Edible packaging encases food in skin-like substance

Cambridge-based company Wikicell Designs have created a nutritious, edible, skin-like packaging that encases and protects food in the same way that a grape is protected by its skin.

As consumers become more aware of the total environmental impact of their food choices, particularly excessive amounts of non-biodegradable packaging, many companies are making a sincere effort to show consumers that they are also conscious of the problem, such as the Texas grocery store that has gone completely packaging free.

Wikicells go one step further, taking cues from natural products such as grapes and oranges, encasing food and beverages in a protective skin that also provides additional nutrients.

The soft skins are made up of mostly food particles, such as chocolate, seeds or fruit, which are held together by healthy bonding ions such as calcium, according to CEO and co-founder Robert Connelly.

For those who are a bit wary of the skin-like substance, the packaging can be removed and is completely biodegrable.

So far they have encased ice cream in a fudge Wikicell, yoghurt within strawberry skins and orange ones filled with orange juice.

The company has just closed US $10 million in Series A financing and will begin public testing early next year.

Photo by Mark Garfinkel

Plain tobacco packaging in India: a giant leap for global public health

The world is watching Australia progress toward tobacco plain packaging. A number of developed countries have said they will follow suit. But as tobacco companies lose their grip in developed countries, it’s likely they’ll increasingly target emerging markets with their poison.

If the world is watching Australia (with its mere 22 million people) move towards plain packaging, imagine how people might sit up and listen if India, the second-largest producer and consumer of tobacco products in the world, developed a similar policy!

So, when the Australia-India Institute tobacco control taskforce held a high-level launch of its policy document on plain packaging at the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi, we all waited intently for a response from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

We were more than encouraged by the response.

Support from the India representative of the World Health Organization and a number of politicians was expected. But we were very pleased that the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Welfare said the ministry would deliberate on this position as a possible policy measure in consultation with other important stakeholders within government and civil society.

Steps in the right direction

Just as in Australia, Indian tobacco control law largely prohibits advertisement and promotion of tobacco products. But this currently excludes packaging and point-of-sale displays so the industry increasingly relies on packaging for promotion.

We’re sure the support of the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was not missed by the big tobacco companies. After all, this is a policy that would affect a fifth of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s tobacco users.

Given the multiple vested interests and a powerful tobacco lobby, we’re aware that introducing such a policy in India will be challenging. It will take a few years and require significant, persistent advocacy and research.


A mock-up of what plain packaging of tobacco products could look like in India. Australia-India Institute Taskforce on Tobacco Control

At the launch of the policy document, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Welfare also said the ministry was closely watching the progress in Australia, and we can only assume that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was encouraged by the High Court ruling last week. We believe that India can learn from this and other Australian experiences in moving toward plain packaging.

A helping hand

Australia is giving India technical assistance in research and advocacy through the Australia-India Institute taskforce, which was convened with the idea of sharing experiences and utilising its significant expertise and experience on plain packaging.

This taskforce has been fuelled by considerable enthusiasm from the international tobacco control community and, encouragingly, from the taskforce members within India. Indeed, the keenness of the Indian partners has prompted us to go beyond our original mandate and undertake research on the acceptability of plain packaging as well as producing an advocacy pack.

We have also developed a useful toolkit to further disseminate our work.

Local knowledge

We released the preliminary findings from market research by the taskforce through the Public Health Foundation of India on the acceptability of plain packaging and attitudes toward packaging, brands and package colouring at the launch.

It showed that children’s interest in tobacco is significantly influenced by pack colours and branding. And, it demonstrated the importance of India-specific research before adopting such initiatives. We found, for instance, that Indians see dark grey as the least attractive colour whereas in Australia, the chosen colour is olive-green.

The research also revealed that the context in India is complex, with multiple forms of non-smoked and smoking tobacco, and various forms of the latter. All of these forms of tobacco must be included in any legislation because tobacco companies will find loopholes and substitute one product for another.

In India, 5500 children try tobacco for the first time every day. Attractive packaging is designed to make sure it will not be the last time. This policy initiative, if implemented along with other proven interventions in tobacco control, will save thousands of lives and prevent thousands of young people from becoming addicted to a substance that kills more people worldwide than any other.

We are confident that our taskforce can assist Indian organisations such as the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and Public Health Foundation of India to work towards plain packaging. But we need collaboration between health and tobacco control organisations, government departments and the community if we are to see plain packaging become a reality on the sub-continent.

This article has been amended by request of the author. The changes were minor and have not affected the substance of the article.

Nathan Grills works for the Nossal Institute, the PHFI and the CHGN Uttarkhand Cluster all of whom receive support to undertake tobacco control activities. We receive funding from AusAID and the Australia India Institute for work on plain packaging in India.

Amitabh Mattoo 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.

Progress on health claims standards in Australia not without critics

There has long been contention regarding the regulation of health claims that are applied to food, but the proposed introduction of a Health Claims standard into the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code has also raised concerns.

Consumer advocates claim that as consumers become more health conscious they are more easily swayed by claims that appear on packaging, but these purchasing decisions are being made due to   claims that are not backed by solid evidence.

One of the key requirements of the new standards would be that claims are substantatied by a comprehensive scientific dossier.

The proposed new Health Claims Standard was discussed at the recent FoodLegal- sponsored symposium, where FSANZ’s General Manager Mr Dean Stockwell emphasised that the Ministers’ meeting in June 2012 had continued to support key elements of the existing draft with regard to nutrition content claims, high level health claims, and the application of the nutrient profiling scoring criteria applying to general level health claims.

