Airplane food tastes strange … and here’s why

Many people find being high up an unpleasant experience. This is not just mountain sickness or acrophobia – it turns out our taste buds too have no head for heights.

Taste is not just determined by the gustatory qualities of the food. It is also substantially influenced by the state of your mouth. Transient changes in our sense of taste are quite common.

This can occur with gum and dental disease and mouth problems such as thrush and mucositis associated with a cold/flu or chemotherapy. Some medications can also alter taste sensation including some anti-hypertensive drugs, antibiotics and antihistamines.

Contaminated pine nuts may also trigger a persistent unpleasant taste, known as pine mouth.

Low zinc levels can also alter our sense of taste. Most Australians don’t receive their recommended daily intake (RDI) of zinc. This can be a particular problem as, unlike iron and other trace metals we need for health, we don’t store zinc in our bodies, so we need a daily fix to maintain healthy levels.

The best dietary sources of zinc are crustaceans, meat and poultry. Many cereals and other products are now fortified with zinc. Zinc is also present in many nutritional supplements and multivitamins.

Strict vegetarians are at increased risk of low zinc levels, partly as they avoid zinc-rich meat and partly as fibre in plants reduces zinc absorption. Alcoholics and those with digestive diseases are also more likely to become zinc-deficient.

Changing tastes

So what about the food served on a plane? Actually, there may really be a reason why meals doesn’t taste any good at altitude (beyond the fact you are flying cattle class).

As most commercial flights go up, the atmospheric pressure is slowly reduced, on average, to the equivalent of standing on the summit of Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 metres or 7,310 feet above sea level).

That’s why ear-popping occurs on take-off, as air within the middle ear expands, builds up pressure and eventually pops out through the Eustachian tubes into the nose.

Newer aircraft, such as the Airbus A380, keep a lower cabin pressure (1,500 metres), equivalent to standing at Falls Creek, Victoria, at about 1,780 metres.

It is well known that reduced atmospheric pressure and lower oxygen levels dull the appetite. But even the modest changes in altitude associated with plane travel may be sufficient to change sensitivity for some tastes.

One small study showed that the threshold for tasting sweet or salty tasting substances increased when you go from sea level to 3,500 metres, while thresholds for sour and bitter went down. In other words, really sweet things didn’t taste so bad, but slightly acidic or bitter things, such as a sauvignon blanc or coffee, tasted a whole lot worse.

High and dry

The dry atmosphere inside a plane’s cabin also dries out the mouth. Typically relative humidity is very low at less than 10%. The only place on the ground that gets this low is in Death Valley, California. By comparison, average humidity in the Sahara Desert is about 25%.

Although most people notice dry, sore eyes and dry, itchy skin after long flights, progressive drying of the nose and mouth also occurs, producing an unpleasant “pastie” sensation (much like cotton in the mouth).

In particular, saliva reduces its water content to become more concentrated and more viscous. This can leave a salty taste in the mouth and affect the level at which salt can be tasted in food. An increased concentration of glutamate (which naturally occurs in saliva) can also produce an unpleasant taste.

More importantly, taste in food is a function of its solubility in saliva. Taste molecules must dissolve in the salivary fluid layer to reach and stimulate taste receptors.

Again, a dry mouth makes this more difficult for some tastes, especially sweet and salty. At the same time the buffering capacity of saliva falls, increasing the intensity of sour tastes in food and drink.

When you are dry, almost any cold drink tastes good, even those that would be distasteful when you are well hydrated. This fact, in combination with aforementioned changes in taste sensitivity, may partly explain recently publicised reports by Lufthansa scientists that tomato juice is more popular on flights, while few people touch the stuff on the ground.

A rational response would be to serve more sweet and spicy food on planes and less astringent wine, to be as appetising as food tastes on the ground.

But because of the noise, the vibration, the cramped conditions, and re-heated mass-produced food, eating on planes won’t ever make for a pleasurable dining experience – so just keep coming round with the cold water, thanks!

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

Merlin Thomas is a Professor of Preventative Medicine at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.

Local manufacturers call for dedicated Australian-made aisles in supermarkets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I couldn’t believe it.

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

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

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

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

Qantas snack supplier apologises over in-flight maggot contamination

The manufacturer of the Qantas snack which was contaminated with maggots has issued an apology for the “utterly regrettable” incident, which it says was restricted to that particular packet.

The Sydney Biscuit Company issued a media statement over the incident, explaining that the individual portion of Trail Mix which was found to have maggots inside was not part of a larger batch carrying the same problem.

“This product is supplied to our customers throughout Australia who then store it themselves or with third party suppliers until it is required for use or transport it for use within Australia or Internationally, The Sydney Biscuit Company’s chief executive, Harvey Crabtree said.

