There’s nothing black or white about organic agriculture

Food is an emotional topic. Everyone cares about what they eat. Food often has a strong cultural, religious or even political meaning attached to it. Organic food is no different in that respect. People buy organic out of hedonistic values of pleasure and health as well as out of altruistic values of environmental sustainability, social justice and animal welfare.

In addition, organic food is also part of the political debate on how to feed the world sustainably today and into the future. Agriculture is currently one of the major threats to the environment. We know that some drastic changes in our food system are needed if we want to ensure that the many hungry people on this planet have access to sufficient nutritious food and at the same time reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.

Organic agriculture is often proposed as a solution to some of these challenges. It promises to produce food in a more environmentally friendly way and to provide accessible means of increasing yields in smallholder farming systems in developing countries.

We were therefore not surprised that our study about the yields of organic agriculture, published recently in Nature, drew quite some attention and was discussed widely in the media and blogosphere.

In this study, we conducted a meta-analysis comparing organic and conventional yields and examined how the yield difference is influenced by different site and system characteristics. The analysis basically showed that organic yields are generally lower than conventional yields, but that under some conditions organic yields can nearly match conventional.

 

The study's results. Todd Reubold, Intitute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Click to enlarge

 

While we anticipated that the study would receive widespread attention, we were not really prepared for the wide range of interpretations of our analysis. Some people interpreted the study to imply that organic food was bad for the environment. Others concluded that we had totally missed the point, as the issue was not about yields anyway.

So, first a disclaimer: we did not attempt to solve the food problems of the world in our study. We evaluated the yield difference between organic and conventional systems using data that had been published in the scientific literature. Not more, not less.

We looked at the yield question, as we believe that yields are an important variable to consider when assessing different farming systems. In the end, whatever you might hold against current conventional agriculture, we have to acknowledge that its high yields have spared land for nature and have improved the food situation of many people.

But we acknowledge (and we do that throughout our article) that yields are only one of many factors we need to consider. Farming systems do not only have to provide food but they also have to use natural resources responsibly and to provide livelihoods to farmers. And the question of feeding the world is even more complicated than that. Feeding the world today does not depend on the total food produced: at the global aggregate scale we currently have enough food to feed everyone. It depends on where this food is produced and at what price. Hunger today is a problem of insufficient access to nutritious food and not of insufficient food availability (although feeding an additional 2-3 billion in the future may require increases in production).

 

When evaluating an agricultural system, it's important to ask how much yield you'll get. Suzie's Farm

 

So what message can people take away from our study? The real conclusion of our study is not an easy conclusion of “yes organic” or “no organic”. Although we did mention the overall average yield difference between organic and conventional systems derived from our data, this was not the main point of our study.

Our main contribution was to identify situations where organic performs well and also those situations where there is still a large yield gap to conventional systems. Instead of giving an absolute yes or no answer, we tried to paint a more nuanced picture of the complex and difficult reality of organic farming.

Our study has shown that organic agriculture requires good management practices for high yield performance; that organic performs better under rainfed conditions and weakly acidic to alkaline soils; and that its performance improves over time.

The study has also shown that nitrogen limitation is an issue in organic systems and that we need to improve organic cereal and vegetable management. Here we have two choices. We can improve organic yields by putting more money into organic research (given the little funding organic research has received to date). Or we can turn to conventional practices, which under these conditions may be more environmentally beneficial because of their land sparing effect.

An important knowledge gap we identified is the performance of organic agriculture in smallholder farming systems in developing countries. These are the places where yield increases are most needed and where organic agriculture could potentially provide an important tool for sustainable intensification of farming. Research in these systems is urgently needed.

 

Organic agriculture shows promise for increasing yields sustainably in developing countries. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

 

Organic agriculture has a role to play in sustainable food production. We can adopt organic farming methods under conditions where it performs best, try to address the identified issues in organic farming systems and we can learn from successful organic practices for conventional systems. In the end, to achieve sustainable food systems we need agriculture that can deliver certain desirable outcomes. And these desirable outcomes might require a blend of different practices, including agro-ecological methods that improve soil fertility and enhance biodiversity as well as targeted use of chemical fertilisers to ensure high crop production.

We hope that with our study we have revealed some of the many shades of grey inherent in the debate about how to feed the world sustainably. Science cannot provide a definite answer on what the best farming system is. But it is not about the correct answer or the correct choice anyway. It is about making the best choice with the information we have. And making these best choices in our complex world requires us to critically evaluate the performance of different farming systems along certain key variables, assessing the associated uncertainties and identifying knowledge gaps.

The same is true from a consumer perspective. Instead of sticking to any single mantra and eating only organic food, only local or only vegetarian, we should do what we do anyway: eat from a diversity of sources following our diverse set of values and trying to do the best with the information we have. This might include buying organic milk from large-scale organic dairy farms to avoid antibiotic residues. It might mean buying conventional apples from a local family farm in support of the local economy. It might mean buying cheap flour from highly productive conventional cereal farmers. Or it might include the organic veggie basket from our local family farm with its diverse polyculture of vegetables produced with utmost care and a large portion of idealism.

Verena Seufert is a PhD student at McGill University.

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

Coles and Woollies not entirely to blame for supermarket wars, Dick Smith tells Inquiry

Dick Smith has warned against forcing the break-up of Coles and Woolworths, saying it would only further damage the food sector.

Speaking at the Senate Inquiry into the Australian food processing sector this morning, the entrepreneur also said government protection of the food industry, by enforcing a quota of Australian products, would be a positive move.

Industry protection funds, similar to those in the car industry, could be another viable option, he said.

In his submission to the Inquiry, Smith blamed the current supermarket climate, which is pushing Australian companies and farmers out of work, on rich foreign companies, namely ALDI.

He said dividing up Coles and Woolworths will not improve the situation “because I think they will just become uncompetitive when they become small with the internationals we allow them to compete with.”

Smith voiced his concern that the current “extreme capitalism” environment will lead to WalMart and Costco being the only supermarket companies in the world.

He told the Inquiry he does not believe the infamous milk price wars, which saw Coles drop the price of private-label milk to $1 a litre and Woolworths quickly follow suit, was either of their faults, but rather the blame is squarely at the feet of foreign-owned cheap food retailers.

