Tassal breaks new ground with BAP certification

Tassal has become Australia's first salmon producer to achieve full Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification at farm level.

The BAP standards address environmental and social responsibility, animal welfare, food safety and traceability in a voluntary certification program for aquaculture facilities including shrimp farms and hatcheries; salmon, tilapia, channel catfish and Pangasius farms; seafood processing plants and feed mills.

In certifying salmon farms, The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) considers factors including community relations; worker safety and employee relations; sediment and water quality; storage and disposal of farm supplies and biosecurity and disease management.

"We are extremely pleased to announce the certification of Tassal," said Peter Redmond, VP of Global Development for the GAA.

"We applaud the actions taken by Tassal and welcome it to the growing number of retailers and suppliers sourcing and supplying BAP products for their consumers in the Australian marketplace."


New report clears the waters on seafood sustainability

A landmark new national Australian fishing stock report shows that the majority of Australian fisheries are healthy and well managed.

The inaugural Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks Report,  the first national snapshot of fish stock status undertaken in Australia, found that 90 percent of the wild-caught stocks in the report were from sustainable stocks.

The report,  which is now online and available for public access, examines for the first time 49 of Australia's most popular wild-caught seafood species divided into 150 different stocks around the country and covering 70 percent of the Australian commercial fishing industry.

Of the 150, 98 stocks were classified as "sustainable", 11 as being in a "transitioning " phase either up or down, while 39 had insufficient data to allow them to be assessed. Two stocks –  school sharks and souther bluefin tuna – were classified as "over fished".

Their status is colour-coded into green, yellow and red ratings under a system that's aimed at making it an easy tool for consumers to use in identifying the most sustainable fish to purchase.

Dr Patrick Hone, head of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, said the report had been an immense challenge to pull together.

 "We are really celebrating today," he said at the Sydney launch of the report held at Bondi Beach seafood restaurant, The Bucket List, which Food magazine attended.

"This report is now something we can build on – it's a blueprint that we can use to continue to identify and improve where we need to."

Martin Excel, chair of the commonwealth fisheries association, told Food magazine the report's findings are very encouraging, and the report itself is a win for sustainable seafood, as it saw governments and 80 scientists from across the country working together to come up with a single reporting mechanism, using the same benchmarks for their research.

He says, however, that there's more work to be done. "Groups like WWF could say ‘well that’s true, the actual target stock is sustainable, but have you looked right across the fishery and seen whether catching that fish impacts on other species, like a seabird or a mammal?' So we can't oversell it [the report]. It is great news, that 90 percent of seafood stocks are rated as sustainable but that still leaves us plenty to do in terms of ensuring that a) the other 10 percent is well and truly sorted out ,and b) that we’re looking at the broader environment when we’re dealing with fishing.”


Is shrink-wrap on a cucumber really mindless waste?

Veterans of the packaging industry have debunked the myths and misconceptions about packaging in a new book, which aims to show why wrapping isn’t just a marketing tool.

“People have an awful lot of preconceptions about packaging,” says Stephen Aldridge, one of the book’s authors.

For instance, wrapping up a cucumber seems mighty unnecessary, until you see the research that proves that a wrapped cucumber lasts over three times longer than an unwrapped one.

A longer life therefore means less deliveries, less energy costs, and, coincidentally, less waste.

In a world where we throw out as much as 50 per cent of the food we buy (often because it perishes), the importance of extending a product’s shelf life can’t be underestimated.

Click here to read more about Aldridge’s book at The Independent.

FSC-labelled packaging gains momentum worldwide: Tetra Pak

Food packaging and processing company, Tetra Pak, has announced that this year, more than 20 billion of its packages around the world have donned the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label.

Up from around 8.5 million in 2010, the label certifies that the paperboard used for the packaging materials comes from responsibly managed forests and other controlled sources.

"With more consumers and retailers demanding environmentally sound and ethically produced products, brands that carry the FSC label can attest that their products are packaged using material that has passed the toughest standards of responsible forest management," said Charles Brand, vice president marketing and product management at Tetra Pak.

In Australia, three Tetra Pak customers are launching proucts in FSC-labelled cartons: Freedom Foods and its Australia's Own Organic almond, rice and soy milk; Emma & Tom’s new 1L long life package for its Quenchers with Benefits range of juice product; and Harvey Fresh’s 2L milk and juice products.