FoodLegal’s managing principal Joe Lederman expressed concerns during the presentation that FSANZ’s new definition of ‘health claim’ draws an artificial distinction with therapeutic claims, one issue which continues to be contentious.

According to Mr Lederman, the current said the current Transitional Health Claims Standard banned any therapeutic claim for food within the definition of a health claim, citing the example of products which contain antioxidant properties, or probiotics.

The meeting also confirmed a new working group to be established under the umbrella of the Food Regulatory Standing Committee, with key bureaucrats representing the Australian States and Territories.

An affront to the rule of law: international tribunals to decide on plain packaging

The Australian High Court has found that the Gillard Government&rsquo;s <a href=”https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011A00148″>Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011</a> does not breach that section of the constitution that prohibits federal legislation acquiring property except on just terms. But the authority of the High Court may be challenged by international trade and investment processes that contest the rule of law not only in this country, but globally.</p>
The federal plain packaging legislation was enacted in compliance with obligations under international law embodied in the World Health Organization&rsquo;s (WHO) <a href=”https://www.who.int/fctc/about/en/index.php”><em>Framework Convention on Tobacco Control</em></a>. In reaching its <a href=”https://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/judgment-summaries/2012/hca30-2012-08-15.pdf”>decision</a>, the High Court was fulfilling the constitutional role allocated to it under a social contract entered into by the Australian people in 1901.</p>
This compact has since been reinforced by acceptance and implementation of such decisions and the process behind them for over a century by Australian federal and state politicians, judges and the general populace. A central part of the contract is that Australia will be governed by a rule of law, with its implicit predictability and certainty.</p>
Australian taxpayers (through their governments) have invested an enormous amount of time and resources in creating a system of governance predicated on the capacity of a non-corrupt judiciary to decide on disputes by fairly interpreting laws promulgated in advance in public.</p>
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<img src=”https://c479107.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/files/14567/width668/zt5wvrc4-1345698709.jpg” /><figcaption><span class=”source”>jerik0ne/Flickr</span></figcaption></figure>
Foreign corporations operating in Australia benefit from such an equitable governance structure. Indeed, it is one of the primary reasons they invest here. Australia regularly ranks very highly in rule of law rankings of nations around the world. And as legal scholar Brian Tamanaha reminds us in one of the seminal works on the subject, &ldquo;No other single political ideal has ever achieved global endorsement.&rdquo;</p>
Yet Australia is about to confront, for the first time, the possibility that a decision of the highest court in our land will in effect be overturned by off-shore tribunals with only a tenuous connection to Australian legal traditions. Such off-shore investment tribunals are not accountable to the Australian populace and have extremely limited capacity to refer to governance arrangements directly endorsed by Australian citizens.</p>
Unaccountable tribunals</h2>
On 13 March 2012, Ukraine requested consultations in the <a href=”https://www.wto.org/index.htm”>World Trade Organisation (WTO)</a> with Australia concerning Australia&rsquo;s <a href=”https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L02644″><em>Tobacco Plain Packaging Act</em> 2011 and its implementation</a>.</p>
<a href=”https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news12_e/ds434rfc_13mar12_e.htm”>Ukraine&rsquo;s argument</a> is that Australia&rsquo;s plain packaging legislation breaches various provision of the WTO <a href=”https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/27-trips_01_e.htm”><em>Trade Related Intellectual Property</em> (TRIPS) Agreement</a>; the <a href=”https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/17-tbt_e.htm”><em>Technical Barriers to Trade</em> (TBT) Agreement</a>; and the <a href=”https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/26-gats_01_e.htm”><em>General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade</em>(GATT) 1994</a>. Interestingly, there&rsquo;s no mention of the WTO being required to take the WHO and its <a href=”https://www.who.int/fctc/text_download/en/”><em>Framework Convention on Tobacco Control</em></a> into account in this consultation.</p>
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<img src=”https://c479107.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/files/14551/width237/hvydp4sr-1345687217.jpg” /><figcaption>The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not been offered a voice in the debate. <span class=”source”>US Mission Geneva/Flickr.</span></figcaption></figure>
In another potential challenge, the multinational tobacco company <a href=”https://www.pmi.com/eng/pages/homepage.aspx”>Phillip Morris</a> has re-badged itself for this purpose as an Asian company based in Hong Kong and lodged an investor-state complaint against the Australia under the <a href=”https://theconversation.edu.au/why-bilateral-investment-treaties-are-the-last-refuge-of-big-tobacco-8880″><em>Hong Kong-Australia Bilateral Investment Treaty</em> (BIT)</a>.</p>
Unlike the WTO dispute, this will not involve a standing body but will allow an <em>ad hoc</em> gathering of three trade arbitrators to rule (without the requirement of exhausting local remedies and without prospect of appeal) on whether Australia has to pay damages to this tobacco company for passing legislation found to be constitutional and a fulfilment of Australia&rsquo;s international legal obligations under a WHO treaty.</p>
Such disputes may only be the beginning of a new off-shore phase of jurisprudence with the potential to undermine the authority of the High Court and the rule of law in Australia.</p>
Unaccountable arbitrators</h2>
<a href=”https://www.pmi.com/eng/pages/homepage.aspx”>Philip Morris International</a> has lobbied the <a href=”https://www.ustr.gov/”>US Trade Representative (USTR)</a> to include investor state dispute settlement in the <a href=”https://theconversation.edu.au/a-mercurial-treaty-the-trans-pacific-partnership-and-the-united-states-7471″>Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement</a> (TPPA). On 12 June 2012, <a href=”https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/obama-trade-document-leak_n_1592593.html”>a leaked copy</a> of the investment chapter for the TPPA confirmed its provisions would allow foreign firms to skirt Australian domestic courts and laws to directly sue our government in the <a href=”https://icsid.worldbank.org/ICSID/Index.jsp”>International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)</a>.</p>
Arbitrators would be paid by the hour (often over several years of proceedings), could act as a legal representative in one case and an arbitrator in another, and would have vested financial interests in verdicts for corporations. Governments cannot initiate suits before this tribunal.</p>
They would not be required to take the constitutional, legislative or international human rights context (including standard legal due process procedures) into account, or maintain a public record of their decisions. All of this undermines their capacity to claim they are part of the rule of law.</p>
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<img src=”https://c479107.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/files/14550/width668/zm555vwq-1345686911.jpg” /><figcaption>The Australian High Court could have its role usurped. <span class=”source”>John O'Neill/Wikimedia Commons.</span></figcaption></figure>
Defending the rule of law</h2>
The capacity of these three types of tribunals to potentially have the final say on such an important public health issue (as well as those likely to face future generations of Australians in areas such as environmental sustainability and financial sector stability) is a direct affront to the rule of law, not only in this country but globally.</p>
The leaked TPPA text would even provide investors with a right to demand compensation for &ldquo;indirect&rdquo; expropriation <a href=”https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/tppinvestment.pdf”>(Article 12.12)</a> and allow foreign investors to claim government actions (such as the plain packaging laws) require technically unlimited financial compensation because of a slightly higher burden in complying with the law <a href=”https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/tppinvestment.pdf”>(Article 12.4 and 12.5)</a>. Such proposals give foreign investors (such as tobacco multinationals) greater rights than domestic investors.</p>
In its April 2011 trade policy statement, the Australian Government vowed to no longer include provisions on &ldquo;investor-state dispute settlement&rdquo; in bilateral and regional trade agreements that it signs. Australia deserves high praise for refusing to agree to a TPPA investor state provision. But it&rsquo;s surprising that the various Australian law councils haven&rsquo;t taken up the issue and supported the federal government&rsquo;s stance in favour of preserving from such threats the rule of law in this country.</p>
<em>Thomas Faunce receives funding from Australian Research Council (ARC) under a Future Fellowship focused on Nanotechnology and Global Public Health. He is also a chief investigator on ARC grants involved with encouraging Australian legislation based on the model of the US False Claims Act (with Dr Gregor Urbas) and on military uses of Nanotechnology (With Dr Hitoshi Nasu).</em></p>
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EU overhauls food labelling requirements