''I think Coles and Woolworths were reacting to the situation that Aldi and Costco have come here,'' Smith said.

He also wants penalty rates in Australia looked at, and says a reduction in the rates would improve our competitiveness.

''Do we value our country towns?” he asked

“Which I do, do we want to go to these country towns and find them boarded up?

“Because our farmers are paying $20 an hour for labour, (and) will never be able to compete with people paying $5 an hour.

''But don't blame Coles and Woolworths for it, I think we are getting off the track…I think it is the fact consumers want the cheapest prices.''

Smith maintains Australians would readily pay slightly higher food prices if it ensured the future of the food industry.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that while most Australians say they would like to buy Australian produced and processed food, the main contributing factor is low price.

Similar rules to those in television broadcasting which impose a certain quota of locally-made content, would be effective in the supermarket sector, he said.

''One idea that I heard a number of days ago which could have potential is that we require Australian supermarkets to have a certain percentage of their sales, say 25 per cent, to be from Australian-owned processors and made and grown in Australia,'' Smith said.

''The advantage in doing that is it will create a level playing field.''

Last month Smith, along with Greg Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer started calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to allow shoppers to easily understand which products are locally made and produced, and therefore keep local industries alive.

The current packaging and import regulations leave most consumers confused, they said.

Smith predicts that ALDI’S share in the supermarket sector, currently sitting at 8 per cent, will increase gradually over coming years.

 

300 more jobs slashed in dairy sector: Murray Goulburn’s profit declines

Australia’s biggest dairy foods processor will slash 300 jobs to lower costs in the increasingly difficult dairy industry.

Murray Goulburn, a co-operative owned and controlled by dairy farmers turns a third of Australia’s milk supply into diary products which are then sold domestically and to export markets.

It recently achieved praise and appreciation as a price leader in the local market, after increasing the price it paid for milk products at the farm gate.

But the pressure on the dairy sector from supermarkets and importers has led to a decrease in Murray Goulburn’s profits.

Murray Goulburn, the maker of Devondale butter and Cobram cheese will cut the 300 jobs to lower costs in the increasingly difficult dairy industry.

It conducted a detailed review of its head office and processing operations before deciding to eliminate 12 per cent of its workforce.

 

The 300 jobs will come from various parts of the business, with 168 positions from processing sites and distribution centres lost, 59 from the head office and the remainder through natural attrition.

Those in processing and distribution roles will be made redundant by the end of June and the head office roles will become redundant by September.

Managing director Gary Helou blamed the decline in world market prices as a result of higher global milk supply as the main reason for the job losses.

He said the company needs to improve its manufacturing efficiency, slash head office costs, increase its global competitiveness and deliver higher farm-gate prices, and these changes will begin some of these improvements.

"These are difficult but necessary decisions to ensure that Murray Goulburn can remain competitive,'' he said.

“It is in the interests of our suppliers, shareholders, employees, communities and customers that MG remains a strong business into the future.''

The company has promised employees full entitlements.

Image: The Herald Sun

Dick Smith fronts Senate Inquiry into food industry

Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith will front the Senate Inquiry into the food processing industry and supermarket dominance today.

The Inquiry has come up against problems getting people and companies to participate in the process, as the supermarkets bully them into silence through their market control.

Smith is one of the few who is openly critical about not only the anti-competitive practises of the supermarkets, but also the government policy that is ruining the entire Australian food industry.

The case against ALDI

He  has taken a slightly different angle in his submission to the Inquiry, effectively blaming foreign-owned supermarket ALDI for most of the problems in the supermarket sector.

“ALDI’s lower prices primarily come from having lower labour costs, that is, they employ less Australians,” Smith writes in his submission. 

“When Coles and Woolworths follow this particular trend, (as they will be forced to) where in a large supermarket you might only have one or two Australians employed our food prices may be slightly cheaper but in the long term our taxes will  very likely go up to pay for the social services of people who no longer have jobs.

“When ALDI stocked a limited range of products there was hope that the Australian owned retailers could survive because they could sell the other necessities that were required, place a higher price on those and obtain an extra margin to cover their extra staffing overheads. 

“The alternative was to go broke.

“That’s  now  all changed.  

“ALDI have announced that they are going to increase their product range so a typical Australian family can buy all of their products in an ALDI store. 

“This will result in Coles and Woolworths either following ALDI further on this lower cost, 90% private label, “lack of choice” model or losing substantial market share and eventually failing.”

Woolworths and Coles are already increasing their private-label products at a rapid pace, pushing Australian companies out of business and placing unfair demands on producers and transporters.

Supermarkets killing drivers

Yesterday the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of causing road deaths by forcing truck drivers to drive for unsafe lengths of time and meet unrealistic deadlines.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

Collapse of Australia's beetroot industry

Smith points towards the beetroot industry as a prime example of the damaging impact the ridiculously low prices have on Australia.

“As an example, for many decades, a simple can of Australian grown beetroot has sold for about $1.50 in our supermarkets and this has allowed a viable farming and  processing industry to exist,” he said in his submission to the Inquiry.

“The cost price of such a can is about 90 cents, the remainder being the supermarket overheads and profit margin. 

"Not at any time in the past few decades have I  heard of consumers complaining about the price of a can of beetroot. 

“In fact, it’s about half the price of a cup of coffee and I find it truly amazing that it could be so cheap, considering that Australian award wages and conditions are included in the price.

“Notwithstanding the lack of pressure on price, ALDI started to sell beetroot at 75 cents a can.   Immediately, Coles and Woolworths matched the price, as they had to.  

“ALDI proudly claimed that the beetroot they were selling was from Australia however they did not state that this would basically sound the death knell to our beetroot growing and processing industry.

“Within a short period of time, Heinz announced the closure of its beetroot processing plants in Australia, sacking hundreds of workers and Australian farmers were ploughing their beetroot crops back in the ground. 

“Heinz announced that their beetroot from now on will be grown and processed overseas.

“At the present time, there are still stocks of Australian beetroot at 75 cents a can, but it’s obvious that once these go, if the price is to remain the same, all beetroot in future will come from overseas. 