Noel Ayre, managing director of Tetra Pak Oceania said, "Our long term goal is to offer all our customers the option to use FSC-certified material for their cartons. Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, and are seeking sustainably sourced products."

In Australia and New Zealand, Tetra Pak has sold 13.3 million FSC-labelled packs to date. Other countries which have taken up FSC-labelling include Argentina, which has 1.8 billion FSC-labelled Tetra Pak packages (representing 70 percent of total Tetra Pak packaging) and the Benelux which has 1.2 billion FSC-labelled Tetra Pak packages (about 60 percent of total Tetra Pak packaging material).

In a recent survey of 6,600 consumers in 10 countries conducted by Euromonitor for Tetra Pak, around half said that the absence of information about the environmental profile of a product was an issue in their purchasing behaviour. And the same proportion said they find on-pack logos helpful in understanding the environmental impact of beverage packages.

The first Tetra Pak package with the FSC certification label was launched in the UK by Sainsbury’s in 2007. Today it is being applied by retailers and brand owners in 39 countries, including China, the USA, Canada, across South America and throughout Europe.


Robern Menz goes green with $1.1m upgrade

Confectioner Robern Menz is using what's close to a $500,000 government grant to embrace green technologies at its production facility in Glynde, Adelaide.

The South Australian company will be upgrading its chocolate making department when it rolls out a $1.1m upgrade, part of which is thanks to a $499,770 grant awarded by the AusIndustry – Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment program.

The upgrade will involve replacing four "power hungry" chocolate refiners with two energy efficient machines, which will increase Robern Menz's chocolate-making capacity by 56 percent and reduce carbon emissions by 2,275 tonnes over the next five years.

Robern Menz CEO, Phil Sims, told Food magazine, "It's all about removing inefficient energy and inefficient chocolate-making equipment which we’ve got here … So it's a matter of pulling out that equipment, mothballing it, and replacing it with far more energy efficient, state of the art technology."

A manually-operated fire tube boiler and small electric boiler will also be replaced with an unattended water tube boiler which will increase Robern Menz's steam generation capacity by 50 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 285 tonnes over the next five years.

Overall, it's expected that the new refiners and boilers will see a drop in carbon emmissions of 49 percent, as well as an energy cost saving of $185,000 per year.

These product upgrades will be the second phase in Robern Menz's efforts to go green, with the company last year overhauling its refrigeration plant and warehousing infrastructure.

"We invested a similar amount, so a bit over $1m in totally re-refrigerating our factory. We removed about 80 old refrigeration units and replaced them with a highly energy efficient glycol system which has a number of benefits, not just environmentally but it also assisted productivity because [now] we're able to keep our factory at a more consistent temperature, which is very important when you're a chocolate manufacturer," said Sims.

Robern Menz is expecting the latest upgrade to be completed in approximately 18 months time.


John West orders Greenpeace video off YouTube

The dispute between Greenpeace and John West continues to gain momentum, with the environmental campaign group accusing the tuna company of “censorship” after it was forced to remove a video from YouTube.

The Greenpeace spoof ad, which according to the campaign group, showed edited raw and bloody footage of the fishing method used by John West incorporated into the latest John West television commercial.

But John West has complained that the spoof video is a breach of copyright and ordered Greenpeace to remove it.

“Today’s censorship proves that John West would rather cover up the fact that they needlessly kill threatened juvenile tuna, sharks, rays and even endangered sea turtles than live up to their sustainability rhetoric and update their fishing practices,” Greenpeace Ocean Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in a statement.

“Greenpeace is demanding John West commit to stop using ‘fish aggregating devices' (FADs).

”Fishing with FADs and giant nets is indiscriminate – at least 10 per cent of each haul is 'bycatch,' such as baby tuna, sharks and turtles.

“This rate is ten times higher than nets set without FADs.

“Australian brand Safcol has already switched to more sustainable fishing methods.

“Greenseas and Sirena have also pledged to stop using destructive FADs.

“The biggest brand John West, however, has refused,” Pelle said.

“Even John West UK and John West Germany has listened to its consumers and committed to tuna fished responsibly. Meanwhile John West Australia is denying the gruesome reality that they needlessly kill marine life for every can they produce.”

