Agricultural exports to China worth $7.3b, ABARES

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), agricultural exports to China have doubled in five years to represent $7.3b in 2013. 

The report states that the surge in demand is driven largely by the increase consumption of high-value products such as beef, lamb and dairy goods.

However, agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce has warned that Australia needs to produce high quality products and continue to innovate in order to keep demand high, or risk losing the market to competing nations. He also stated that Australia can’t rely on is geographical proximity to China as a selling point, News.com.au reports.

"It's not right that we think because we are here we are going to prevail," said Joyce at an ABARES conference in Canberra.

"We have to be here with the best product, the right prices, it has got to be quality or it won't sell."

Executive director of ABARES, Karen Schneider agreed with Joyce stating that while Asia provides a prime opportunity for Australian agriculture, global competition is still high and that Australia needs to increase productivity growth to remain competitive.

"That (productivity) will define the future success of Australian agriculture," she said.

The ABARES reports found that Australian exports of veal and beef reached $406m last year compared to only $10m in 2007-08, while fruit exports increased by $20m to a total of $28m over the same period.

ABARES attributes the surge in demand to China’s growing middle glass, who are demanding more Western-style foods, coupled with Australia’s reputation for clean and green food production.

 

Tomato tariff will punish consumers, Woolworths

Supermarket giant Woolworths has said that tariffs on ‘dumped’ Italian organic tomatoes will directly affect consumers.

In February this year, the Anti-Dumping commission announced a 5.06 percent tariff on prepared and preserved tomatoes exported from Italy with a 26.35 percent tariff applying to ‘uncooperative producers’.

The tariff was introduced after fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona successfully applied to the anti-dumping commission to introduce a penalty on exported produce sighting that the domestic industry has suffered material damage as a result of an influx in cheap imports.

However Woolworths has now warned that consumers will have to bear the brunt of the charges should they wish to purchase tinned organic tomatoes as there is no real Australian for them, The Weekly Times Now reports.

“To meet the needs of consumers, Woolworths imports canned organic tomatoes from Italy as there is no Australian supplier of these products,” said the supermarket.

“While still a relatively small part of the total food market, organic foods are an imported segment and are strongly preferred by some Australian consumers.”

Woolworths says that 96 percent of the fruit and vegetables that it sells are Australian grown with the remaining four percent of imported food only sourced to cover seasonal shortages.

The ruling to impose tariffs has also received criticism from the European Union who have accused the Anti-Dumping Commission of flouting World Trade Agreement rules in its inquiry. The EU also accused the commission of failing to conduct a proper impact analysis.

According to the Weekly Times Now, Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is expected to announce a final ruling on the tariffs by March 21.

 

Narrowing global food supply runs climate change risk

New research has found that decreasing versatility in diets around the globe is making the food supply more susceptible to climate change related threats.

Co-author of the report Luigi Guarino from the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) says that higher living standards has resulted in the increased consumption of protein and fat, and in turn led to a “standard food supply” of crops, meat and dairy products, SBS News reports.

Guarino says that the narrowed food supply is becoming far more vulnerable to extreme weather events including drought – together with associated pests and diseases – and will be likely to intensify as a flow on effect of climate change. He also stated that human diets have become 36 percent more similar in the past 50 years.

"As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production systems that feed us. The price of failure of any of these crops will become very high," said Guarino.

The research drew on data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and assessed more than 50 crops across 150 countries between 1961 and 2009. The data revealed that several food crops including wheat, rice, corn and potatoes are just as popular today in relative terms as they were 50 years ago, however crops such as rye, millet and sweet potatoes which were eaten widely 50 years ago, have now experienced a drop in consumption.

According to the research, wheat is now the major staple crop in 97.4 percent of countries.

The move to a more narrow 'western style' diet has been attributed to the rising middle class in the developing world.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal this week.

 

Tassal receives conditional approval to build $11m fish factory

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted conditional approval for Tasmanian salmon company, Tassal to build and operate an $11m fish factory near Triabunna.

The factory which will process all the fish waste generated in Tasmania and turn it into fish oil, health products and fish feed, is expected to provide an employment boost in the area by generating 30 jobs during construction, and 20 jobs when the factory commences operations at the end of the year, The Mercury reports.

Mayor Bertrand Cadart of the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council said that he was ‘confident’ that the plans will gain full approval.

“We want this to be on the move as soon as possible, it is very important to Triabunna and Glamorgan Spring Bay,” said Cadart.

The EPA has imposed a number of conditions on the factory relating to odour and wastewater in response to concerns from local residents, coupled with any potential negative impact that the factory may have on the local tourism industry.

John Ramsey, chair of the EPA said that seven of the nine representations were in support of the development.

“The two public representations that were not supportive were about the potential odour impacts on tourists and residents and the proposed irrigation of the wastewater at the site,’’ Ramsay said.

“The Board has recommended site specific odour conditions to ensure the facility meets the requirements of the state Air Policy.”