Consumers around the world are demanding greater transparency when it comes to food labels and it seems the EU is one government that is listening, having just announced that new food labelling laws will come into effect by the end of 2012.

Products sold on the European market will be required to display eco-labelling, informing consumers of the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted during the manufacture, packaging, transport, and overall lifecycle of consumer products, allowing shoppers to have a direct influence on whether products with a high-environmental impact survive in the marketplace.

By providing consumers with the data they need to make an informed choice, the EU hopes that demand will increase for items that are produced in more sustainable ways.

The EU has a pretty solid record when it comes to keeping consumers informed, with requirements in place around GMO labelling and increased efforts in the last few years to address obesity through labelling and other government initiatives.

This is in stark contrast to the US where a very public war is being waged between Big Ag and consumer & environmental interest groups as to the merits of compulsory GMO labelling. 

Biotech giant Monsanto has spent US$4.2 million so far opposing California’s Proposition 37 which would require mandatory labelling for products containing GMO ingredients.

This once again highlights where the power lies when it comes to food policy in Europe vs the US, where food policy is determined by Washington wrangling and deal-making between politicians and lobbyists, who decry governmental intervention as an infringement on American freedoms.

As more countries, including Quebec and Japan, introduce these measures (France is coming towards the end of a year-long trial of mandatory eco-labelling) it remains to be seen how long Big Business in the US can fight consumer demands to be informed.

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

First ‘bio-based’ tie layer aims to make packaging more green

The one aspect of food production that probably faces more criticism than others for its environmental impact is packaging.

Not only does excessive packaging contribute significantly to our overflowing landfill, but many are made using unsustainable materials and production methods. 

Whilst many ‘greener’ packaging alternatives are available, they are often criticised for being more expensive, less sturdy and less durable than their unsustainable counterparts.  

Many food producers and manufacturers find it hard to justify the extra cost and perceived lower quality of green packaging, particularly in this tough economy when many are surviving on razor thin margins as it is.

Now a Holland-based company, Yparex, is claiming to be the first supplier to provide the packaging industry with a commercially available bio-based adhesive polymer that is both sustainably sourced and fully recyclable.

One of the main challengers for packaging manuyfacturers is trying to find a solution that bonds all the different kinds of packaging together, regardless of whether the application is in fresh food or industrial supplies.

The resins used to create flexible-barrier packaging – the kind used to prevent oxygen reaching meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables and preserve the odours and flavours inside – has traditionally been one of the harder materials to bond together.

These resins were traditionally bonded together using petroleum-based polymers, though this practice has come under criticism due to the damaging environmental effects of the substance, the unsustainable materials used in production and growing concerns that these substances can negatively affect health.

This led Yparex to try and find an alternative solution that was both sustainable and also as effective as petroleum-based options.

Yparex’s General Manager, Wouter van den Berg stated that there was “a lot of disagreement about how best to make the packaging industry more sustainable”, commenting:

“Some argue for glass, since it’s inert and recyclable. Others say paper is better, as it’s made of material that grows back. Still others say lightweight plastics are greenest because they save significant transportation costs and energy, while increasing safety (since they’re unbreakable), and extending shelf life (reducing waste).