Pelle slammed John West’s primary advertising slogan, “John West picks the best,” saying it is misleading.

“Unfortunately for them, the John West myth is busted. John West don’t pick the best, they pick whatever is cheap even if it is at the cost of sharks, baby tuna and turtles,” he said.

This incident comes just two days after John West tuna owner Simplot responded to its negative listing on the Greenpeace canned tuna guide 2012, saying it “has been working towards improving the sustainability of John West’s products for many years.”

The annual list compiled by environmental campaign group Greenpeace ranks tuna brands according to their efforts to implement and maintain sustainable fishing practises.

This year it ranked John West towards the bottom of the list, saying “John West is the largest seller of tuna caught using destructive FADs [fish aggregating devices] in Australia.”

“It is having the most damaging impact on marine life so John West is the stand out culprit of Australia's tuna industry,” Greenpeace continued.

“It has a responsibility to do better."

What do you think about FAD's? Should fish companies be forced to comply with more sustainable fishing practises?

John West hits back over place on Greenpeace sustainable tuna list

John West tuna owner Simplot has responded to its negative listing on the Greenpeace canned tuna guide 2012, saying it “has been working towards improving the sustainability of John West’s products for many years.”

The annual list compiled by environmental campaign group Greenpeace ranks tuna brands according to their efforts to implement and maintain sustainable fishing practises.

This year it ranked John West towards the bottom of the list, saying “John West is the largest seller of tuna caught using destructive FADs [fish aggregating devices] in Australia.”

“It is having the most damaging impact on marine life so John West is the stand out culprit of Australia's tuna industry,” Greenpeace continued.

“It has a responsibility to do better.

“Improvements in traceability are welcome, but John West has taken a step back on labelling.”

While Greenpeace recognised that John West has “good traceability,” “supports marine reserves” and has “100 per cent skipjack tuna, mostly from the Western Central Pacific Ocean, it noted the company’s failings as “the biggest seller of tuna caught using destructive FADs with purse seine nets,” and that its “labelling does not include the catch area or fishing method.”

Woolworths, Coles and Sole Mare were also at the bottom of its list and Greenpeace Ocean Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in a statement that while tuna companies worldwide have made the improvement to their operations reduce by-catch of marine life, Greenpeace hopes that “major Australian companies such as John West will do the same” this year.

John West released a statement saying it is a supporter of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) position on FADs and that all its tuna products will all be sourced sustainably by 2015.

“We are aware that Greenpeace has made claims to the media regarding the sustainability of John West tuna products and in particular the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs), a device used to attract fish,” a John West spokesperson said.

“John West has been working towards improving the sustainability of John West’s products for many years and in 2012 we were proud to announce our partnership with the world’s largest independent conservation organisation, WWF.”

John West slammed the Greenpeace statement that it had 10 per cent by-catch, labelling it false.

It said that the current level of John West by-catch from FADS was 2 per cent.

“The majority of tuna used in our products is sourced from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean purse seine fishery (tuna used in our Pole and Line range is sourced from the Maldives),” the spokesperson said.

“Data collected by independent scientific observers shows that non tuna species comprise less than 2 per cent of the catch in this fishery.

“In addition last year over 60 per cent of fishing activity was undertaken without using FADs – a device used to attract fish.”

“Sustainability is a journey that we embarked on many years ago and is something that we are passionate about. We will continue to work towards improving the sustainability of our seafood products in order to reach our 2015 goal.”

What do you think of John West's statement? Do you think fish companies need to do more to improve sustainable fishing practises?

Aussies confused about sustainable seafood

While most Australians will say they are environmentally aware and want to improve sustainability, new research has found it is not often a factor considered when purchasing decisions are made.

When consumers purchase goods in Australia they are almost always more concerned with taste and price, rather than sustainably sourced products.

Research commissioned by John West Australia and conducted by Lonergan Research in August 2012 found sustainability ranks low on the list of priorities for Australians purchasing canned seafood, with just 4 per cent saying it as the most important purchasing consideration.

That is the same level of consideration given to the size of the can, with 4 per cent also saying that is the main factor considered when purchasing seafood.

Taste was most important to the highest number of the 1 034 respondents, with 30 per cent saying they regard that factor over all others, while 25 per cent said taste topped the list as the most important considerations.