“We will have lost a complete industry, but this didn’t happen  because of pressure from consumers. 

"This is an important point. 

“It happened because one of the most astute examples of modern “extreme” capitalism, fully foreign owned ALDI, decided to flex its power.”

Smith said another differentiating factor between ALDI versus Coles and Woolworths is that the latter two are publically-listed companies, dependant on and accountable to shareholders, whereas ALDI is privately owned by a German company.

The “highly secretive” ALDI is therefore creating an uneven playing field, he said in his submission.

"Intentionally vague" labelling

He also takes aim at the labelling laws for country of origin, claiming they are deliberately misleading.

 “The current food labelling laws in Australia are intentionally vague so the requirements are accepted by the large multinational companies who  have political clout,” he said. 

“Although there have been campaigns such as the “Australian Made” mark, this was in reality an indication that the majority of the cost of production of a product was made up with Australian content. 

“For example, if the cost of a jar, a lid, label and an ingredient such as sugar represented greater than 50% of the total cost, but the primary ingredient (say, the strawberries in strawberry jam), was imported, the label could  still  state  “Australian Made”.

“In more recent times many labels bear the words “Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients”.  In this case, the local content may be very small.”

Smith’s own company, which produces food ‘as Australian as you can get” has felt the impact of the obsession with cheap, often imported food, and is personally watching his products getting pushed out of the market.

“Turnover peaked at $80 million per year in 2002 and has now dropped to $8million per annum as most Australians move to lower prices,” he said of his company, Dick Smith Foods.

“It’s interesting to note that the prime reason Coles have refused to stock our products is that  they are about 30 cents more expensive, and they believe Australian consumers will not  support this extra cost.”

A statement from Senator Richard Colbeck, the Liberal Senator for Tasmania who called for the Select Committee last year, said he is pleased that the Inquiry has secured both Coles and Woolworths to appear as witnesses at a subsequent meeting in Canberra next week.

The committee is due to release the findings of the Inquiry by 30 June.

Supermarket price wars are killing drivers: transport union

The supermarket price wars are claiming more victims than just food manufacturing facilities, with accusations from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) that the pressure is forcing truck drivers to drive unsafely, leading to road deaths.

TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News that the tight deadlines forced on drivers are unrealistic and forcing them to drive unsafely.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," he said.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

In a bid to shine some light on the dangerous impacts of the major supermarkets on drivers, the union will begin a series of supermarket protests in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth today.

He said the larger transport industry is being impacted by the behaviour of the major supermarkets.

"When the two big gorillas make a decision, and particularly with the aggression of Coles, it means a knock-on effect occurs right across the market, right across industries above and beyond retail," he said.

Is Coles the ringleader?

It’s not the first time Coles has been identified as the main instigator of the anti-competitive and bullying behaviours currently plaguing the food industry, with many in the sector believing Woolworths simply has no choice but to match Coles’ prices and attitudes.

Last year, Coles was the first to drop the price of milk to $1 per litre in the now-infamous milk price wars, and earlier this year it slashed the price of produce in half.

The impact has significant flow-on effects for food manufacturers, growers and suppliers, who cannot maintain a business with prices so low.

Earlier this year national secretary for the food and confectionary division of the Australia Manufacturing Workers Union, Jennifer Dowell discussed the damage the supermarket price wars are doing to the Australian industry.

“The mistake that most people make in these Inquiries and things is that they look at Coles and Woollies as retailers, but they are food processors and they control the market,” she told Food Magazine.

“If a company like Nestle came out and said “we’re going to buy a stake in Coles, and dominate the shelves with our products,” there would be uproar, it would be a huge scandal, but when the supermarkets do it, it’s a non-issue.

“That just doesn’t make sense.”

Sheldon agrees, saying the systems in place to force drivers to arrive on time are unsafe and unfair.

"When you dominate the market to the degree they do, and have policies that actually say if you arrive outside a half-hour window you get fined; as an owner-driver or a transport company, if you come in within that half hour and we can't unload you, you could still waiting for a day for hours," he told the ABC.

"We've got plenty of examples of people having to stay a whole day or being called back the next day without any work, without appropriate breaks, and with fatigue and economic pressure that goes on the transport companies.

"[The policies] are a damnation of this industry and the retail industry – how it squeezes the road transport industry and leads to unsafe practices."

Speaking up is commercial suicide

The pressure Coles and Woolworths place on companies and workers are well-known in the industry, but almost all are too afraid to speak publically, for fear they will be pushed out of business for doing so.

A Senate Inquiry into the behaviours of the major supermarkets found people would only speak up on the basis of anonymity and most were still concerned that even under such conditions, they would be found out by the big two and punished.

But Australian Logistics Council chief executive Michael Kilgariff told the ABC the latest claims from the TWU need to be substantiated and he believes there is enough regulation in the industry.

"The Australian Logistics Council has a retail logistics supply chain code of practice which deals with these issues such as waiting times, and both the carriers and the supermarkets are very focused on making sure that we don't have these sorts of situations occurring,” he said.

"If Tony Sheldon and the TWU have any evidence that the law is actually being broken, then they have a legal responsibility to ensure that the authorities are aware of where this is occurring so that prosecutions can commence.

"The supermarkets are currently liable under chain of responsibility laws – as is everybody in the supply chain – for incidents that may occur anywhere else in the supply chain where it can be demonstrated that they somehow caused it to happen.

"[The] chain of responsibility… is about to become a national law from January 1, 2013, and so we're going to have a national focus on these issues, and again if the TWU knows that the law is being broken, then they have an obligation to ensure that the authorities are informed."

Coles denies claims

Coles and Woolworths both refused to speak to the ABC on the issue, but said in a statement that the claims are baseless and incorrect.

"We're disappointed the TWU continues to make unsubstantiated claims about our transport practices.

"We outsource our transport business to large and reputable providers, we take safe transport practices very seriously and in no way do our transport contracts force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices. 

"We require our transport providers to comply with all road safety laws and regulations and all our freight contracts include fatigue management programs.

"Contrary to the TWU's claims, Coles's delivery windows into our stores are two hours, which is aligned with retail industry practice, and there are no penalties for suppliers or carriers for missing a time slot into our [distribution centres] or stores. 