Produced from 95% plant-based materials, yet offering the same performance specifications as previous polymers, this alternative allows manufacturers to not only further embrace sustainability, but protect themselves from future price spikes related to the cost of oil and natural gas.

World’s Most Expensive Paper Lunch Bag

Look at any list of money-saving tips and there will inevitably be the suggestion to start packing your own lunch for work instead of paying for your daily sustenance.  Being that organised requires a bit more effort, but would you feel more inclined to make the time if your lunch bag cost $290?

Designer Jil Sander has released the ‘Vasari’ bag, described on the website as featuring "a long rectangular silhouette" and being "crafted from coated paper."

It looks like a regular brown lunch bag but evidently it is so much more, and on closer inspection the creation is revealed to be accented with some stitching, gold-coloured eyelets and the designer’s name subtly printed on the bottom.

The good folks over at Gawker have this to say about the creation:

“While Vasari's minimalist design is attractive — and in line with Jil Sander's style — you're still paying a lot of money for a bag made out of paper. For $290, you could buy all the brown paper bags you need, and you'd still have enough left over for metal eyelets (sold separately) and a pen to write "Jil Sander" at the bottom.”

And if you need further proof that the world is going a little bit mad, the fancy lunch bags are already sold out.

Heineken Cube Concept Looks like Milk Carton for Grown Ups

We tend to be a little wary of drinks in boxes – cask wine suffers an enduringly poor reputation, breakfast shakes another sign of the spare time we don’t have and juice boxes are the stuff of kid’s playgrounds.

So when word got out that Heineken has developed a concept called the Heineken Cube, accompanied by pictures that show a man drinking from what could be a green-glass milk carton, people were understandably a bit confused.

The Cube, which is still in concept phase, is designed to be more efficient and economical than regular bottles.  The idea is that the cube shape is easier to stack, pack and more practical for travelling, both from distributer to store and in the consumers own home.

Interestingly, the design – created by French industrial designer Petit Roman – isn’t all that new and is inspired by an earlier rectangular-shaped Heineken bottle developed by the Dutch brand in 1963, which was intended to be recycled and used in construction, ‘the house that Heineken built’.

Quest for Better Beer Results in Revolutionary ‘Gizmo’ Bottle cap

All Don Park wanted was an easier way to get fresh lime juice into a cold beer.

But after much brainstorming and experimentation he realised the potential his new ‘gizmo’ had beyond beer.

The patented “Gizmo Closure and Delivery” system is an innovative, pressurized bottle cap design that infuses a drink with fresh, preservative-free ingredients upon opening.

The device has been utilised for the first time in Tea of a Kind, an iced-tea style convenience beverage that is currently only available online but will be distributed to Whole Foods stores across the United States later this year.

Whilst a similar design has been utilised in other products, such as the Berocca Twist-and-Go, the Gizmo design uses a pressurized nitrogen chamber cap to store fresh ingredients without preservatives.

All natural-flavours, real brewed tea and antioxidants are protected against UV light, oxidisation, and other damaging conditions that degrade nutrients in most pre-mixed beverages.

Their choice to partner with Tea of a Kind stems from the serious illnesses that Park and his co-founder Walter Apodaca suffered as a result of diets heavy in fast food and sugary soft drinks.

They made a commitment to healthy choices, dietary mindfulness and the elimination of processed chemically processed foods, and were able to get their health back on track.

They continued this commitment by ensuring that Tea of a Kind is all natural, and all future licensing applications for the Gizmo must be in line with Gizmo Beverages “moral compass”.

"The commitment comes from a desire to enrich the next generation, not poison them blindly!" laughs Park. "I know I can give this drink to my kids and feel good about it. That is what keeps me excited," he continues. "It's good for you and it's good for me. That's the goal."

Tea of a Kind can be purchased online at https://gizmo-tea-of-a-kind.myshopify.com/

Tastiness All in the Eye of the Biscuit-Holder

A new study from the UK has found that biscuits seem tastier when they come in fancy packaging.

UK consumer group Which? asked two groups of tasters to sample and rate chocolate-chip biscuits from the premium, standard and budget range at supermarket chains Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. 

Researchers gave one group cookies in their original packaging while the other group tasted the biscuits blind before being asked to rate the taste and quality of each kind of cookie.

The biscuits that were given with their packaging scored significantly higher overall, and were perceived to taste better than their wrapper-less counterparts.

Eating with our eyes

The experiment clearly showed that our perception of how food should taste is influenced by the way food is packed and the glossy, flawless images adoring wrappers.

According to a panel of experts who were asked to analyse the design of some popular UK supermarket brand ranges, it’s all part of a carefully considered strategy.

The packaging design of some budget ranges seemed like they were designed to put customers off looking obviously ‘cheap’, which could tempt consumers into upgrading to a more premium –and pricier – alternative.

However, with many household budgets stretched thin, supermarkets are putting more effort into making their home brand lines look more alluring.

Here in Australia we’ve seen this happen with the design of many supermarket lines sharing an eerie similarity to their name-brand counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, this has only served to further anger manufacturers who already feel that they are being squeezed out of premium shelf space as supermarkets aggressively promote their own lines as a comparable, yet more economical, alternative.

Man killed at Perth packaging factory

A man was killed at a packaging factory in Perth when he got caught in a robotoc pallet loader.

The incident, which occurred at the Richgro Garden Products factory in Jandakot, in Perth’s south on Saturday, is being investigated by WorkSafe.

No further information on the incident or the deceased is currently available.