One of the main reasons consumers aren’t giving sustainable foods the recognition they deserve may be due to the lack of education around what the term means.

Because while the term ‘sustainable seafood’ is often used in advertising, marketing and reporting, the research found that just under a quarter of Australians actually understand what it means.

Despite this, when asked their opinion, 83 per cent of Australians believe it is important that tuna sold in Australia is caught in a sustainable manner, even though they rank it lower than other factors when making a purchasing decision.

Interestingly, men are 6 per cent more likely than women to know what the term ‘sustainable seafood’ means.

Almost 85 per cent said that unless it is labelled they have no idea which brands are sustainable and which are not and 60 per cent agreed they would avoid purchasing tuna if they knew it was caught in an unsustainable manner.

Four in five respondents believe labels about sustainability should be compulsory on seafood and almost 80 per cent believe that there should be incentives to reward companies who are doing the right thing and ensuring their tuna is caught sustainably.

Only 1 in 10 Australians surveyed can name at least one specific species of tuna they believe is at risk of being fished unsustainably, with the two species mentioned most frequently being Bluefin and Yellowfin.

Nearly 9 in 10 Australians do not know what other species (besides tuna) are being overfished or at risk of extinction due to the canned tuna industry.

How much do you know about sustainable seafood practises? Do we need better education on the subject?

Packaging-free grocery store opens in Austin, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by John Anderson

U.N. Food Chief: G20 must act on worries around rising food prices

The head of the U.N.’s food agency has called on the Group of 20 nations to coordinate action and address rising global food prices as concerns grow that we are headed towards another food crisis.

Between 85 and 95 percent of the crops most affected by the rises – wheat and corn – are produced by the G20 countries.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva has been careful to state that the current rises are not a crisis, however he warns that it could reach that level if upcoming harvests in the southern hemisphere were disappointing.

These warnings and concerns come as Australia continues to debate the future and sustainability of our current agriculture practices and our role in supplying food for other nations, particularly South-East Asia.

Da Silva also noted that current price rises are not as critical as during 2007/08, when price rises resulted in violent protests and conflicts in countries including Egypt, Camaroon and Haiti.

"There is no crisis," he told Reuters. "This kind of panic buying is what we need to avoid at the moment."

Da Silva and other experts at the conference said that there was also a massive waste of food in the world, an issue that needed to be resolved in order better to harness resources.

Reports coming out the US last week stated that Americans waste as much as 40% of their food each year, leading to calls for greater action to prevent food waste.

Carbon farming: a solution to global land degradation and poverty?

Today, nearly 1.3 billion people – almost a fifth of the world’s population – live on “fragile” agricultural land. Just one-third of the rural poor in developing countries live on productive agricultural land.

Fragile land is the main challenge facing environmental sustainability and poverty eradication in the developing world. But a solution could come from Australia: carbon farming.

Reduced soil security is likely to damage food security in the future, particularly in developing countries. Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative may provide a model for other countries as they look to find ways of managing degraded land.

Since 1950, the estimated population in developing economies on “fragile lands” has doubled, due to both an increase in these lands and growing rural populations. These marginal environments are prone to land degradation and less suitable for agriculture. They are upland areas, forest systems and drylands that suffer from low agricultural productivity, and where it is difficult to farm intensively.

Extremely poor families living on marginal lands have very few productive assets: just their land and their unskilled labour. Land degradation is a serious threat to their livelihoods. It often mires them in an irreversible “poverty-environment trap”.

The rural poor clustered in fragile environments could improve their livelihoods through carbon farming. This is a payment scheme that allows farmers and land managers to earn credits by storing carbon or reducing greenhouse gas emissions on their land. These credits can then be sold to pay for a variety of carbon storing activities, such as reduced tillage, biogas, drip irrigation and afforestation.

Such initiatives are spreading across the developing world, including China, Brazil and Africa, with major development agencies such as the World Bank getting involved.


Tree planting is one technique being used in China in an attempt to reverse desertification caused primarily by overfarming. EPA/Mark

But the most important and ambitious of these initiatives is occurring not in developing countries, but in Australia.

Carbon farming in Australia

Since September 2011, Australia has been implementing its Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI). Under the auspices of the CFI, the government’s Carbon Farming Futures plan will provide AU$429 million over the six years to encourage carbon farming across Australia.