 

SA state government to invest $6m in food and wine if re-elected

The South Australian government has announced that it will invest $6m to boost food, wine and fibre production under the agribusiness accelerator program should it get re-elected this month.

Gail Gago, Agriculture, Food and Fisheries minister, launched the accelerator program last year which is designed to provide funding for new businesses and promote SA agricultural products overseas, The ABC News. reports.

"I'm really pleased to be able to announce our agribusiness accelerator program,” Gago told ABC News.

"It's a number of really important measures to help grow and help producers and businesses expand their markets and improve their information base."

Under the program, five key areas will receive funding including:

  • The Functional Food Focus Program which is designed to boost research and development in the functional foods sector will receive a $1.1m investment over a two year period. This includes products such as omega three enriched eggs.
  • $1.35m will be invested over a four year period in the promotion of the South Australian Premium Food and Wine brand in key Asian and US markets.
  • The Agribusiness Investment Attraction Program will receive $1.15m over a four year period to develop a website that will act as a resource to provide investment opportunities within the agribusiness sector in the state.
  • $550,000 will be allocated over a two year period to the New Horizons soil project, and $1.3m will be spend of an Agribusiness Consultants Program to provide advice and a case management service for businesses to help them manage operations and risk management.

 

Annual report uncovers top eating trends for 2014

According to Weber Shandwick’s recently released Food Forward 2014 report, seven key eating trends are predicted to rise in 2014, including freekeh and 'mutant' food combinations.

“Now in its third year, the report is an anticipated industry tool to help replace food trends throughout the year,” said Ava Lawler, the managing director of Weber Shandwick Australia.

This year’s report saw the global public relations firm, which has an office in Sydney, survey more than 1,000 Australian consumers and food experts including food editors, chefs, bloggers, nutritionists and senior business executives.

 “Australia has a growing passion to explore new cuisines and flavours. Our latest Food Forward report shows that our country’s food culture is being reshaped, embracing a whole new combination of foodstuffs in 2014,” said Lawler

Based on the firm’s research, she predicts four trends will prove particularly popular among Australians.

“As our food palettes diversify further, you will see flavours inspired by the heritage of our chefs, the continuing rise of Korean and Scandinavian cuisine, mutant foods and freekeh expected to be big hits.”

1. The demise of international flavour boundaries 

Dishes that combine the traditional cuisine of more than one country, coined ‘mutant’ foods, such as sushi tacos and ramen burgers are expected to rise in 2014, as is South American and Korean food and the ancient grain freekeh.

2. Wholesome home-cooking prevails

Based on its findings that almost half or 48 percent of respondents are fans of home-style cooking, meanwhile 19 percent enjoy the fine dining experience, Weber Shandwick predicts home entertaining will boom in 2014. 

The preference for home-style cooking will see restaurants continue to casualise their offering, and food experts expect the next 12 months will see single-item restaurants rise in popularity and chefs devise more simple menus. 

3. The rejected vegetable

Vegetable intake is set to continue to decline if Food Forward’s findings are anything to go by. Forty-two percent of those surveyed stated they were not meeting their daily fruit and vegetable intake, and they put the blame on two key factors.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said it was too difficult to include fruit and vegetables in their meals each day, meanwhile 24 percent stated produce is simply too expensive.

4. The great shopper conundrum

When it comes to grocery shopping, price is still the determining factor for Australians. Despite 40 percent of respondents stating they are passionate about supporting local farmers, 70 percent said cost was the biggest influencing factor when it came to purchasing grocery items.  

Experts believe the efforts of sustainable food advocates will see Australians more willing to pay a little extra for their groceries, particularly as free-range products, biodynamic produce and grass-fed beef become more readily available.

5. Socialising food

Experts believe social media will increasingly influence consumers’ food choices in 2014, with 90 percent of those surveyed unlikely to purchase a particular food product or visit a venue because it has been endorsed by someone famous.

6. Gourmet getaway

The report predicts Australians will continue to embark on gourmet getaways, where they travel to a particular destination to indulge in its food and wine.

7. Technology takeover

Experts believe more convenient kitchen items including those that allow people to control the temperature of their oven from afar, will gain immense popularity this year, and 24 percent of respondents stated an all-in-one kitchen appliance is at the top of their list.

 

Kellogg’s All-Bran releases high fibre muesli

Kellogg’s has announced the latest addition to its successful All-Bran brand, All-Bran High Fibre Muesli.

Consisting of rolled wholegrain oats, All-Bran twigs, seeds and fruit pieces, All-Bran High Fibre marks the first time that the brand has ventured into the muesli category.

The muesli claims to have 25 percent more fibre than competing brands and is also low in sodium.

The new muesli will be available in three flavours including Apricot & Almond, Summer Fruits and Cranberry & Pink Lady Apple.

The new muesli is a welcomed addition to Kellogg’s extensive All-Bran portfolio which is inclusive of; All-Bran Fibre Toppers, All-Bran Original cereal, All-Bran Apple Flavoured Crunch cereal, All-Bran Wheat Flakes Original cereal and All-Bran Honey Almond Wheat Flakes cereal.