Finding a unique path for Australia’s manufacturing future

As the manufacturing landscape shifts in response to new economic and social pressures, Australia is looking for an answer to the question: What does the future look like for Australian manufacturing?

By virtue of my role as the Director of the Future Manufacturing National Research Flagship at CSIRO, I am often confronted by this question. Many commentators and peers expect a simple answer, but that would be underestimating the complexity and diversity of manufacturing, both in terms of challenges and opportunities.

The recent work undertaken by the Prime Minister’s Manufacturing Task Force and other commentary is beginning to create a picture of what the future could (or ought) to look like for manufacturing in this country.

Irrespective of the wide-ranging views on what alternate futures for manufacturing might look like, Australian manufacturers need to be competitive in global markets and be highly productive and sustainable in their business operations. Manufacturing firms also need to capture the opportunities offered by Australia’s comparative advantage in natural resources in minerals and agriculture, as well as emerging markets for products and services that support more sustainable living in transport, construction, energy, health and well-being.

As part of its contribution to the Task Force, CSIRO has done an analysis of global mega-trends and identified a number of drivers that are already shaping the future of manufacturing in Australia. They include the rise of a new digitally-driven infrastructure, a move towards mass customisation, an emphasis on sustainability and the need to produce more from less.

Over the next decade, success factors that will influence the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing firms will include the need for faster discovery and development to respond more quickly to dynamic markets, advanced design to create much more competitive and sustainable products, improved collaboration across our innovation system to maximise the exchange and transfer of knowledge, an increase in our ability to leverage our national broadband infrastructure, and encouraging a better understanding of supply chains.

Another key success factor will be our ability to develop, adapt, adopt and integrate the right enabling technologies that provide a competitive advantage for Australian manufacturing firms.

There are number of potential game changers in terms of enabling technologies and advanced capabilities. This includes additive manufacturing, assistive automation, advanced design and smart information systems.

Globally we have seen a major shift towards technology-led manufacturing focused on large scale industrial automation. In countries such as Germany, production lines are increasingly dominated by automated processes and robotics. More recently, China has embarked on a large-scale industrial automation program. However, we need to think about how such technological leaps work for Australia. We have our own unique manufacturing DNA, made up of tens of thousands of SMEs. This is very different to some other industrialised countries, where there are many more large scale manufacturing enterprises. Australian SMEs often find it difficult to embrace industrial automation because of cost and the risk of disruption to their production.

However, there may be other paths to large scale industrial automation. Simple repetitive tasks have largely been addressed by automation (robotics) in manufacturing environments. However, there are many complex tasks that still require human involvement; it may be these technologies that “assist” (rather than replace) human processes that may become more prominent in Australia. The emerging field of assistive automation may play an important role in the future of Australian manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is a method of fabrication by layers that translates digital design information into prototype or production parts. Currently used mainly in prototyping, additive techniques are increasingly seen as effective for manufacturing highly complex parts and devices that are costly to make by conventional means. Manufacturers can potentially deliver more niche, high value, customised products and be competitive even by producing low volumes. This is important as Australian manufacturers operate in a relatively high-cost environment, and generally cannot compete by generating economies of scale. In the Australian context, the availability of high-speed broadband will also greatly assist the adoption of this digitally-enabled technology. However, much still needs to be done to adapt these relatively new additive processes to make them robust and cost-effective for mainstream manufacturing.

Design will become increasingly important part of the manufacturing value chain. Better design can lead to products with superior functionality and sustainability. For manufacturing firms, making the transition from pure production to being more service based, design thinking could also play an increasingly important role in innovation.

There is emerging evidence, particularly in northern European countries, that the adoption of design-led innovation is directly linked to increasing firm competitiveness. A number of European and Asian countries are looking to (or have already incorporated) discrete design-focused settings into their broader economic policies. In Australia, awareness of the potential application of design-based innovation is still in its infancy and will require both coordination and investment.

The application of Smart Information Systems has the potential to lift productivity, competitiveness and safety. For example, Smart Information Systems that provide a high degree of situational awareness can provide a much higher degree of automation for the remote control of equipment used to handle complex and potentially hazardous tasks. Smart Information Systems that are highly scalable and interoperable across various media also provide the platform for intelligent collaboration networks that can assist in helping firms and research organisations innovate through more effective sharing of information.

There is no doubt that Australian manufacturing will need to take its own path to innovation and maintaining its competitiveness. Global influences will play their part, but Australia’s unique manufacturing DNA, natural resource endowment and increasingly strong communication infrastructure will help shape a uniquely Australian manufacturing future.

Swee Mak 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.

High Court rejects tobacco industry’s plain packaging appeal

The tobacco industry’s appeal against mandatory plain packaging was dismissed by the High Court this morning and the legislation will take effect from October.

The majority of justices rejected the argument from Australian cigarette manufacturers that the laws were unconstitutional, but the reasons for the decision have not been published by the court.

The tobacco industry’s stance was that the government had not acquired their trademarks on “just terms” and they were therefore owed billions of dollars in compensation.

Chief Justice Robert French said the majority of justices found that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill was not in contravention of Section 51 of the Australian constitution and the tobacco companies have been ordered to pay the Commonwealth's legal costs.

From October, cigarettes made in Australia will be required by law to be packaged in ‘drab brown’ boxes.

Only standard fonts will be allowed, with a ban on all logos, slogans colours and other branding and larger graphic health warnings will be mandatory.

From December all tobacco products on Australian shelves will be in plain packaging.

Tobacco companies still have a legal challenge against plain packaging through international trade laws pending, but it is expected these will take several years to conclude.