Crabtree explained that a root-cause analysis and investigation are in progress with the customer and a third party responsible for logistics and storage, as no contamination had been detected in the manufacture or packaging processes.

“Since this format of product first appeared on this particular service and route some four years ago we have distributed in excess of five million savoury snacks – a figure and products we are very proud of, many passengers send us in e-mails and stories relating to their travels and experiences,” Crabtree said.

“All products leave our site in A1 condition.

“We also retain samples from each and every batch of product produced and packed.

“Our retained samples relevant to the batch which left the business in November 2011 are showing no indications of integrity issues.

He said the company has HACCP and FSANZ accreditation and works to the high level of quality control and assurance set by the organisations.

Eucalyptus oil distributor fined over false ‘Made in Australia’ claims

The consumer watchdog has found the distributor of Double D eucalyptus oil falsely labelled its product as ‘Made in Australia,’ and have ordered they pay a $6 600 fine.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACC) found the product was made from imported oil, which the company tried to pass off as Australian so they could increase costs.

"Consumers should be able to rely on the accuracy of labels, especially when they are prepared to pay a premium for products made in Australia," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

The consumer watchdog issued a notice stating it had reasonable grounds to believe that Club Trading & Distribution lied about the oil in its 100ml bottle when it said it came from Australia.

In reality, the oil was actually imported from China and Southern Africa.

"Australian grown eucalyptus oil is readily available to distributors and primary producers are harmed when imported oil is falsely labelled as being made in Australia," Sims said.

"Traders making made in Australia claims need to ensure that their labels are kept up to date to reflect changes in sources of supply.

"Failure to do so may lead to a contravention of the Competition and Consumer Act, infringement notices or court action.”

Steggles defends “free to roam” claims still on products

Steggles chickens are still being advertised as “free to roam” despite the consumer watchdog labelling such claims by the company as misleading and deceptive last year.

In September the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it was taking a number of chicken suppliers to the Federal Court, claiming they wrongly advertised chickens as free range.

According to the ACCC, national Steggles suppliers Baiada Poultry and Barttner Enterprises, La Iconica suppliers, Turi Foods and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation were misleading or deceptive in the promotion and supply of chicken products.

The ACCC said the impression that Steggles chickens are raised in barns with plenty of room to roam freely used in the advertisement and promotion greatly influence consumers, and in reality, most of the animals have a space no larger than an A4 sheet of paper.

Despite La Ionica’s decision to stop using the “free to roam” claim and pay the $100 000 penalty as a result of the court case, Steggles and Baiada are refusing to bow to pressure and are instead arguing against the ACCC’s claims.

John Camilleri, the managing director of Steggles’ owner Baiada Poultry yesterday told the Federal Court in Melbourne that he ordered the slogan ”free to roam in large barns” be removed from chicken packaging in August last year.

He said the differing rates at which products are stored and sold makes it impossible to eradicate any reference to “free to roam” claims overnight, and his objective is to have “hardly any” chicken with the slogan for sale by the end of April this year.

”What we don’t have control of is any stock that’s in obscure locations,” he said.

”Some of these products have a shelf life of 18 months.”

He said Baiada limits the density of chickens in its sheds to 36 kilograms per square metre, although the limit set by national poultry rearing regulations is 40 kilograms per square metre.

During the case, Camilleri vocalised what many in the industry already know about the storage and distribution protocol of the major supermarkets.

The ACCC’s counsel, Colin Golvan, SC, asked him to explain why a frozen chicken bought by a representative of the regulator last month in the Melbourne CBS still had “free to roam” on the packaging.

Camilleri explained that the product had old packaging, because ”God knows how long Coles have been storing that or where it’s been stored.”

The trial is continuing.

Third of Auspack Plus floorspace already snapped up

The packaging and processing industry is alive and well, with the news that a third of the floor space for the largest biennial exhibition in Australia has already been sold, even though it won’t be held until 2013.

Auspack Plus organisers opened up entry for exhibitors only three months ago, and already 1900 square metres of available space as been snapped up.

Event manager Luke Kasprzak said the exhibition will allow those in the sector to stay on top of new developments and technology.

“Auspack Plus is the largest biennial packaging and processing machinery and materials exhibition in Australia and is a recognised vehicle to showcase ‘What’s NEW’ in manufacturing and packaging technology,” he said.

“We have already had a significant sign up for stands from companies that include HMPS, JL Lennard, ABB Australia, Accuweigh, insignia, ERC Packaging, Heat & Control, Fibre King, KHS Pacific, Kiel Industries, Linco Food Systems, Propac Industrial, Nordson Australia, Walls Machinery, Matthews Intelligent Solutions, TNA Australia, Fallsdell Machinery, Contract Packaging Systems and RML Engineering,“

Auspack Plus 2013 will be held at the Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney Olympic Park from 7-10 May 2013.