 

Laser sensor cuts salmonella detection time [video]

Researchers at Perdue University have developed a laser sensor that is capable of detecting salmonella in food samples three times faster than conventional methods.

The system which goes under the name BARDOT, (bacterial rapid detection using optical scatter technology) scans bacteria colonies and generates a distinct ‘fingerprint’ on samples. The system is then able to pinpoint the presence of Salmonella within 24 hours.

Arun Bhunia, professor of food science at Purdue said that the BARDOT system is far more efficient at detecting the potentially fatal pathogen than methods that are currently employed by the food industry.

“BARDOT allows us to detect Salmonella much earlier and more easily than current methods," said Bhunia.

"This could ultimately help provide safer food to consumers."

According to the researchers, current salmonella detection methods can take up to 72 hours to yield results, and often require artificial alteration of the bacteria.

"BARDOT screens quickly and inexpensively," said Atul Singh, postdoctoral research associate and first author of the study. "If you get a positive result for Salmonella, you can do a follow-up test. This can help food processors make more informed decisions."

In addition, Bhunia says that the BARDOT system can detect multiple types of disease-causing bacteria with a single scan including Escherichia coli, Vibrio, Listeria, Bacillus and other foodborne pathogens.

"That's the beauty of this system," Bhunia said. "It's so versatile. It can find organisms that you didn't even think about."

 {^youtubevideo|(width)560|(height)340|(rel)True|(autoplay)False|(fs)True|(url)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLjHXBV7eko|(loop)False^}

 

Warrnambool posts 16m increase on half year profits

Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory have posted a 104.7 percent increase in half year net statutory operating profit after tax, equating to an additional $16m on the same period last year to $31.3m.

The underlying profit after income tax attributable to shareholders increased by $21.2m to $36.5m, representing a 139.1 percent increase over the previous corresponding period.

“As indicated in our December guidance, the improved market conditions experienced in the last quarter of FY2013 have continued into FY2014” said WCB CEO David Lord. “Despite the distraction associated with the takeover process, WCB has maintained its focus on maximising returns and the implementation of its strategic business initiatives.”

WCB had been the subject of a three way bidding war between Bega Cheese, Murray Goulburn and Canadian dairy processor Saputo over the past six months. Saputo came through with a successful bid on 12 February after achieving 87.92 percent of voting power in the company.

“Although the takeover process was lengthy and well publicised, the bids for WCB have realised an excellent premium for WCB shareholders” said chairman Terry Richardson. “The WCB Board believes Saputo’s final offer has been in the best interest of shareholders and other business stakeholders.”

Despite announcing record increases in profit, the company has decided not to issue an interim dividend as the directors have decided to retain cash for investment and development.

The company says that the outlook for the full FY2014 remains positive due to strong international commodity demand coupled with a weakening Australian dollar.

 

Dairy workers penalty rates too high to compete globally, Fonterra

Managing director for Fonterra Australia, Judith Swales is calling for a review of penalty rates for dairy workers to make Australian food manufacturers and processors more competitive in the global marketplace.

Swales is suggesting that Australia adopt a similar system to the one that is currently in place for the dairy industry in New Zealand where work hours correlate with seasonal milk supply, a suggestion that has been rejected by union officials SMH reports.

''Essentially you are not legislating that people have to work 38 hours a week, 48 weeks a year,'' said Swales. ''They can work longer hours without penalty [during peak supply periods] but then they get time off either side of the peak.

''It's more flexible, it's more in keeping with nature as opposed to forcing it for labour rules.''

President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ged Kearney said that the cutting of penalty rates may increase profit to some extent, but also runs the risk of reducing productivity at the same time by creating a “disenfranchised and demotivated” workforce.

''You do not increase productivity by increasing profit. They are two different things,'' said Kearney.

''Employing cheaper labour or imported labour … could decrease the amount of milk you produce because people don't understand the industry, they're less motivated, they don't want to be there because they're not getting penalty rates.''

However Swales says that a change in the cost base is imperative if Australia wants to compete on a global scale.

“I think more flexibility, not to disadvantage people but to make us more competitive, is kind of the name of the game,” she said.

''If we want to be serious players on a global scale we have to have seriously competitive and efficient manufacturing operations.

''You could argue it's one of the issues for car manufacturing. We didn't have a globally competitive manufacturing cost base in terms of some of the enterprise agreements and maybe some of the technology. In dairy we are no different.''

Noel Campbell, president of Australian Dairy Farmers said that he doesn’t think that penalty rates should be removed entirely, but believes that the system should offer more flexibility.

''Under the pastoral award rate, if you are feeding or watering stock you only have to pay time-and-a-half because that's seen as an essential service. I'm sure cows would think being milked is an essential service and I'm sure if the RSPCA was asked about it they'd say cows needed to be milked twice a day no matter if it's a Sunday or Tuesday.

''Therefore we think it should become an essential service and the penalty rates would be time-and-a-half rather than double time.''