"Coles is a co-founder of and current signatory to the Australian Logistics Council's retail code of practice and takes chain of responsibility very seriously as being core to its operating practices".

The release of yesterday's Federal Budget didn't offer any immediate improvements for the industry either, with calls from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) for a Supermarket Ombudsman ignored.

It  wanted the appointment of an Ombudsman, to oversee the anti-competitive and bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets to ensure a future for Australia’s food sector, to be included in the budget.

 

 

 

Coles to source all frozen veg products from Australia

Supermarket giant Coles has announced that from this month all its private label frozen vegetable products will be grown and packed in Australia.

The vegetable products will be sourced from Aussie farmers and packed by Australian based food processor, Simplot.

Last month Callum Elder, executive general manager of Simplot, discussed the difficulties for food companies trying to stay afloat in Australia.

''Penalty rates are a significant cost difference to manufacturers, particularly in the agricultural game where you're unable to properly plan,'' he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

''Our productivity hasn't increased in the past three to four years, as an industry, but yet we've been paying 3 to 4 per cent increases [in wages], which is a large part of the cost.

“It's very expensive to put people into Australian factories.''

Coles merchandise director John Durkan said the latest decision by Coles will make it the only Australia’s supermarket private label to offer 100 per cent Australian-grown frozen vegetables.

Coles’ total sales of frozen vegetables is almost $200 million each year, and the  private label range accounts for about 20 per cent of  that; more than $40 million annually.

“At a time when most other frozen vegetable brands are being sourced from overseas, we’re very pleased that, through our partnership with Simplot, we’ve been able to continue supporting Australian vegetable growers,” Durkan said.

More than 90 per cent of Coles’ private label frozen vegetable products is sourced from Tasmanian vegetable growers.

This represents over $37 million in sales for the supermarket, which growers will no doubt be hoping will be filtered down to their operations.

Simplot Australia’s Executive General Manager of Retail, Graham Dugdale has welcomed the supermarket’s decision.

“While other frozen vegetable suppliers have moved their sourcing and manufacturing off shore, Simplot Australia has continued to invest in relationships with the Australian farming community and factory capability, and is now the last remaining frozen vegetable manufacturer in Australia.

“Our strategic relationship with Coles gives consumers the choice to purchase Australian grown frozen vegetables from both ‘Birds Eye’ and Coles brand.”

 

Advertising in bottle shops encourages youth binge drinking

Point-of-sale alcohol advertising is creating a generation of binge drinkers, according to new research.

Researchers from Curtin University and the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Health Initiatives (CHI) looked at 24 different bottle shops throughout Sydney and Perth and found the POS advertising potentially damaging to young drinkers.

The report, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, found that merchandise giveaways, discount offers and competitions to be “aggressive” in attempts to lure younger drinkers, who are more likely to respond to such advertising.

The POS methods are creating a pro-alcohol environment, focused largely on young consumers, who are more likely to buy cheap alcohol and engage in competitions, the researchers found.

“Many people may think cheaper alcohol is a good idea, but this is generally because they are not aware of the strength of the relationship between price and consumption among young people,” CHI Professor Dr Sandra Jones said.

“What we have found in other studies is that young people are influenced by these promotions.

“They purchase more in order to obtain the 'free gift' or the 'discount' and, in many cases, they consume what they purchased – that is, more than they would otherwise have drunk.”

It’s not the first time a study has examined the link between advertising of cheap alcohol on young people’s brains, and Jones referred to a 2011 study which found an average of 33 promotions per alcohol outlet in Sydney and Perth.

It also reported that shops attached to supermarkets had a higher number of promotions which required a large quantity of alcohol to be purchased to be eligible for competitions.

Injury Control Council of WA Chief Executive Officer Debroah Costello believes the large quantities of alcohol required to enter competitions and the delivery of POS advertising is concerning.

“This exploitative form of marketing targets ‘at risk’ groups of drinkers, particularly youth, creating positive associations with alcohol and encouraging higher levels of alcohol consumption.

“This is particularly concerning when the Alcohol and Beverages Advertising Code states that ‘advertisements must not encourage excessive consumption or abuse of alcohol’.”

“As with all alcohol advertising there needs to be stricter guidelines around the use of POS that considers the negative impact on the community and way it can clearly perpetuate are drinking culture,” she says.

The researchers believe restrictions need to be implemented to limit the POS promotions in bottle shops and liquor outlets.

Do you think advertising alcohol in bottle shops needs more regulation?

Coles fined $170 000 over worker fall

Coles has been fined $170,000 and ordered to pay WorkCover’s legal costs after a worker sustained injuries when she fell through a ceiling at a Manly store in 2007.

The worker climbed over a handrail to access promotional material being stored on a suspended plasterboard ceiling on 29 August 2007, according to WorkCover.

The plasterboard collapsed and she fell more than two metres to the floor below and had to be transferred to hospital to be treated for lacerations to her head, whiplash and bruising.

An investigation by WorkCover found the company knew that using the roof cavity for storage was dangerous, and it had built a railing and posted a warning sign, but management failed to undertake a risk assessment on the ability of the plasterboard to withstand any weight.

They also failed to adequately warn staff not to access the area or use it for storage.

Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd pleaded guilty, and was convicted and fined $170,000 and required to pay WorkCover’s legal costs.

WorkCover’s General Manager of Work Health and Safety Division, John Watson, said a number of simple steps could have prevented the incident and as a national retailer, the company should have sufficient safety awareness and procedures.

“This business employs more 23,000 people in 238 stores across NSW, so the safety procedures of this company are relevant to a lot of people,” Watson said.

“This particular area should never have been allowed to be used to store merchandise and Coles management should have been more vigilant.

“While store management knew the area was not safe, the area was still used for storage and there was no proper information or training given to staff to warn of the risk.

“It is critically important that these types of hazards are identified at the workplace design stage and all reasonable and practicable steps be taken to eliminate the risk of work related injury or illness.

“Following this incident Coles has initiated a number of steps to eliminate re-occurrence, including a new plywood barrier to block off all access to the dangerous area and issuing a safety alert to staff,” Watson said.

“WorkCover is also pleased that this issue has also been addressed in the design of all new Coles stores.”