Director of the anti-smoking group McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Jonathan Liberman, welcomed the decision, saying it would set the standard around the world.

"It shows to everybody that the only way to deal with tobacco industry claims, sabre rattling and legal threats is to stare them down in court," he said.

“It would be great if the tobacco industry would just say ‘We understand our products are addictive, they kill up to half of long term users and we will cop on the chin whatever the Government decides needs to be done to reduce their harm’.”

British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said plain packaging will benefit black market cigarette products.

“Although the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act passed the constitutional test it’s still a bad law that will only benefit organised crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets,” he said.

“The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy.

“Plain packaging will also put pressure on the industry to reduce legal tobacco prices.”

Health groups are heralding the decision as a major victory for public health.

"Today’s High Court decision that tobacco plain packaging can proceed is a massive win for public health and also the global tobacco industry’s worst defeat yet.” Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube, who chaired the Federal Government committee said.

"The global tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure because they know that plain packaging will have a major impact on smoking here and other countries will follow.”

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said it was a significant for public health over commercial interests.

What do you think plain packaging will do for Australia's health? Will it be beneficial or create more problems?

Coke’s glass bottles to receive a boost

Coca-Cola Amatil will increase the size of it’s 250mL glass bottles to 330mL and added a resealable lid, in a move the global beverage giant says will add convenience and portability.

The new bigger bottle, which will feature a twist-top resealable cap in place of the current crown seal cap will enter the market next month.

The changes will be across the Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Sprite, Lift and Fanta varieties, but each flavour will retain its individual design.

Following extensive consumer research, which found most Australians believe 330mL is the ideal individual packaging size, and that a resealable cap is beneficial in today’s busy lifestyle, the company made the decision to implement the changes.

“By increasing the volume size of the Coca-Cola premium glass bottle range and adding a resealable cap, we are giving our on-premise consumers the size they want of their favourite soft drink, with the extra convenience of portability,” Trent Lilienthal, Coca-Cola Licensed, Customer and Commercial Manager said.

“The unique Coca-Cola design was invented in 1915 and is an integral component of one of the most recognised icons of our time, distinct on the basis of feel alone.

“These packaging changes are part of an ongoing evolution of a classic.”

More food and beverage manufacturers than ever before are embracing the demand for convenient and resealable packaging, and late last week, Taylors Winery’s announced it has developed a screw-top seal that could withstand the pressure of gassed sparkling wine and has releaseda line with the new lid.

What do you think of Coca-Cola Amatil’s decision? Is 330mL a better size, and does everything need a resalable lid these days?

PaperlinX to acquire Canterbury Packaging NZ for $2 million

Paper and packaging company PaperlinX has announced it will acquire Canterbury Packaging NZ.

The New Zealahnd comopany has an annual turnover of about $2.9 million as a distributor of industrial packaging consumables, hygiene, safety, and hospitality products.

PaperlinX said the acquisition of Canterbury Packaging will widen its reach in the marketplace.

The acquisition will cost the company about $2 million, and Andy Preece, ANZA region executive general manager, said the move will be a positive development for the company.

“The acquisition of Canterbury Packaging is a small but significant further step in our diversified products strategy,” he said.

"This acquisition will provide a building block for Spicers NZS to diversify….the additional packaging consumables will build on the existing strong market position of Spicers.

The acquisition is expected to be completed by 1 October.

Celebrating? Pop the champagne…or unscrew the top

In an Australian first, a winery has released a champagne range sealed with a screw top instead of the cork that is synonymous with the beverage.

Taylors Winery’s developed a seal that could withstand the pressure of gassed sparkling wine and have now released the wine with the screw top.

Corks in red and white table wine bottles have almost ceased to exist entirely in Australia, and some specialist wine manufacturers have released sparkling wine with crown seals similar to beer bottles.

There have been mixed reactions to the move away from corks, some believe it is a step forward in ensuring the accessibility of such products, while others remain nostalgic about the celebratory pop of a champagne cork.

"Nothing beats the cork when it comes time for a celebration," Master of Wine Andrew Caillard admits.

But while popping a bottle of champagne is an integral part of celebrations, Caillard said the screw top option is designed for the everyday drop of bubbly.

The company is not entirely sure how consumers will receive the new packaging, and as such, only 10 per cent of its first release will have screw tops so it can gauge the reaction.

"A screw cap means you can drink a glass then shove the bottle back in the fridge," managing director Mitchell Taylor said

"It does take away a little from the romance.

"That's why we have been cautious to start."

Taylors was the first winemaker to introduce screw tops on its Rieslings 12 years ago, after it was found that cork taint spoiled one in 10 of the white wines.

In 2004 the winemaker sealed its entire range of red and white wines with screw tops and Taylor said the latest move, to offer crew tops on sparkling wines, ensured it was ahead of the pack.

"Because we have been such a driver in screw caps in the early days, we thought we would like to be one of the first to trial a new seal on sparklings as well,” he said.

"This is the latest frontier.”

Taylor said the company is hopeful the screw top will be well-received and that consumers will be willing to try it, as there is no loss of freshness or gas in the sparking wine from the initial trials.

Can Coles and Woollies change public perception of private label impacts?

Despite apprehension about the impact of supermarket private labels and forecasts showing they will dominate shelves in the next five years, Woolworths has attempted to calm the market by releasing information on its range on its website.

Business information research firm IBISWorld has forecasted that the share of private-label products will account for over 30 per cent of all Australian supermarkets sales by 2017-18 and according to IBISWorld’s General Manager (Australia), Karen Dobie, they have been one of the industry’s fastest growing segments over the past decade.