 

Big food companies improve policies in developing nations, Oxfam

In response to a global campaign launched by Oxfam last year, nine out of 10 of the world's largest food companies have committed to improving their social and environmental policies.

Oxfam launched the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign last year which sought to expose the prevalence of sugar land grabs and strengthen policies surrounding climate and women’s rights.

The campaign ranked the world’s 10 largest food companies on the strength of policies they had in place, and according to Oxfam, nine out of the 10 listed have since made ‘major strides’ since February last year, when the campaign was launched. General Mills, however, has been listed as the only company that did not improve, and as such has dropped to last place.

The highest performer was Nestle which came out in first place, followed by Unilever and Coca-Cola, all of which improved their scores by 10, 14 and 13 percent respectively.

Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, said that while the majority of the companies are moving in a positive direction, it will take time to reverse policies that have largely relied on cheap labour for decades.

“Most of the ‘Big 10’ are moving in the right direction because hundreds of thousands of consumers and investors controlling trillions in assets are demanding an overhaul to business as usual,” said Byanyima. “Some companies showed courageous leadership but it appears others need to be pulled along kicking and screaming. It will take time for them to reverse a 100-year history of relying on cheap land and labour to make mass products at huge profits but at high social and environmental costs. The race to the top is underway and there are clear leaders and laggards.”

Oxfam says that six of the 10 companies instituted new policies that endorse the principle of Free Prior and Informed consent (FPIC) which addresses issues associated the sale of land. Seven signed up to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, and Nestle, Mondelez and Mars committed to releasing a detailed action plan in May this year which will address gender inequalities in their supply chains.

Eight of the companies also improved their environmental policies to promote better disclosure of emissions.

“By improving their policies on land, some of the world’s most powerful companies have already helped communities seeking fair compensation for the land that was taken from them nearly a decade ago in countries like Cambodia and Brazil,” said Byanyima. “Companies can open up space to help communities resolve decades-old conflicts once and for all.”

“The most important lesson from the first year of ‘Behind the Brands’ is that companies do respond, quickly and to great effect, when consumers push them toward more responsible methods of production. Down the supply chains we are already seeing agricultural producers and traders beginning to improve their practices to ensure they retain the business of the ‘Big 10’. We need more consumers to speak out in even greater numbers.”

 

Oxfam's Behind the Brands rankings February 2014

 

Rank

Company

Score

Land

Women

Farmers

Workers

Climate

Transparency

Water

Total

1

Nestlé

64%

5

5

6

7

8

7

7

45/70

2

Unilever

63%

5

5

8

7

7

6

6

44/70

3

Coca Cola

54%

7

6

2

6

6

5

6

38/70

4

Mondelez

33%

3

5

4

3

2

3

3

23/70

4

PepsiCo

33%

2

2

3

3

6

3

4

23/70

6

Danone

31%

1

1

2

3

5

5

5

22/70

6

Mars

31%

1

4

4

3

4

4

2

22/70

8

Kellogg

29%

2

3

1

1

4

4

5

20/70

9

Associated British Foods

27%

3

2

2

3

4

3

2

19/70

10

General Mills

21%

2

1

2

2

2

2

4

15/70

 

KEY: Good 8 – 10  Fair 6 – 7  Some progress  4 – 5 Poor 2 – 3 Very poor 0 – 1

Behind the Brands rankings February 2013

 

Rank

Company

Score

Land

Women

Farmers

Workers

Climate

Transparency

Water

Total

1

Nestlé

54%

3

4

5

6

6

7

7

38/70

2

Unilever

49%

3

2

7

6

5

5

6

34/70

3

Coca Cola

41%

1

5

3

6

5

5

4

29/70

4

PepsiCo

31%

2

2

3

3

3

4

5

22/70

5

Mars

30%

1

1

5

4

3

5

2

21/70

6

Danone

29%

1

1

1

3

3

6

5

20/70

6

Mondelez

29%

1

2

4

4

3

4

2

20/70

8

General Mills

23%

1

2

1

3

2

2

5

16/70

8

Kellogg

23%

1

2

1

2

2

4

4

16/70

10

Associated British Foods

19%

1

1

2

3

1

3

2

13/70

 

KEY: Good 8 – 10  Fair 6 – 7  Some progress  4 – 5 Poor 2 – 3 Very poor 0 – 1

Greens push for stronger country of origin labelling laws

On the back of a surge in consumer support for Australian-grown food, Greens senator Christine Milne has approached federal government, industry, farmers and fellow MPs to push proposed reforms in country of origin labelling.

Milne is calling for more transparency in country of origin labelling as she says that current regulation is misleading.

The proposed changes for Country of Origin labelling are as follows:

  • ‘Product of’ or ‘Grown in’ – will be used to describe food that has been wholly grown and processed in a country. 
  • ‘Manufactured in’ – will replace ‘Made in’ for food that has been substantially transformed in a particular country. The term ‘made in’ will no longer be used as many people think that ‘made in’ refers to where the ingredients were grown. 
  • ‘Packaged in’ – will be used on food that has been highly processed but can’t claim to have either ingredients of significant processing in a particular country. Companies can still choose to highlight the source of significant ingredients if they wish. 