The Government will buy carbon credits from farmers and landholders who undertake carbon-saving measures such as storing carbon and revegetation. Farmers might eventually earn credits for implementing new carbon storing activities including planting trees, reducing livestock methane emissions, and managing natural habitat.

For now, however, Australian farmers seem more curious about earning credits from altering existing cultivation and farmland management practices so soils hold more carbon.

The Australian policy experiment with carbon farming is instructive. It gets to the heart of questions about whether carbon farming can make a difference in halting global land degradation:

  • How can carbon farming schemes be funded and implemented on a sufficiently large scale to reduce widespread land degradation?

  • What are the benefits and costs for farmers and landowners?

  • Would a major policy initiative supporting widespread carbon farming be politically feasible?

Joint mechanisms: carbon tax and carbon farming

Australian farmers could be the big winners from the federal Government’s carbon tax initiative, since they are exempt from much of the carbon tax but eligible for carbon credits if they participate in any of the resulting CFI schemes.

While farmers will pay more for transport due to the carbon tax, other farm-related emissions are exempt, including methane released by farm animals, carbon emitted from the soils through cultivation, and gasoline for farm vehicles.

The Australian government may get a powerful political force – Australia’s farm lobby – to support the carbon policy while at the same time justifying a new subsidy for Australian farms on environmental grounds.


Will farmers change their practices and be the big winners out of Australia’s carbon policies? AAP/Kellogg Company

But there are caveats.

First, one should be cautious about over-selling carbon farming as a panacea for controlling widespread land degradation and carbon emissions. There is still a lot of uncertainty over which methods of carbon sequestration – planting trees, reducing methane emissions or switching cultivation methods – are the most cost-effective and long-term ways to sequester carbon on farms.

Nearly half (AU$201 million) of the budget for the Carbon Farming Futures plan will fund research into new ways land managers can reduce emissions and store soil carbon.

Second, even with a generous carbon credit, many Australian farmers may not participate. A study in southeast Australia found a relatively high carbon credit of $AU200 per metric ton of carbon sequestered induced small changes in farming practices. There was an 11% increase in the adoption of minimum tillage cultivation and a 16% increase in no-tillage farming.

As the study points out, the CFI credit scheme is unlikely to inspire additional carbon farming in the south:

the adoption of carbon-sequestering technologies is already high across the Southern Region, with 65% of farmers already recognising (without carbon incentives) the positive impact of conservation tillage practices on profitability, hence the consistently low participation rates.

Finally, whether Australia’s carbon policy is viewed favourably by the agricultural economy may depend on how widespread carbon farming becomes.

Most Australian farmers and pastoralists will pay the carbon tax through higher costs of transportation. But if there isn’t widespread participation in the CFI, only a relatively small proportion of farmers and pastoralists will benefit from carbon farming credits, and thus are likely to maintain a negative attitude towards the carbon policies.

Australian agriculturalists may end up being neutral, if not hostile, towards Australia’s new carbon policy. It will be intriguing to see how this innovative economic and political experiment in carbon policy pans out for Australia over the next several years.

A recent study for India shows that credits in the range of US$20 to US$200 per metric tonne of soil sequestered carbon could lead to significant adoption of no-tillage farming in wheat-based cropping systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

Perhaps it will not be long before India and other developing countries begin exploring carbon policies similar to Australia’s to generate the credits needed to foster widespread carbon sequestration, land conservation investments and rural poverty reduction.

No potential conflicts

The Conversation

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

Katter criticises National Food Plan, Coles returns fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s fighting time,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Govt outlines plans to improve food industry


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we actually address the issue without regulation?

“That’s the path we should take first.

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

Brumby’s apologises for telling outlets to blame price rises on carbon tax


National bakery chain, Brumby’s, has issues an apology, after internal documents were leaked to the media, showing the company instructed outlets to significantly raise prices of products and blame the carbon tax.

''We are doing an RRP [recommended retail price] review at present which is projected to be in line with CPI [consumer price index], but take the opportunity to make some moves in June and July,'' Brumby's managing director, Deane Priest, wrote to franchisees in the company’s internal publication, Backmix.

''Let the carbon tax take the blame, after all, your costs will be going up due to it.''

The federal government has slammed the ''reprehensible'' behaviour, while the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched an investigation over the comments in the memorandum to staff.