“In 2007-08, private labels accounted for just 13.5% of total supermarket sales – meaning the segment has grown by more than 85% over the past five years”, Dobie said.

Recent studies found that one in four products purchased in Australian supermarkets are private label, and of those, one in two is imported.

The increase in private label

The debate over private label continues to rage, and the impact of the reduced shelf space afforded other companies has led to countless manufacturers and farmers going out of business.

As both Coles and Woolworths appear to be delivering on plans to double private label products in store by 2020, the availability of anything other than private label becomes far less.

Consumers have little choice but to buy private label, as other brands are replaced by supermarket imitations, and according to IBISWorld data, Australians will spend over $21 billion on private label products in the 2012-13 period.

This is already a huge increase from the $19.7 billion in 2011-12, and an even bigger increase from the comparatively tiny $9.96 billion five years ago.

By 2017-18, Australian spending on private label products is expected to hit $31.8 billion, according to Dobie, which is already a 50 per cent growth from five years ago.

“The recessive economic climate has been a strong driver of private-label growth.

"Households have been reining in spending, paying off debt and increasing savings,” she said.

“This, coupled with an increase in the range of private-label products available, has led many consumers to make the shift to home brands.”

“Branded producers have responded to private-label growth by discounting their products to remain competitive.

“However, the dominance of Coles and Woolworths means that they are likely to give preference to their own brands in terms of spacing and design allocations – placing continued pressure on the big brands.

“This can be detrimental to branded producers as their share of shelf space is eroded by home brand products.

Woolworths attempts to address concerns

To address the competition between supermarket private label products and supplier brands, Woolworths has released an Official Range Profile of brands for its Australian supermarkets.

The supermarket giant said the data will be regularly updated on its website and will allow for a “more informed” discussion on choices between private label and branded rpoducts.

Managing Director of Woolworths Supermarkets, Tjeerd Jegen, said Woolworths wants to  demonstrate how they meet their customers’ needs.

“As part of that commitment, we are releasing a snapshot of data about our range to the market to put our business into a correct perspective,” Jegen said.

“The facts show that in packaged groceries and perishables, Woolworths stocks more than 44,000 lines of which 94 per cent are branded products.

“Just 2,500 are Woolworths Own Brand products,” he said.

Complete dominance

While the supermarket is maintaining that their range is heavy in branded products as a way to alleviate debate on the issue, it does not change the fact that the supermarket duopoly is gaining more control of the market all the time.

The Senate Inquiry set up to investigate the anti-competitive practises of the major supermarkets struggled to get people to speak up, and while many will speak of the record, few will go public with the stories of the power the supermarkets’ wield.

There have been calls for an ‘Australian-made’ aisle in supermarkets, a cap on the percentage of private label products that can be stocked and restrictions on the market share the supermarkets can have.

However, while the awareness about the impact of the price wars, particularly on Australian dairy farmers is becoming more widespread, the supermarkets continue to maintain they aren’t doing anything wrong, but are instead encouraging companies to innovate and looking out for their customers.

We invited representatives from both Coles and Woolworths to attend our Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit in June, but because there was one discussion topic, out of a total of six, planned on the impact of the supermarket price wars, we were told they had “no interest” in being involved in what they called a “get the supermarkets” agenda.

When Food Magazine reported on Coles’ failure to respond to more than 73 000 consumers who had “liked” a post on Facebook detailing the impact of the reduced price milk, we received a call a Coles representative, who wanted to point out that they did respond, albeit three days late and to the wrong person.

Food Magazine was accused of being biased towards food manufacturers, but since  this representative from Coles does not usually return Food Magazine’s phone calls, we pointed out that does make it difficult to report from both sides.

We tried to come to an agreement that when we called for comment on stories, he would respond, and Food Magazine, in turn, would provide their perspective on all such stories.

However, he would only agree to this arrangement if we started reporting more favourably on Coles, saying he would “closely observe” the news section to see if we were doing so, before he agreed to participate in stories on the supermarket price wars.

Unfortunately for the supermarkets, we can’t be bullied into behaving the way they would like us to and will continue to report the true realities of the supermarket environment for food manufacturers and producers.

Do you think there needs to be limits on market share of Australian supermarkets? Do you buy private label? 

Counterfeit items flooding Australian market

Food manufacturers, packaging organisations and consumers have been warned that counterfeit household items including food products are becoming increasingly common in Australia.

Yesterday NSW Police seized 33 tonnes of counterfeit laundry powder labeled as reputable brand OMO, in Sydney.

The seizure is the result of extensive investigations that have run over several months, which aim to track down and intercept the sale of counterfeit items.  

Police are expected to lay a range of charges against the two individuals allegedly behind the importation and sale of this counterfeit product.

“Sadly this is an increasing threat for all Australians,” Mary Weir, General Counsel of Unilever Australia, which produces the authentic product, said.

“The counterfeiting of consumer goods is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry around the globe and it is important that those seeking to engage in this criminal activity understand they will be subject to the full weight of the law.

“The Police action is part of a larger law enforcement drive necessary to protect consumers and ensure they can buy well known and trusted brands like OMO with confidence.

“However, consumer also need to be wary about products claiming to be trusted brands – particularly from overseas- and should always ensure they deal with reputable retailers.

Food brands including Nestle and Kraft are also dealing with brand imitations and working in collaboration with police to stamp out the practice.

Recently, Food Magazine thought Nestlé had changed its infamous Milo jar, by adding a glass bottle to its range, but when we asked Nestlé about the change, they said it was not a new development, but rather a counterfeit product.

The Milo jar appears to be authentic, judging by the labelling.