In addition to the county of origin labelling changes, Milne is also proposing to introduce regulation that stipulates what kinds of food processing does not qualify as manufacturing, as manufacturing typically involves significant investment in local equipment and jobs.  

Fruit and vegetable processor SPC Ardmona recently experienced a spate of consumer support on the back of a social media movement that was started by Newcastle resident, Linda Drummond.

The processor claims to have suffered significantly from confusing regulation surrounding country of origin claims coupled with an increase in cheap imported produce.

 

McCormick’s Flavour Forecast predicts a spicier future

Now in its 14th year, the McCormick Flavour Forecast has become one of the flavour calendars most anticipated annual announcements.

The Flavour Forecast report is developed by culinary professionals, trend trackers and food technologists around the globe to highlight five top food trends, and over a dozen emerging flavours that are predicted to inspire global cooking trends. In years past, McCormick has predicted growth in products such as coconut water, which was a relatively untapped market in 2005 to represent a multibillion dollar industry today.

Ian Holmes, Industrial & Food Service Sales Manager for McCormick Foods Australia said that this year’s Flavour Forecast coincides with the company’s 125th anniversary and provides a way for chefs and food manufacturers to stay ahead of the game.

“Our Flavour Forecast is ideal for chefs and operators looking to stay a few steps ahead of the current flavour trends. Today’s expectation when dining out is about exceptional taste experiences, so this Anniversary Edition can be an inspiration point for food service professionals.”

In addition to the Flavour Forecast, McCormick has also created a range of spice blends to complement the five top trends.

“We will be launching our second bespoke range of the Flavour Forecast 2014 in a set of inspiring blends. Last year, Australia was the first country to capture the flavour trends in a blend to bring the Flavour Forecast to life. The unique range of blends represented the pinnacle of flavour innovation and were very well received by the food service industry,” says Holmes.

The 2014 Flavour Forecast focused on five main areas; Chilli Obsession, Modern Masala, Clever Compact Cooking, Mexican World Tour and Charmed by Brazil.

Chilli Obsession

McCormick say that the world at large is craving chili heat and this has extended into employing new and exciting ways to prepare the pepper including grilling, smoking, pickling, fermenting and candying to tease out the flavour. Chillies that McCormick have tipped to take off include Guajillo – a mild Mexican dried chilli, Chilli de Arbol – a bold Mexican chilli, Tien Tsin – a hot Szechuan chilli and Aji Amarillo – a hot Peruvan yellow chilli.

Modern Masala

As a step above basic curries, McCormick says that experimental Indian cuisine will thrive in 2014. From food trucks to fine dining and a greater variety of supermarket products available, the flavour forecast for Indian food is predicted to include experimental wraps, high-end Indian restaurant offerings and convenient Indian at home solutions.  Flavours and dishes to look out for include Kashmiri Masala, West Indian jalfrezis and the dishes including paneer cheese.

Clever Compact Cooking

Clever Compact Cooking takes advantage of big flavours that come from small spaces. McCormick says that these versatile ingredients which include Coriander, Tea and Noodles are essential to kitchens of all sizes – from large scale establishments to independent operations.

Mexican World Tour

Tomatillos, Recados and Chamoy Sauce are at the forefront of McCormick’s Mexican World Tour. McCormick says that the taste for the bright and bold flavours that come from regional Mexican fare is spreading across the globe is a big way.

Charmed by Brazil

Brazilian cuisine, which encompasses a melting pot of European, African, Asian and native Amazonian influences is also poised to emerge as a powerful presence in global cooking.

Flavours and ingredients to look out for according to McCormick include black-eyed peas, Guava – as a nectar, paste or fresh, Cassace Flour – also known as tapioca flour which happens to be gluten free and Tempero Baiano – a Bahian seasoning blend.

 

Mondelez misses the mark in health star rating comparison, Choice

Consumer watchdog Choice has employed the new Health Star Food Rating calculator to compare products from food giant Mondelez against its leading competitors' offerings.

Choice says that products from Mondelez, the parent company behind brands such as Kraft, Cadbury, Oreo and Nabisco scored less than its competitors in three separate product comparisons.

Choice Campaigns manager, Angela Cartwright said that of the three comparisons undertaken, the Health Star Rating ‘shot down the Mondelez product each time’.

Cartwright also emphasised that Mondelez had openly criticised the Health Star System, claiming that it was ‘ill-founded’.

“Choice decided to take a closer look at Mondelez after the company attempted to discredit the Health Star Rating Scheme, claiming the scheme was ‘ill-founded, unscientific and confusing’, when in fact it was considerably informed by market research showing strong support for it," said Cartwright.

“By providing a star rating, the new scheme will give consumers information they can use to make healthier choices at-a-glance. Choice questions whether the real reason Mondelez doesn’t like the system is that it would show consumers that some of their products are less healthy than the alternatives?”