Brumby’s parent company, Retail Food Group, has taken full responsibility for the comments and apologised in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), saying the advice should not have been issued and that it was not representative of the company's policies or practices.

''We therefore express our genuine regret over this isolated incident and unreservedly apologise for this unacceptable error of judgment,'' it said.

While the Gillard government has slammed the comments, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott said they was understandable.

''I can fully understand why every single business in this country is looking at its costs and thinking of how much its prices have got to go up, because that's what the carbon tax is going to do to them,'' he said.

The ACCC has pledged to catch any others doing the same, after it was given more power to issue fines to companies and individuals misleading others about the price impact of the tax.

Some food and beverage manufacturers have criticised the tax, saying the impact on their businesses will be significant, while others have been implementing changes to cope.

In April Bundaberg Sugar revealed it has invested $40 million on upgrading a mill in southern Queensland to avoid increases in financial payments when the carbon tax is officially introduced.

“Probably the biggest improvement is that the lower moisture bagasse means that the boilers burn more efficiently, which means there's les CO2 into the atmosphere and also less emissions generally from the boiler stacks," general manager David Pickering said.

"The carbon tax is coming in from the first of July, so we want to make sure that we're operating below the threshold.

“This will allow us to produce more bagasse, which is a renewable energy, rather than coal.

"That means that we, in the marketplace, can remain competitive with our product."

Australian Dairy Farmers Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine in February the that the dairy industry is not only losing workers, but will be further damaged by the carbon tax and Murray-Darling Basin plan.

“The carbon tax will also cause problems when it’s implemented on the 1st of July; we’ve done work to find the costs that will be incurred and they are largely electrical costs,” he said.

“The average increase for dairy operation will be between $5000- $7000, and that will be an overall direct increase in cost that will have to be passed on somewhere.”

The cost increase cause by the carbon tax will have to be absorbed by the farmers in the milk export market, Griffin told Food Magazine.

“It will have to be absorbed by the farmer because our price is governed by a royal export set price.

“Australia has come out ahead of the game in a way with implementing the carbon tax, but farmers can’t go to their overseas customers and saying ‘we need extra money because Julia has put on a carbon tax,’ the customers would just go elsewhere.”

The carbon price will be fixed at $23 a tonne for its first three years, and  applies to the 294 heaviest polluters in Australia.

The tax has been heavily scrutinised since it was first suggested, with opponents predicting a rise in living costs, as the expenses trickle down the supply chain.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has also copped immense criticism for introducing the tax, despite an earlier election promise that no such tax would be introduced under her leadership.


Packaging receives Halal certification

An Australian developer and manufacturer of sustainable plastics and packaging has received Halal certification for a new range of resins.

Cardia Bioplastics has derived its range of Biohybrid resins from renewable products, which now have formal acknowledgement of compliance with Islamic laws surrounding safety and quality.

Cardia Managing Director Dr Frank Glatz said the certification, announced today on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), is a “commercial milestone” for the company.

“It significantly increases our ability to drive sales as we are able to appeal to a further 1.6 billion potential customers,” he said.

“The global Muslim population is huge and growing and we now have the opportunity to tap into it.

With over a billion Muslims around the world, the sale of Halal certified products is ever-increasing.

In the UK, where 4.6 per cent of the population identify as Muslim, the production of halal meat is rising faster than the number of people of the faith, with an increase of 15 per cent in the last 11 years, according to Professor Bill Reilly, former chairman of the UK Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.

In May, he accused the local meat industry of increasing the number of animals slaughtered without stunning, claiming it is for religious purposes, when it is actually a financial decision, which he says is “unacceptable.”

In Australia, the concern of slaughtering animals without prior stunning is also of concern, and in late May, New South Wales unveiled new regulations in state abattoirs to ensure the wellbeing and welfare of animals.

The new legislation will require a designated Animal Welfare Officer to be on the premises of any abattoir to oversee and be accountable for the welfare of animals.

But Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, has said previously there is a "lot of confusion" over Halal meat.

He said animals can be stunned before slaughter and still be labelled Halal.

"Over 90 per cent of Halal meat is stunned before slaughter," he said.

Last October, Australian agriculture ministers failed to resolve discussions over ritual slaughters, meaning exemptions that allow some Australian abattoirs to conduct slaughter without prior stunning will continue.