WA farmers meet with Wesfarmers to discuss milk price

Western Australian farmers have met with Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder to discuss the impact of the milk price wars on production and try to find a solution.

The farmers want fairer pricing strategies from the group, which includes Coles, and last week the WA Farmers Federation passed a motion to boycott Wesfarmers and its subsidiaries.

The WA Farmers Dairy Council say the “predatory pricing” by the major supermarkets have devalued the industry.

"Unsustainable" pricing

Australian farmers have been fighting the major supermarkets over the price wars since Coles slashed the price of its private label milk to $1 a litre in January last year.

Woolworths quickly followed suit, and despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the supermarkets were allowed to keep trading at the reduced price, which the industry has slammed as “unsustainable.”

But president of the Australian Dairy Farmers Association, Chris Griffin, told Food Magazine earlier this year that the financial pressures placed on farmers through the price wars has led to many leaving the industry.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world last week, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

Many WA farmers wanted to support the proposed boycott immediately, but the motion was passed on to the executives of the association for assessment.

Managing director of Wesfarmers, Goyder, met with WA Farmers president Dale Park and senior vice president Tony York this week to discuss some of the issues, including the impact of the pricing on the industry, which it says has lost it $25 million.

Who absorbs the price cut?

Coles has continually denied that its low-priced milk is impacting the dairy industry, claiming it is absorbing the costs, but those in the industry know that while that may be the case for now, in the long run producers will be taking the financial hit more than they already are.

“What it comes down to, according to the supermarkets, is that it comes down the them looking after us as consumers by cutting prices, but it comes at the expense of quality and also, they’re not asking consumers if they’re OK with this, they’re just deciding for us,” Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) food and confectionary secretary, Jennifer Dowell, told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does.”

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs, including the carbon tax, would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

Fear campaign

While the meetings between farmers and the major supermarkets are a step in the right direction, hopefully it will pave the way for other suppliers to follow suit and start talking about the impact of the price wars, because up until now the Senate Inquiry into the power of Coles and Woolworths has been met with fear from producers to afraid to criticise the supermarkets.

“WA Farmers wants to work with all food retailers to develop a supply model which ensures locally available product is their preferred source, pricing structures are sustainable and to develop a program which highlights to consumers the source of their product,” Park said.

More meetings are planned between the executives in coming weeks.

Image: News Limited

Coles deals Woollies a blow as supermarket price wars heat up

In yet another controversial action in the supermarket price wars, Coles is launching a loyalty card, not just to their loyal shoppers, but to almost every mailbox in Australia.

The FlyBuys card mail out will be one of the biggest in Australia’s history, with eight million cards set for delivery.

Producing and mailing the cards, and the advertising that goes along with it has cost the supermarket giant a pretty penny; believed to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

But Coles boss Ian McLeod is adamant that the new, simplified card which carried over points from existing FlyBuys cards will make that money well spent.

The new card will double the rewards, with one point earned for every dollar spent, and the ability to cash in the card at the till.

"Instead of waiting three years to earn enough points to buy a toaster, from day one, customers can start earning," McLeod said.

Coles is also embracing web marketing and sales, giving buyers the ability to log onto a website and select deals and convert points.

It follows a spectacular social media fail by the supermarket giant earlier this year, when it asked Twitter users to finish the sentence “In my house it is not a crime to buy…" to which some people vented their spleen about Coles ripping off farmers, putting Australian food producers out of business and the poor food quality, amongst other things.

As part of its FlyBuys relaunch, Coles has also partnered with companies including Webjet, Telstra and AGL.

FlyBuys was launched more than two decades ago and today has amassed more than 5 million active card users.

Are you an active FlyBuys user? Do you agree with Coles mailing the cards to everyone and will it change your shopping habits?

Woolworths sends jobs offshore

Woolworths is the latest food producer to send its operations abroad, as the cost of doing business in Australia continued to increase as the dollar does.

The high cost of manufacturing in Australia has been blamed for several food companies, including Heinz, sending jobs offshore – mostly to New Zealand.

The supermarket giant transferred 40 contact centre jobs to Auckland this week and it will be quickly followed by Imperial Tobacco, which announced it would be relocating its cigarette manufacturing across the Tasman also.

The combination of the high Australian dollar, increases to wages and the supermarket price wars are making it very difficult for food manufacturers to stay afloat.

According to the International Labour Organisation, Australian manufacturing workers earned more than $US35 an hour in 2008, compared to less than $US20 an hour in New Zealand.

Australian manufacturing workers also earn more, on avjeerage, that those in the UK, US and Canada.

In 2010, McCain relocated its vegetable production to New Zealand, leaving Simplot Australia as the largest vegetable producer in Tasmania.

Last year, Foster’s controversially accepted a takeover bid by London-based SABMiller, making Coopers the biggest local brewer, a reputation the company has pledged to maintain.

While the wages in the manufacturing sector are better here than abroad, they still struggle to compare to the high-paying mining jobs, which are seeing countless Australians leave farming and manufacturing jobs behind and relocating to mining towns.

The average age of an Australian farmer is over 60 and a recent study found 75 per cent of Australian year six students think cotton socks are an animal product while others believe yoghurt grows on trees.

Earlier this week, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world, based on earning ability, hiring outlook, work environment and physical demands.

”Penalty rates are a significant cost difference to manufacturers, particularly in the agricultural game where you’re unable to properly plan,” Callum Elder, the executive general manager of quality and innovation at Simplot, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

”Our productivity hasn’t increased in the past three to four years, as an industry, but yet we’ve been paying 3 to 4 per cent increases [in wages], which is a large part of the cost.

“It’s very expensive to put people into Australian factories.”

More Australian pigs “born free”

Almost 18 months after pork producers agreed to ban steel pens, a third of pregnant sows are no longer confined to the small stalls.

More piglets have been “born free” since 2010, when pork producers agreed to voluntarily ban the use of sow stall use by 2017.

Figures from the peak pork industry group, Australian Pork Limited, show that one in three sows now spend their pregnancies outside gestation crates, but animal welfare activists say more can – and should – be done.

The 200 centimetre long and 60 centimetre wide metal-barred cratesare used to hold all sows for at least part of their 16-week pregnancy.