Cartwright says that many other companies are behind the Health Star Rating and that the industry as a whole needs to get behind the system to ensure that consumers can make more informed purchase decisions.

“Our health star snapshot shows that it is possible to have considerably healthier versions of the same type of product. CHOICE thinks the Scheme will not only give consumers information they can use at-a-glance but spur companies to improve their product offerings, creating a healthier food supply in the long term.”

Of the products that Choice tested, Mondelez’ Kraft Strip Cheese scored two stars in comparison to Bega Stringers which came out with four stars.    

Sanitarium’s natural peanut butter scored five stars while Mondelez’s Kraft peanut butter scored only three, and Mondelez-owned Ritz came out with only half a star while Arnotts’ Jatz scored two.

A spokesperson for Mondelez International said that the Health Star Rating system is ‘confusing’ and that the algorithm which produces the star rating is in need of ‘more work.’

“Given the health star rating shows that Philadelphia Cream Cheese is healthier than an apple, we believe more work needs to be done,” the spokesperson told SMH.

“The algorithm which determines the number of stars on a product has changed numerous times and is expected to change again, so the results should be used with caution.”

The Health Star Rating System has gained a spate of media attention in the last few weeks after the official website for the scheme was pulled offline after launching only eight hours prior.

Assistant Health minister Fiona Nash’s chief of staff, Alastair Furnival – whose wife is the head of lobbying company APA which represents Mondelez – allegedly ordered government officials to pull the website down.

A spokesperson for the health department said that the website was a draft’, and made live in “an inadvertent error”, claims that were widely refuted by public health groups who say that the website was pulled down due to industry influence.

Furnival, who is also a co-owner in his wife’s lobbying firm, has since resigned from his position as further conflicts of interest to his position have surfaced including revelations that Furnival is connected to the alcohol industry and played a key role in cancelling the funding of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia.

 

ACT expected to ban battery cages and sow stalls

The ACT is expected to pass a vote today that will see an end to certain factory farming practices.

The new legislation which was introduced by Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury last year, will ban the use of battery cages for hens along with de-beaking practices, and will also prohibit the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates for pigs.

Rattenbury says that the move to prohibit such practices has largely been driven by a consumer push for higher animal welfare standards and that fines of up to $35,000 will be payable for any breach of the new laws.

"This is an important reform to protect the welfare of farmed animals and will set the precedent for other states and territories to do the same," Rattenbury told Yahoo 7.

"Some of the practices outlawed under this legislation are simply cruel and inhumane and don't have any place in modern food production in Australia."

The move has also been welcomed by animal welfare group, Animals Australia.

Communications director for the group, Lisa Chalk said that the passing of the vote will be a ‘landmark decision’.

"Animals Australia really applauds the ACT government's landmark decision to prohibit what are some of the cruellest farming practices," she said.

"These are practices which see millions of animals around Australia severely confined."

Although the legislation will see an end to such practices in the Territory, NSW Farmers Egg Committee spokesman Bede Burke said that many ACT farmers have already, or are in the process of moving to non-cage systems. He also said that the legislation will not prohibit the sale of caged eggs produced in other Australian states in ACT supermarkets.  

 

New imaging technology may provide more accurate food quality assessments

Scientists at the University of Western Australia are developing innovative new ways to assess food quality by using infra-red technology.

The technology is similar to that of infra-red thermometers which are used to detect fever in humans by converting information of the colour of the skin into an estimate of internal body temperature. Associate professor, Christian Nansen believes that the same technology can be used to assess food quality.

"With this technology, food items moving down a conveyor belt can easily be ‘tagged' by an infra-red scanner, and fast computers can quickly analyse the imaging data and determine whether or not a given food item needs to be rejected, or whether it needs to be diverted to the cargo bin for lower-grade food items,” said Nansen.

"It is similar to the baggage handling system at an airport: the infra-red scan taken along the conveyor belt represents the ‘tag' which ensures that each item of luggage – or fruit – gets to the right cargo bin and airplane."

Nansen says that although the prevalence of imaging technology systems for unprocessed and processed food items is growing, most detect and quantify defects in grains, fruit and vegetables and meat quality and that one of the biggest challenges – the fact that fresh produce varies greatly in size and in surface texture – colour classification based on surface colour via imaging technology is generally associated with low classification accuracy.

Nansen also adds that his latest research is looking to explore whether the technology can be used to detect weevil infestation inside field peas.

"The research question was whether field peas infested with beetles reflected light differently compared to field peas without internal beetle infestations," said Nansen.

Nansen’s research which is a collaboration between Associate Professor Guijun Yan, Dr Nader Aryamanesh and Masters student Xuechen Zhang at UWA has been published in the Journal of Food Engineering.

The researchers compared different classification methods and found that Nansen’s outperformed the more conventional classification methods. Nansen believes that the new approach could pave the way for accurate large-scale, commercially viable classification of food items that can be performed under tight time constraints.