There are 12 abattoirs in Australia that are exempt from the regulations that say animals for consumption must be stunned before they are slaughtered.

The exemptions are on religious or cultural grounds, but animal welfare groups want to practice stopped altogether.

The council released a statement following the meeting, saying ministers have reviewed the results of a two-year consultation process with stakeholders and have considered the science involved and the views of religious groups, but could not reach a conclusion.

Up to 250,000 animals are killed without prior stunning in Australia every year under the religious slaughter exemptions and the RSPCA has rejected claims that stunning is not allowed on religious grounds, saying stunning is accepted by the Islamic community and Jewish community and no reason existed for un-stunned slaughter to continue.

The new measures in New South Wales will ensure the meat industry is heading in the right direction, Hodgkinson said.

“These tough new measures are being introduced to foster a culture in which abattoir management and employees fully understand and implement procedures that consistently comply with animal welfare standards.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conversation

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

Farmers to receive up to $15 000 for sustainable projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where does the food sold in Australian supermarkets really come from?

One in every four grocery items now sold in Australian supermarkets is private label and of those, about one in two is imported.

The Age has conducted an investigation into the state of the supermarket sector, and the results would not surprise anyone in the Australian food manufacturing sector.

It found the rate of imported food products is increasing at a rapid pace, as the only way for the companies to provide their ridiculously low prices is to buy food produced in countries by cheap labour.

South Africa and Thailand, two countries notorious for lacking in workers’ rights and having extremely low wages, are two of the markets commonly used by the cheap food retailers in Australia.

Researchers from the Australian National University embarked on a mission to follow the supply chain of many private-label products sold in Australia, which found them in South African fruit processing factories and canned pineapple facilities in Thailand.

"One of the canneries made private-label products for over 100 supermarkets," researcher Libby Hattersley, who inspected the South African businesses, told The Age.

"They just slap the retailers' label on it and send it out to them."

Differing food safety laws a risk for consumers

While the ethical issues involved with sourcing food from such countries are becoming increasingly important to consumers, there are various other issues involved with these systems.

“[No Australian food manufacturers] can survive in this environment, most places I’m going, they’re even competing with their own plants in other countries, if the Malaysian or Chinese plant is going better, they have to compete,” Jennifer Dowell, National Secretary of the Food and Confectionary division of the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union (AMWU) told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“The problem with that is that people aren’t comparing like with like.

“We produce food to a very high level and what is being imported from overseas needs to be the same quality.

“There needs to be more regulation and better testing for what comes into our country.

“If food is imported from a high risk site, like China, that will undergo testing, but not if it’s from New Zealand.

“The way the import laws work in New Zealand mean that they can import a product from China, put it in a bag in New Zealand and ship it to Australia as a ‘product of New Zealand.’

“If we try to export to other countries we face huge barriers, but we have removed all the barriers for others getting food into our country.”

The issues with the Senate Inquiry

Dowell was heavily involved in the Senate Inquiry into the supermarket duopoly in Australia, which was set up to investigate the anti-competitive practices and bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets, which are pushing Australian companies out of business.

But ironically, or tragically, the proof was in the imported pudding, as the Inquiry struggled to convince manufacturers to speak up, as they were terrified of the repercussions, including being relegated to a lower shelf, incurring more fees or removed from the shelf altogether.

Australian food producer Dick Smith said the blame lands at the feet of supermarkets ALDI and Costco, who rely entirely on imported goods, when he fronted the Inquiry earlier this month.

He believes the other supermarkets embarked on a game of catch-up, which has led to the current situation.

Australian made: are people really willing to pay more?

In April, Smith joined a number of local food and beverage producers, including Glen Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer, in  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.

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.

While most Australians say they would prefer to buy Australian made, even if it comes at a higher price – indeed, at last check, a poll on The Age’s website showed 80 per cent said they would pay more for locally produced foods – the realities of the current economic climate are seeing more shoppers buying primarily on cost.

Coles and Woolworths maintain that they endeavour to source the majority of their food products from Australia, but one in two products in the Woolworths Select brand is imported.

It’s premium brand, Macro, has 85 per cent Australian products.

Coles will not release a figure on the percentage of its private label products that are sources locally, but The Age reports a source with connections to the business said it imports about one third of its own brand products.