The increased hormone levels in pregnant sows can often lead to fighting between the female pigs, which can cause abortion and damage to the animal.

Housing them in the stalls allows them to be protected from other sows and to receive the proper nutrition they need during their pregnancy, which they might otherwise not receive due to hierarchy and fights over food.

The Australian Pork Limited findings showed that 67 per cent of pregnant sows were still housed in the stalls one to four weeks after mating, while the remainder where not in the stalls at any stage of pregnancy.

Animals Australia’s Lyn White, believes that while it is ”pleasing” that some pig producers are no longer confining the pigs to the cages, the ban should be introduced sooner than first decided.

”The two-thirds of pigs who remain subjected to the cruelty of sow stalls won’t be alive to receive the benefits in 2017,” she said.

”It is clearly within the ability of the pig industry to alleviate their suffering now.”

But a spokesperson from Australian Pork Limited told Food Magazine that many people don’t understand why the stalls are used and how it ensures the safety of the sows.

“As an agricultural group, we are looking at ways to please the consumers and also ensure the safety of the animals, because there are a lot of pictures out there that make it look bad, but in reality it is in the wellbeing of the animal and her piglets.

“But the agricultural industry is finding it hard to recruit workers, so we’re trying to source skilled labour sources from south-east asia.”

“Piggery workers have to undergo skills set training.”

In response to questions about the Animals Australia’s calls to introduce the ban sooner than 2017, the spokesperson said it is not as simple as some people think.

“The problem we have is you can’t liken this move to walking into a room and turning off a light, it’s far more complicated that that, and we always have the welfare of animals at heart.

“And for producers to make changes within their own infrastructure, they need authority approval, from local councils and state regulatory services, and that takes time.

“Then need finances to undertake the changes.”

The spokesperson explained that the readily available horror stories and images of animals housed in the stalls during pregnancy are not painting a realistic picture.

“People are under the false impression that every pig is in a cage, but these sow stalls are only relevant to pregnant pigs, and they are placed in there for safety reasons,” the spokesperson told Food Magazine.

“What it means is that they are mated and within 5 day period are moved to groups.

“Depending on the operation, each producer will decide the size and location of the group and when they’re nearly ready to give birth they are moved to a farrowing stall, a birthing stall, which is a spring-loaded contraption to prevent her suffocating the piglets by lying on them.

“This alone saves about 1 million babies per year.”

By 2014, Coles has pledged to only stock fresh pork meat supplied by producers who have abandoned sow stalls, and experience would indicate Woolworths would quickly follow suit.

“With regard to the retail sector, agreements like that are between producers and the retailer concerned, but as an industry group we are trying to ensure the welfare of animals while also pleasing consumers.

“About 65 to 70 per cent of all ham, bacon and small good products sold in Australia is made from imported pork.

“Different countries have different regulation in regards to sow stalls.

Ean Pollard, chairman of the NSW Farmers’ Association pork committee agreed that a fast-track on the ban would not be realistic for most farmers.
Australia’s biggest producer of fresh pork meat, Rivalea, began voluntarily phasing out sow stalls in 2007.

”We knew that, in terms of perceptions, it was going to be very difficult to defend [the use of sow stalls], so we did not want to end up in the situation in 10 years that we were left behind,” general manager of farming operations at Rivalea Australia, Kenton Shaw, said.

About 75 per cent of its 18,000 sow stalls have been replaced and by next year, Shaw expects there to be zero use of the stalls.

While Animals Australia has been critical of the transition process, the RSPCA has praised the pork industry’s commitment to change.

“It’s good to see this commitment by Australian pork producers and a third of sows already benefiting from a stall free environment,” RSPCA Australia CEO, Heather Neil, said.

“The RSPCA appreciates the significance of the commitment these pig producers have made and we look forward to monitoring the industry progress towards a complete end to the use of sow stalls in Australia.”

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Joe Ludwig has also welcomed the action.

“The industry is making real progress towards phasing out sow stalls,” he said.

“I look forward to this level of commitment continuing as they work to achieve their end goal.”

Local manufacturers call for dedicated Australian-made aisles in supermarkets

Australian food manufacturers are calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to make it easier for consumers to choose locally made products and keep local businesses afloat.

Glenn Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer and entrepreneur Dick Smith are just two of the high profile names calling on the industry to take action.

Cooper believes laws which force supermarkets to set aside a minimum quota of floor space for locally-made food would be one way to slow the flood of cheap imports and prevent some manufacturers from tricking consumers into buying products they think are made in Australia, but are in fact made primarily from imported products.

"It’s not realistic for busy shoppers to read every label to see its country of origin before you put it in your trolley," Cooper told Channel 7’s Out Of The Blue program.

"So I think they [supermarkets] should be forced to have a certain amount of locally grown content and that it should appear in a clearly defined area designated for Australian-made products only.

"That may mean two milk areas, two butter areas but at least customers, when they choose something from that designated area, know they are buying Australian-made products," he said.

Coopers became Australia’s largest brewer following Foster’s controversial sale to London-based SABMiller in September last year, and has always pledged to remain proudly Australian made and owned.

“Being the largest Australian-owned brewer is a badge of honour we will wear with pride,” managing director Tim Cooper said at he time.

“This represents the reward for 150 years of hard work in brewing by the Cooper family."

Along with being the chairman to one of Australia’s most successful beverage companies, Cooper is also the deputy chairman of the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign group, which aims to encourage more Aussies to buy local products and make the Australian Made definitions simpler.

He does not believe the Australian-made aisle would be a big cost or time implication for the supermarkets, which already have a number of local products, but are difficult to find amongst all the other imports.

"Say, for example, it was 30-odd per cent [of floor space set aside]," he said.

"Well, supermarkets may already have that level of Australian content of food as part of their normal stock but it’s just not clearly defined as an area."

"Hopefully, enough people will get behind it to give some sort of leg up to our farmers who are, in many areas, being clobbered by imports.

"I’ve been told about a Mallee onion grower getting four cents a kilo for his crop.

"These guys are continually under pressure to match cheaper import prices."

And while most food and beverage companies are reluctant to speak up against the anti-competitive and bullying behaviours of the major supermarkets for fear of the repercussions, Cooper said he is not going to be afraid of speaking up for local industries.