 

Fonterra’s new Waitoa facility to commence production in March

Fonterra’s new $120m UHT milk processing plant is edging closer to completion with production to commence in March.

The new processing facility, located at Waitoa New Zealand, has taken over 12 months to complete and UHT Operations Manager, Donald Lumsden, said that the new facility will enable the co-operative to meet the growth in global dairy demand.

“This is a very exciting time for Fonterra. The global demand for dairy is growing and we’re now well-positioned to meet this growth with our new state-of-the-art UHT milk processing site at Waitoa," said Lumsden. "The site will enable us to optimise the milk our farmers produce by turning it into high-value consumer products that will meet market demand in Asia.”

The site is currently undergoing water commissioning to ensure that all elements of production are in full working order before processing commences.

“Running water through the processing lines ensures we can vigorously test how the milk and packaging will be processed. It lets us know that the site is ready to begin processing milk,” said Lumsden.  

The new site is inclusive of five UHT processing lines designed to process a range of products including UHT white milk and UHT cream. Lumsden says that when the site is in full production by August, it will be capable of producing 100m liters of milk each year.

“The site’s technology means we can produce up to 24,000 milk packs an hour per line, they will be flying off the line,” said Lumsden.

 

Will community support seal the deal on SPC’s future?

It was only a few weeks ago that the future of Australia’s last remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona, was in doubt.

A steady influx of cheap imported tomatoes, a consistently strong Australian dollar and confusing regulation surrounding country of origin claims have all impacted on the processor, which warned it may have to cease trading in Australia.

SPCA reached out for government assistance to meet rising costs, a request that was initially met with a $25m pledge from Labor, but was later rejected by the Abbott government.

The processor also appealed to the Anti-Dumping Commission to have tariffs imposed on tomatoes imported from Italy on the basis that the cheap imports were causing material injury to local producers. The Anti-Dumping Commissioner ruled in favour of SPCA, and imposed a tariff of around nine precent on 14 Italian processed tomato brands.

The imposition of tariffs and increased consumer awareness of SPCA’s plight led to a steady increase in sales, but not enough to secure its future.

It wasn’t until late one Thursday night in early February that SPCA’s future would really take a turn for the better.

Newcastle resident and loyal SPCA customer, Linda Drummond pioneered a movement on Twitter that encouraged Australians to purchase SPC products over the weekend. She created the hashtag #SPCSunday which soon spread to various forms of social media including Instagram and Facebook.  

Within less than 24 hours, the hashtag had been used in over 1,000 tweets and reached the likes of Australian celebrities including Magda Szubanski, Father Bob and Adam Spencer who were all eager to support the cause.

By the time Sunday rolled around, the hashtag was tweeted over 7,000 times and sales of SPCA products soared..

Food magazine recently spoke with Bronwyn Powell, the marketing and innovation director for SPC Ardmona about the #SPCSunday campaign and the impact that it has had on the business.

Powell said that sales in the lead up to #SPCSunday were already increasing, but since the campaign, more consumers have been reached than they could have possibly hoped for.

“In our key line and our key retailers we have increased sales by over 50 percent, which was actually happening even before #SPCSunday. We have had such great support from consumers, retailers and everyday Aussies, and now even more so,” she said.

“We are just overwhelmed with the everyday Australian supporter for our company really. So it’s amazing, it’s really been fantastic.”

When asked whether SPCA would consider integrating #SPCSunday into the company’s marketing activities, Powell said it is something that the company would ‘definitely’ consider.

“We are definitely looking at how we can continue to support and grow this idea whether it is instore or online with consumers. It’s only early days but trust me, my team are crazily thinking, about how we can help grow and support #SPCSundays and really connect with our consumers and the community.”

Since #SPCSunday, both Coca-Cola Amatil (SPCA’s owner) and the Victorian state government announced a new $100 million investment plan to assist the processor over a three year period. The cash injection will no doubt provide much needed assistance to the brand, however for the company to continue to prosper now and into the future, ongoing consumer support is vital.

Food magazine asked Powell what she believed Australia would lose if SPC was to close.

“There are a lot of things that we are going lose if we lose SPC. The first one that I have to say as the marketing director is great brands that have been around for nearly 100 years – Many of them people have grown up with. Household names like Ardmona, IXL jam, Goulburn Valley and Taylors more recently which is a newer brand, those brands will be lost and lost from a lot of our Australian childhood memories.

“And because we are an agricultural based company with Australian grown fruit and vegetables – we are going to actually lose a lot of Australian growers. And the sad thing for me, the thing that probably brought me the most emotion in this job was that we would be losing 100 year old pear trees that have gone through three generations of families.

“The other thing is that consumers are going to lose the reassurance that they are buying Australian, and when they are buying Aussie grown, and our products, I can assure you that they are clean, green and wholesome. We give consumers comfort that their food is premium quality and safe – that is critically important and something that we know and we can demonstrate.”