The nutritional panels also seem to be authentic.

Although on closer inspection, it appears the label on one side is upside down. Mistakes like these, which the authentic manufacturers would not make, are one way to spot counterfeit products.

It is difficult for consumers to be 100 per cent confident that they are not buying any counterfeit products, but should look for the  "Australian Made” logo to make sure, and if they believe it could be a fake, should return the product to the retailer and request a full refund.


Plastic, like diamonds, is forever: time to use fewer bags

Between 30 million and 50 million plastic bags enter the environment as litter in Australia each year.

These environmentally damaging bags – produced to be used once and then thrown away – are a symbol of our disposable society. When future generations reflect on our convenience-maximising consumer behaviour, the permanence of disfigured, shredded, flying white flowers (A.K.A. plastic bags) will testify to a discard culture and dispose culture in the name of brief convenience. Like a globally pervasive cancer, plastic bags everywhere entangle, drown, asphyxiate, and starve animals that mistake their wavy, sun-struck allure for food. Bags adorn trees and fences, becoming the new indestructible urban weed. A colony of bags visible from space (it is 15 million square kilometres!) has accrued in the Pacific, an enormous soup of tiny plastic nodules.

We know the bags do untold damage, but we only act on what costs us directly

Most of us are aware that plastic bags create litter, kill wild life, clog drains, inflicting wounds on wild and inhabited environs alike. But unfortunately, awareness of the peril of plastic has not changed behaviour at the check-out; if offered bags at no additional cost or inconvenience, most consumers will, without a second thought, allow their groceries or takeaway to be packed into lightweight 35-micron-thin polyethylene plastic bags that are usually used only once more to line their bins or pick up after their dogs. When it matters most, the community’s apparent support for reducing plastic bag use is not backed up by altered packing behaviour at the check-out.

Most consumers do not:

  • Re-use bags for storage or carriage until they are irreparable;
  • Recycle single use bags;
  • Bring their own durable reinforced bags;
  • Refuse single use bags;
  • Ask for biodegradable or compostable bags.

Bear in mind that no human has, or will ever witness the entirety of a discarded non-biodegradable bag’s natural decomposition since it was invented by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in the early 1960s and patented in 1965. We can only surmise that bags will take 50 generations to decompose, with most travelling through, or ending up in, Earth’s three elements: the soil (as landfill), water, and briefly afloat in air.

According to the European Union (EU) Executive, Europe alone produced 3.4 million tonnes of plastic bag carriers – the equivalent in weight of 2 million cars – in 2008. Only 6% of plastic bags were recycled in the EU in 2010. Plastic bags are extraordinary travellers; I have had occasion to clear plastic litter delivered by trans-Siberian currents to a remote uninhabited Norwegian Arctic beach. One million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide – plastic is endemic at supermarkets, groceries, liquor stores, pharmacists, newsagents, and retailers.


Flickr/Mr T in D.C.


Bans and levies work to fill the personal responsibility gap

Whilst heart-rending photos of plastic-struck albatrosses, whales, seals, and turtles have not altered consumer behaviour, bans and levies on bags have clearly been effective. Ireland’s imposition of a plastic bag levy, or “plastax”, originally at 15 Euro cents later rising to 22 cents, slashed personal use from 328 bags per person a year in 2002 to just 18 in 2010. There was a 95% reduction in plastic bag litter and 90% of shoppers were using long-life bags within a year.

The average Australian uses a staggering 345 plastic bags a year. On the encouraging side, lightweight check-out bags are now banned in South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT, where bag use and acceptability has since declined precipitously. Target banned bag use in June 2009.

Australia still has some way to go, considering bans were imposed as early as 2008 in China (which had a three billion a year pre-ban habit), a country which cannot boast a strong record of eco-advocacy. After deadly floods attributed to storm drain obstruction by plastic products, Bangladesh has also taken action, as has South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. The United Nations has called for plastic bag bans to go global.

Meanwhile, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) argues that reusing durable bags will lead to cross-contamination and infection-risks. The ARA has never acknowledged that all consumers (including those who make shopping trips with privately purchased durable bags) pay to subsidise single-use bags by paying higher retail prices. Some argue that the substitution of lightweight plastic bags with bin liners, paper bags, cardboard boxes and durable bags that are used just once could exact greater environmental cost.

Don’t wait for policy: how to help now

While the debate on plastic bag ban and levy rages, we can individually help by:

  • Support plastic bag bans or levies: 70% of 15,000 EU residents polled in 2011 support such a restrictive policy;
  • Use bags made from long-life, sustainably-sourced materials that last years;
  • Bring your own green durable bags for grocery, takeaway, and even retail therapy; each needs to be used at least four times for a net eco-benefit, but they can be re-used over 100 times. As a lesser option, ask for biodegradable and compostable bags at the checkout;
  • Bring back damaged bags to recycling collection points;
  • Carry single items or a few items in your pockets or hands;
  • Refuse single-use lightweight bags even if they are apparently free;
  • Advocate for synthetic reusable bags as a must-have accessory for the eco-aware, as well as discounted groceries or Loyalty Points for declining bags;
  • Object to discardable plastic drink and food containers
  • Use newspaper for bin liners, or hose down unlined bins

Plastic, somewhat like diamonds, is passed over many generations – an eternity in human terms. Let us all try restricting its supply and constraining its use, for the sake of our living, breathing, world.

Comments welcome below.

I have used durable bags for groceries, takeaways and retail shopping since they first became available in Australia. Further I bring my own microwave containers for takeaway orders. I have no formal affiliation with any eco-advocacy group

The Conversation

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