To attend Auspack Plus, or to exhibit there, contact Luke Kasprzak.

Regulate “low fat,” “high calcium” food claims: FSANZ calls for submissions on standard

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) wants tougher regulation on food company’s abilities to use claims including "low fat," "good source of calcium" or "low salt" in their advertising.

The food regulator is calling for submissions on its draft nutrition, health and related claims standard, which FSANZ chief executive Steve McCutcheon said would regulate the voluntary use of health and nutrition claims.

“There are two principal types of claims; nutrition content claims such as ‘low in fat’ or ‘source of calcium’, and health claims, which refer to a relationship between a food and health, such as calcium and bone health,” he said.

FSANZ also wants comments on the part of the proposal considering regulation of ‘fat free’ and ‘percentage fat free’ claims.

The changes are part of the federal government’s promise to overhaul the food packaging industry by introducing a simple front-of-pack nutrition panel and get tougher on health claims on foods, following calls from consumer watchdog CHOICE and other health groups for a compulsory traffic light nutritional system to solve the obesity crisis.

Last year CHOICE pledged to "name and shame" food companies who made dodgy health claims and in October it revealed the unhealthiest ready-to-eat desserts labelled as‘fat-free’ and ‘reduced fat’, showing that they are not always a healthy option.

The previous FSANZ draft standard was subject to public consultation in 2009.

FSANZ has considered issues which arose from the Review of the draft legislation by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation and acknowledges that a diverse range in stakeholder opinions about this complex proposal are present.

It believes the draft standard strikes a balance between disparate views.

“FSANZ welcomes comments from government agencies, public health professionals, industry and the community on this draft of the proposed new standard,” McCutcheon said.

Submissions close on 16 March 2012.

Dick Smith making moves to stop “foreign invasion” of cheap food products

Dick Smith is doing his bit to ensure the survival of Australian food businesses, opening a store exclusively stocking local products.

The entrepreneur’s General Store in Belrose, on Sydney’s northern beaches will is showcasing quality food products from small regional markets from around the country, Manly Daily reports.

The recently opened store also launched online ordering last week.

Smith says the store aims to stop the “foreign invasion,” of cheap food products putting Australian operations out of business and restart the industry that was once valued at $80 million.

Shoppers will be able to purchase items sources directly from the producers, including cordials from Queensland, toffees from South Australia, honey from Tasmania and salts from Victoria.

Smith said he is optimistic about the future for the industry, and believes the major supermarkets may not have their strategies right.

“It was an absolute feeding frenzy from customers hungry to do their bit to support battling Australian farmers and food producers,” he said.

“The major supermarkets keep telling me that all Australian consumers want is the cheapest.

“However, in the space of an hour almost all our stock of magnificent Australian gourmet products had sold out and our website had crashed.”

Numerous Australian food manufacturers have closed their doors or sent their operations offshore, as the cost of doing business here rises and companies can’t compete with cheaper private-label brands.

HJ Heinz has been one of the more vocal of the disappointed and angry industry, with the company’s chief financial officer and executive vice president, Arthur Winkleback telling US analysts in August that the demise of many Australian companies can be attributed to the supermarket war and said they have created an “inhospitable environment” for manufacturers.

In November executive chairman, chief executive and president William Johnston told investors the company has had to overhaul its business strategy in Australia to deal with the supermarket dominance of Coles and Woolworths.

Johnson labelled Australia the “worst market” in June, saying Australian consumers would be the “biggest losers” from the decision to strip branded products.

Woolworths and Coles have announced plans to increase the presence of private-label products available on shelves, despite a report finding that if the current supermarket environment continues, 130 000 of employees from the food and grocery sector alone will be out of work by 2013.

They’ve also been accused of deliberately copying well-known packaging to confuse consumers.

Image: Dick Smith Foods

Less snoozing, more excess kilos: in today’s busy world, how do we sleep more?

New research shows more evidence that our busy lifestyles are contributing to our expanding waistlines.

Research by Sweden’s Uppsala University researchers published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, uncovered a specific brain region that contributes to a person’s appetite and is more active when sleep deprived.

Researchers Christian Benedict, Samantha Brooks, Helgi Schiöth and Elna-Marie Larsson from Uppsala University and researchers from other European universities were able to systematically examine which regions in the brain that control appetite suppression are influenced by sleep loss.

And it’s not just extreme sleep loss that can impact the brain’s functions, a person only needs to be acutely sleep deprived to suffer the consequences.

In the story, 12 average-weight males were shown images of food, and the researchers assessed their brain function using magnetic imaging.