Powell says that differing standards in food safety is another concern that the Australian public will face should SPC close and shelf space be replaced with imported products. The call for stronger country of origin labelling and more rigorous testing of imported fruit was heightened last year after high levels of lead were detected in Chinese canned peaches. Tests on the fruit showed alarming high levels of lead – up to twice the amount that is legally permissible under the Australian and New Zealand food standard.

“One of the things I always say is actually look at where products come from… Have a look in the fine print and actually see where that product was really made and then ask yourself, do you really know what goes on in terms of the conditions that the product was made in? Do we really know if they have the same strict laws that we have in Australia around food safety?”

Powell explains that innovation within the Australian fruit sector is also something that the nation stands to lose.

“We would lose all of the future innovation that myself and my team have been working on. Just one of those is Goulburn Valley Perfect Fruit [soft serve fruit] which is currently in test market. We have loads of other ideas too that won’t be there if we go, as there is nobody else that really operates in fruit to offer that innovation in Australia. Fruit is at the core of what we do.”

Although SPCA has been enjoying a spate of increased support from consumers and retailers in recent months, ongoing sales is what’s required to  to keep the company alive.

In mid February, parent company Coca-Cola Amatil posted a $400m slump in net profit, related to write-downs from SPCA. In order for the company to truly come back into prosperity, constant consumer support is paramount, and also achievable.

Spring Gully, a South Australian sauce and pickle manufacturer was in a similar predicament, albeit on a smaller scale, in mid-2013. The company entered voluntary administration with debts of $4.9 million in July, but showed stronger signs of life months later as a result of community and retail support. 

Fellow South Australian food brand, Robern Menz launched the “Shop and Swap” campaign which encouraged consumers to swap one supermarket food item with its South Australian produced counterpart.

Not long after Shop and Swap was launched, three weeks' worth of Spring Gully sales took place over a three day period with Foodland, IGA and Coles placing extra orders to make up for the increase in sales. In November, the company announced that it had cleared $1 million in debt.

The question is can SPCA follow a similar path and pave a road to recovery through increased consumer support? Powell thinks that they are most certainly on the right track.

“The support is certainly helping us, it is certainly saying to everyone that this is a company with brands and products that Australians want to keep alive.

“SPC is overwhelmed with the support, and we want to thank each and every Australian who has supported us – retailers and the consumers.”

 

Researchers pioneer pooperoni sausage category

Yep, you read the headline right. The next big innovation in sausage manufacturing could well be the inclusion of baby excrement according to human by-product researchers who believe that infant poop could provide a host of health benefits.

Dubbed as 'pooperoni' by some, Spanish researchers have taken bacteria cultured from faeces present in the nappies of infants, and used them as an ingredient in ‘fuets’, the researchers' take on the spicy Spanish sausage chorizo. 10ml/kg of the bacteria was added to lean pork and then stuffed into pork casings to ripen – creating a product somewhat similar to pepperoni, WAtoday reports.

Meat Science, the official journal of the American Meat Science Association published a paper on the study, which included comments from six “trained assessors” whom had taste tested the fuets, and judged them on smell, taste, hardness, ease of peeling and crumbliness.  

According to Dr Hani Al-Salami, a pharmaceutical science lecturer at Perth’s Curtin University, it is important to use bacteria from baby faeces rather than adult faeces due to the ‘milder gut content’ that infants possess.

"Babies at that young age, the gut content is quite mild and nice compared with an older person," Al-Salami told WAtoday.

"The reason is, as we grow, we do eat a lot of things and not everything we eat is the best in terms of quality."

Al-Salami says that the addition of bacteria aids in the digestion of the food, and that recent studies have proven its benefits which include the balancing of ph values in the gut, and the production of vitamins.

"The main aim is to gain a full understanding of what healthy diet means and find out how much it takes of the baby sausage, to get the benefits."

Al-Salami also said that the cultured sausages could – at some point in the future – make its way to the retail sector.

"Down the track we hope [they'll be available for purchase]," he said.

"That's why all the work is being done."

 

Tetra Pak’s new energy saving pasteurisation process

Food processing and packaging company, Tetra Pak has announced the introduction of a new juice pasteurisation process that saves up to 20 percent on energy consumption.

The new process, which is suitable for high-acid juices, improves efficiency by reducing the temperature of the second pasteurisation process from 95°C to 80°C, without compromising the quality of the juice produced.

Juice pasteurisation is conducted in two steps. The first pasteurization, commonly conducted immediatey after the juice is squeezed, deactivates enzymes and kills microorganisms. Prior to the filling, another pasteurisation is conducted to destroy microorganisms developed during bulk storage. This second process is usually conducted at a temperature of 95°c for 15 seconds. Tetra Pak’s new technology means the temperature of this process is brought down to 80ºC for juices with a pH level at or below 4.2.

Micael Simonsson, manager Centre of Expertise at Tetra Pak, said “We are excited by this new development, as it reduces energy consumption and therefore helps our customers improve their bottom line in an increasingly competitive market. At the same time, extensive tests show that the new process has no impact on the quality of the juice produced, be it in terms of taste, nutrition, storage stability or visual appearance."