plan fails to provide adequate access to the public for consultation and prioritises the needs of the market over the needs of the people who depend on the system. In contrast, the People’s Food Plan questions the dominance of corporate interests and the market-driven nature of the food system, opening the door to the kind of transformative change that many are advocating.

The People’s Food Plan involves community meetings throughout Australia. At these forums, interested farmers, community activists, food-lovers, students, workers and others will get together to talk about the changes we want to see in our food system. If you are interested and would like to participate in one of these discussion events – you can find out more or contact us at The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.

Claire Parfitt is affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and is a coordinator of the People's Food Plan project.

The Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confusion and controversy over alleged GM experiment in China

Parents in China’s Hunan province have expressed concerns that a study their children participated in served GM rice to the youngster’s without their parent’s knowledge.

The study was conducted as part of a joint project between Tufts University in the US and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Nutrition and Food Safety Institute to try and combat malnutrition amongst children in rural areas.

The corresponding research paper said that in 2008, 68 children in Hengyang, Hunan province, were fed golden rice — a GM variety of rice — to test if it could help children with vitamin A deficiencies.

However, conflicting reports from multiple sources as to whether the rice was in fact genetically modified have led to a flurry of media reports and speculation.

One of the authors listed on the paper, Yin Shi'an, has stated that the study did not use GM rice and that the vegetables and rice fed to the children as part of the study were all purchased locally.

Hu Yuming, a researcher at the Hunan CDC who is listed as the second author of the research paper, also denied the use of golden rice and added that he had not been asked by the journal to sign the paper before the publication.

There have also been conflicting reports regarding the application process that would have allowed US researchers to import and administer golden rice as part of the study, with some Chinese officials stating that there would have been no issue for the researchers whilst others maintain that no official application was received.

All this has done little to quell the fears of the involved children’s parents, who read about the paper on the internet and now worry that their children have been exposed to potentially harmful, untested GM ingredients.

As reported by China Daily, the parent’s confusion is being compounded by the conflicting reports and a history of deliberate misinformation and health cover-ups by the government.

Packaging-free grocery store opens in Austin, Texas

With excessive packaging increasingly coming under fire, is it any wonder that one ingenious store decided to do away with it altogether?

While recycling certainly plays a part in reducing packaging waste, a vast amount of potentially recyclable material still ends up as landfill, and newer sustainable and bio-degradable packaging options are not an immediate solution, still requiring significant energy to produce.

In the US, up to 40% of the cost of food can be attributed to the packaging alone and whilst previous generations often cleaned their purchased containers and re-used them (remember your grandmother’s cupboard of old vegemite and jam jars?) most modern packaging is intended to be single-use and disposable.

These concerns have led many eco-minded consumers to embrace stores that allow for bulk-bin buying options of staples such as grains, nuts, fruit etc, though these are still often accompanied by rolls of plastic bags.  Some stores have recognised this as an issue and have adopted strict paper-bag only policies.

But now a grocery store in Austin, Texas has gone one step further and removed any kind of packaging from their entire range of products.

in.gredients aims to promote sustainability on all levels by providing pure food that is packaging-free.

The store is made up mostly of bulk bins containing staples such as rice, beans, flour, cereals, spices, nuts, coffee, tea and the like, whilst bulk vats dispense honey, maple syrup, oil, tamari and even dishwashing liquid.  Other options like meat, eggs and fruit are kept refrigerated and are all local and organic.

Store manager Brian Nunnery calls in.gredients a “grocery store in scope, but a convenience store in scale”.

"We have everything, but only one brand of most things, not 50 brands of each item like a conventional store."

Shoppers are required to bring their own containers, ensuring that the message of sustainability is carried into customers everyday lives and they become aware of what can be re-used.

Looks like grandma’s old jam jars could start coming in handy if this trend catches on.

Photo by John Anderson

Steggles and Sydney Roosters join forces for children’s charities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dick Smith only wanted controversy: News Ltd

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

David Penburthy writes for The Punch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article at The Punch.

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

Govt needs to stop Coles and Woolworths dominance: lobby group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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