"What is wrong with protecting our own industry to a certain degree?" he said.

"I don’t see anything wrong with that and most people would support it too, but our politicians, for some reason, don’t want to."

Consumer watchdog CHOICE is also behind the plan to make it easier for shoppers to buy Australian made.

"Consumers would like, where possible, to choose Australian products to support local growers," spokesperson Ingrid Just said.

"Consumers are certainly keen to understand where their food is from and it is important for that to be clearly on the label."

Contrary to the opinion of many shoppers, Cooper maintains that increasing the number of Australian made products in a shopping trip would not drive costs up.

Dick Smith has been vocal about Coles’ rejection of his Australian made and packaged fruit spreads, which it says will not sell enough to make a profit.

“Woolworths is taking the five new products, but Coles won’t, mainly on price!" he told workers at Penrith’s O-I Glass factory in February.

“Coles are letting Australians down, in this particular case.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“[It’s a] beautiful Australian product, but the minute they found out it was 20 cents dearer, their belief was ‘no.’

“If you go into Coles, and Coles have previously been good supporters of Australia, you’ll find that in their fruit spread range, from what I could see, everything is imported!

“Whereas Coles used to say when you were selling something to them ‘you’ve got to make some money, just as we’ve got to make some money,’ now they actually say ‘we don’t actually care if you go broke, we’re just going to sell the cheapest.’

Smith told Channel 7’s Sunrise program this morning that while the idea of an Australian-made aisle in supermarkets is good, he is unsure if it would work in reality.

Bega finalises 5-year private label supply deal with Coles

Bega Cheese and Coles have officially signed on the dotted line, confirming the cheese maker will supply for the supermarket giant’s private label for the next five years.

The deal was first revealed in September last year, amid controversy over the impact of private label increases on Australian food producers.

It is expected Bega will produce about 19 000 tonnes of cheese for Coles within the period.

Are you a dairy farmer? Your job is the second worst in the world

Dairy farming has been rated the second worst job in the world.

The findings of the American survey might not come as a surprise to most Australian dairy farmers, who are facing a slump in profits as the major supermarkets continue to sell milk for $1 per litre, despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into what the industry calls “unsustainable” prices.

Australian Dairy Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine earlier this year that farmers are leaving the industry in droves because they cannot manage to make a profit, or in many cases, break even.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

The only profession deemed to be worse than dairy farming is being a lumberjack, according to the results collated by American HR group, CareerCast’s.

The fourth worst job is working on an oil rig, while the fifth worse is a newspaper reporter.

The best job, according to the research, is a software engineer.

The five key categories were used to determine the best and worst jobs wre physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

Image: The Australian

Australian fishing could meet all local demand, Senate Inquiry told

A Senate Inquiry has been told that Australia imports 70 per cent of its seafood, which could be grown locally if an international shipping service is reinstated.

Of that, 22 per cent of the seafood sold in 2010-11, Australia came from Thailand, while 14 per cent was sourced from New Zealand.

But local fishing companies believe they can source the amount of seafood required for the Australian market locally.

"Our aim is to start eating into that area," Tim Hess, general manager of Petuna Seafood, which produces 5500 tonnes of ocean trout each year, told the Inquiry into Australia’s Food Processing Sector on Thursday.
Hess said total annual salmon production across the state is trending upwards and now represents 35,000 tonnes per year.

"It’s been increasing by between six and eight per cent a year for the past five years," he said.

While the amount of seafood available in Tasmanian waters is high, the state is facing increasing difficulty to move the product offshore, particularly after it lost its only international freight service last year.

The service was a direct link between Bell Bay and Singapore, giving the state the availability to move its seafood throughout Asia, but now the shipments incur higher shipping costs because they have to go through Melbourne.

Hess said not having a direct link to Asia is “a major concern,” for the state, particularly when they are competing with suppliers in New Zealand, which he says is akin to “an oversized Tasmania.”

"They can get a product into Melbourne or Sydney just as quick as us," he said.

"And they are on to it pretty quickly."

Hess told the inquiry he is currently exporting 10 per cent of his product to overseas markets, but he is finding that increasingly difficult without an international shipping service.

"As Tasmanian exporters, it’s up to us to go out into the shipping world and try and encourage a shipping line to come back onto this island and give us a link into South East Asia," he said.

The Select Committee on Australia’s Food Processing Sector is examining the entire supply chain of the seafood market.

It will look at primary input costs through to competitiveness of the retail sector and the supply to customers.

The Senate Inquiry into the impact of the supermarket duopoly in Australia is already underway, but companies are too frightened to speak up against Coles and Woolworths for fear of the repercussions the corporations can deliver.

The impact of the global market on the food processing sector will also be examined, by looking at the impact of anti-dumping laws and international anti-free trade measures.

Hess wants an “unwritten guarantee” from the federal government on the proposal.

The findings of the Select Committee is due to be reported to the Senate on 30 June.

Image: The ABC

Government report shows growth in food sector

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom in Australia’s food industry, with a government report showing a 17 per cent increase in total value in 2010/11 compared to the previous period.

Food exports are up 10 per cent from the previous year, according to the Food Statistics 2020-11 report, and are now valued at $27.1 billion.

"Australia is fortunate in being a net food exporter by a significant margin, with more than half of our food production exported to international markets," federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said.

In 2010/11, 1.68 million people were employed in the food sector, from production to food service.

It currently represents 15 per cent of total employment in Australia, an increase of two per cent on the previous year.

While the number of people employed in the sector is high, it is also a risky business to be working in, as Australian factories continue to close and companies are forced to restructure work forces to meet rising costs.

Only yesterday it was announced that 478 of Metcash employees will lose their jobs, most of them coming from the soon-to-be-closed Campbell’s Cash & Carry stores in regional Australia.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) want a Supermarket Ombudsman instated to oversee the impact of the supermarket price wars between Coles and Woolworths, after a report predicted 130 000 employees in the sector would be out of work by 2020.

Supermarket price wars force Metcash to slash 478 jobs

Metcash will slash 478 jobs as part of its restructure, mostly in regional Australia.