The supermarkets like to toot their own horn when they do make a local supply deal, and blame it on a lack of Australian interest when they source from foreign markets.

"You'd be surprised how many times we get no one responding in Australia to our invitations to supply," Woolworths head of own brand Gordon Duncan told The Age.

It is notoriously difficult to get any Australian food manufacturers to speak on the record about the struggles, as they fear punishment from Coles and Woolworths, but Food Magazine is aware of numerous companies who are unable to supply to them due to their unrealistic demands.

Indeed, earlier this month Transport Worker Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of contributing to road deaths as they place unrealistic expectations on suppliers and drivers.

Coles recent deal with Simplot, the only remaining Australian-based frozen food processor,  to supply its house-brand vegetables, will apparently be so good for the industry they won’t even be able to grow the amount needed to supply both major supermarkets, according to Duncan.

The peak representative body, AusVeg, has labelled this “nonsense.”

Considering that in the last two years, fruit and vegetable exports have declined $200 million to $497 million, Coles’ comments are very optimistic.

Earlier this month the second Queensland tomato processor to go into administration this year left 40 employees out of work.

Bundaberg tomato farm, Basacar Produce went into voluntary administration, following in the footsteps of the nearby SP Exports, which collapsed in February, blaming the high Australian dollar and the supermarket price wars.

The SP Exports farm was the biggest in Australia before it collapsed, leaving hundreds of people unemployed.

While the Simplot-Coles deal is being touted as positive for the produce industry, it could mark the beginning of issues for the frozen vegetable industry that have plagued fresh produce suppliers for some time.

With the dairy industry still reeling, Coles slashed the price of produce in half in February and AusVeg spokesperson Simon Coburn told Food Magazine it “had the making” of the milk price wars.

“Long term this could deliver lots of damage to the industry,” he told Food Magazine.

“Depending where the reduced retail price is going to be absorbed, whether it’s a small grower or a big business, this will damage them long term.

“Eventually it will come back to growers and that’s where they’ll get into trouble.

“These prices aren’t sustainable if they’re passed onto growers, small operations and even big ones won’t survive this.

How do you feel about buying imported versus local products? Do you think we need a Royal Commission into the state of the supermarket duopoly? 

Federal Government provides $1m funding to improve dairy technology

Dairy Australia has received $1 million from the Federal Government to conduct research to assess energy efficiency on dairy farms nation-wide.

As the national services body for dairy farmers and the industry, Dairy Australia helps farmers adapt to a changing operating environment, and work towards a profitable, sustainable dairy industry.

The funding will provide over 900 farmers with information and support to improve farm energy efficiency, hopefully cutting costs for individual farmers and larger organisations, who are struggling to compete in the current retail environment.

Earlier this month, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

In April, Western Australian farmers 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.

The Australian Dairy Industry Council’s project is also supported by the Australian Dairy Industry Council, milk processors and state agencies.

Manager of Dairy Australia’s Natural Resource Management Program, Catherine Phelps, said the cost of using energy is a major concern for farmers and other workers in the dairy industry.

 “The conditions are right for a very effective national project,” she said.

“The secured funding would help deliver energy assessments to all eight dairy regions across Australia, tailoring it to meet local needs.”

Some of the recommended options will most likely include changes to management practices, optimisation of current equipment and capital investment, Phelps explained.

New sustainability digimag provides practical industry solutions

Australia’s largest B2B media company, Reed Business Information (publisher of Food Magazine), will launch its new digital sustainability magazine, Stream, today.

Delivered straight into the inboxes of over 45,000 key Australian industry professionals, Stream’s unique and innovative design sets out to engage, inform and educate some of Australia’s most valuable industries on sustainability issues, technologies and solutions.

Showcasing practical solutions that businesses can learn from and implement, Stream will feature products, case studies, technical tips, opinion pieces, and updates on standards, regulations and government grants.

The digital mag will draw upon the experience, knowledge and expertise of Australia’s leading publications including:Mining AustraliaManufacturers’ MonthlyFactory Equipment News (FEN)Process and Control Engineering (PACE)Food MagazineArchitecture & DesignBuilding Products News (BPN)Logistics & Materials HandlingElectronics NewsSafety First magazine and Safe to Work website.