The company, which controversially took over the Franklins Supermarket chain last year, has faced difficult trading conditions, due to the high Australian dollar and supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths.

Last year, in the midst of the takeover bid by Metcash, it was revealed that without a buyout Franklins would not be able to afford to keep trading past 2012.

It will close 15 Campbells Cash & Carry stores across regional Australia, resulting in 315 job cuts.

Metcash says the closures are necessary, as more customers turn to petrol and service stations instead of traditional convenience stores.

More than 160 jobs will also be cut at the corporate offices.

Chief executive Andrew Reitzer said Metcash had little choice but to slash the jobs, if it wants to remain a competitive business.

”These difficult conditions result from continued deflation which is pushing prices and margins down, and a value-conscious consumer who increasingly purchases on discount,” Reitzer said in a statement.

John West tinned tuna variety recalled after glass fragments found in product

A line of John West tinned tuna sold in Australian supermarkets, after glass fragments were found in the product.

The 95 gram tins of John West Tuna Tempters Sweet Seeded Mustard with the batch code ‘4ER12’ are sold in Woolworths, Coles, IGA, Franklins and other independent supermarkets.

The product, produced by Victorian-based Simplot Australia, a subsidiary of American food company Simplot, can be returned to the point of purchase for a full refund.

It is not clear at this stage how the glass fragments ended up in the tuna tins.

Fear campaign damaging Supermarket Senate Inquiry

The bullying behaviours and fear campaigns used by the major supermarkets to wield complete power over suppliers is still getting in the way of the Senate Inquiry into the issue.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) are collaborating on the Inquiry into the anti-competitive practises of Coles and Woolworths.

The decision to take the matter to the Senate came after the dairy industry voiced its concern over the  milk price wars which resulted in both the major supermarkets selling milk for just $1 a litre, pushing farmers out of the industry as they struggled to make a living on such small payments.

Countless Australian food companies are either closing down completely or moving their operations overseas, as the influx of private-label products on supermarket shelves leaves them with two choices.

They can try to compete with the supermarkets who are able to sell similar products at ridiculously low prices because of the power they have over suppliers, but the chances of surviving, let alone making profits, are slim.

Or, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Many Australian food companies have reluctantly agreed to cease operations as they were and instead use their factories and workforce to supply products for the supermarkets’ private label products.

But if they thought were at the mercy of the supermarkets before, they haven’t seen the worst of it until they relinquish any kind of control they had over their destiny by signing such an agreement.

Because when Coles and Woolworths decide they want to put a product on special, or they need a huge amount of a certain product, you have to deliver.

And if a company can’t deliver on time, or at the price they want to sell the product at? Too bad, Coles and Woolworths say.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does,” Jennifer Dowell, National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union Food Division, told Food Magazine.

“Companies can’t even transport their own stuff to Coles and Woollies!

“They transport it for you and then just bill you with their high transport prices later.

“And they won’t store stuff that is within a certain timeframe from its use-by date.

“They make the producers store it then tell them they need it within so many hours.

“So producers are in this quandary where they can’t afford to produce stuff and keep it in storage because if Coles and Woollies decide they don’t want to take it they are out of pocket.”

“They have to produce everything at such short notice so they are never able to get a long term view and a stable situation at their factory.”

Nobody willing to speak up

Dowell said the fear campaign the major supermarkets operate with makes it impossible for food companies to criticise them.

“The public doesn’t have enough information about what’s really going on in the industry.

“It’s completely ridiculous that they can’t come out and publically say ‘Coles and Woolworths are killing us’ because they just ensure that they will go out of business.

“If you publically criticise Coles and Woollies, your products will just no longer be put on the shelves, and they’re getting away with that!”

Countless food producers and farmers have discussed the impact of the supermarket dominance with Food Magazine, but almost all are too afraid to go on the record with such claims.

With Coles and Woolworths controlling 80 per cent of the grocery market in Australia, if one or both decided to stop stocking a companies’ product, it really has nowhere else to turn.

Journalists and workers in the industry are all too aware of the dire situation our food sector is in, but nobody is willing to put their name or company to the claims.

The ABC’s Lateline made over 100 calls to get comment from a food producer, and when they did find one willing, he would only speak with the promise of anonymity.

“But after more than 100 phone calls, just one Australian supplier was willing to speak to Lateline about alleged abuses of power by Coles and Woolworths as long as we agreed to hide his identity, like this, (vision shows unidentifiable silhouette of man) and even hide the kind of product he supplied,” Margot O’Neill says in the story.

“But after sleepless nights the supplier pulled out, leaving us to use only his words about why he’s so scared.

“ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER (male voiceover): "It’s quite common for the majors to stop dealing with a supplier … and suppliers to have little chance of a viable business unless they’re serving the two major supermarkets, … so it’s too big a risk to expose myself.

“But I think the power of the big supermarkets is now too large for the proper functioning of our food supply."

And while the ACCC has promised to keep all claims made to it in regards to the supermarkets confidential, few are willing to speak up, for fear they will be found out and punished.

“Without doubt there is a climate of fear when it comes to farmers and food processors speaking out about practices of the big two,” Nick Xenophon, Senate select committee food processing, told the ABC.

“When farmers and food processors tell me that they feel a bit like medieval serfs, they’re beholden to Coles and Woollies as their medieval landlords, then you know there’s something seriously wrong.”

Something has to be done

When asked if she would support a Supermarket Ombudsman, as suggested by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), Dowell was welcoming of the idea.

“I’ll support anything at this stage!” she told Food Magazine.

“We have been talking about this for years and I’ve watched it get worse and worse.

“They own just about everything; they’ve got petrol, pharmaceutical, pokie machines and alcohol so essentially they have this massive political influence so they intervene in those areas too.”

With so much control over various industries and governments in Australia, the scary reality is that the major supermarkets may not be stoppable, at least not without specific laws and regulations to stop the behaviours.

“If we get more powers given to the ACCC, any power to an Ombudsman, and get people the ability to raise issues without losing their job, then that is a step in the right direction, because right now they cannot,” Dowell explained.

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

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

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

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

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

“We will be reliant on importing food.

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

How concerned are you about the power held by Coles and Woolworths? How do you think they can be stopped?