The study was performed when the subjects had experienced a normal night’s sleep and then compared to those when they had a sleepless night.

“After a night of total sleep loss, these males showed a high level of activation in an area of the brain that is involved in a desire to eat,” Christian Benedict said.

“Bearing in mind that insufficient sleep is a growing problem in modern society, our results may explain why poor sleep habits can affect people’s risk to gain weight in the long run.”

One in three Australians are overweight and one in four is obese, so finding the reasons behind the obesity epidemic have become a massive national focus.

Crash diets, sedentary lifestyles and an overwhelming availability of processed foods have been blamed for the health epidemic that could see the current generation of children being the first to not outlive their parents and earned it the title of "the new smoking."

The health impacts of obesity and related conditions have become more well known throughout the country, and in a bid to further educate society, kilojoule information on fast food menus will become mandatory in July this year, while the federal government will develop a simple, front of pack nutritional labelling system for all packaged foods sold in Australia within a year.

This week is also Healthy Weight Week, an initiative launched by the Dieticians Association of Australia aiming to encourage everyone to be aware of their healthy weight range and implement lifestyle changes to achieve it.

With the cost of living continuing to sky-rocket, nobody could possibly afford to simply walk away from a career to catch up on sleep, so what is the solution for busy Australians losing sleep and gaining kilos?

Reduction in Aussie beer consumption leads to 70 glass factory job cuts

The changing preferences of Australian beverage consumers have led to 70 job cuts O-I Glass’ Melbourne factory.

O-I Australia will close a furnace at its factory in Spotswood in March.

The job cuts will occur by June and Australian Workers Union Victoria secretary Cesar Melhem said they will include 50 glass manufacturing workers, with trade and engineering employees making up the rest of the numbers.

Currently 320 people are employed at the factory, but with the Australians drinking less locally-made beer and instead choosing imported beer or cider, the need for glass has dropped leading to a 15 per cent decrease in production acoss the industry, a change that has been felt at the Spotswood factory.

Brian Slingsby, general manager O-I Glass said there is no question that the drop in alcohol was the cause of the job losses.

"The decision to reduce our Melbourne plant’s furnaces from three to two follows ongoing deterioration in market conditions in Australia and weak consumer sentiment," he said in a statement.

"This had led to declining food and beverage sales across the country, particularly in the beer and wine segments."

While Melhem said the AMU has been assured any redundancies will be voluntary in this case, there is now uncertainty about the longevity of other jobs at the plant.

"It now becomes a question: will the plant be viable long-term by having two furnaces?” he said.

“Not long ago they used to have five furnaces.

"Our members are a bit nervous about the future, and rightly so.

“We are looking at sitting down with the company to look at putting a plan in place to make sure we can secure the viability of the plant for the next five, 10, 20 years."

NZ packaging fire caused by overcrowded factory

A fire inside a packaging plant in New Zealand has been blamed on the operation working “over capacity.”

Haw Packaging, in Hastings on the north island, was issued a letter from authorities stating the facility was overcrowded, after a smaller blaze last year.

The company makes egg crates and packaging for fruit, and on Tuesday 18 people from six homes were evacuated, as fire crews feared the huge blaze would spread to nearby factories and houses.

The fire was the third at the site, and Hawke’s Bay fire brigade assistant area manager Nigel Hall said the company was warned about some “general housekeeping” that needed to be performed following the last blaze in October which was caused by a front loader scrapping the concrete, causing a spark and igniting paper.

"The premises has basically outgrown its capacity in relation to the storage of the product that they are producing,” he said.

"The packaging stack, from the Fire Service’s point of view, is too close to the premises.

"The owner knows this and they have been planning to move from this site for at least a year."

Hawk Packaging general manager Tim Combs admitted the company knew it was storing packaging to close to the side of the building, and the size of the plant did provide “some challenges.”

"The last two fires that we’ve had both started in our paper store room, which is a concern,” he said.

"One of the reasons we were looking to shift was to be able to store products more efficiently than we currently have it."

Combs began considering a move when he bought the business two years ago and the company is looking to relocate in July.

"Essentially as soon as we came here we had a look at the business.

"We thought we needed to move forward over the next 10 years or so.

"Plans have been in place from as soon as we arrived, and so I’d like to think we’ve been working on addressing the necessary issues since we arrived here."

He said the company has been working hard to reduce any fire risk.
"I’ve been in the paper industry for 20 years now and we never take fire risk lightly.

“It’s something that is always a priority for us.

"At the end of the day, that doesn’t excuse the fact that we still had a fire."

Image: Hawkes Bay Today

SA, QLD want tougher rules on ‘Made in Australia’ labels

Food companies who can currently get away with misleading labelling about the country of origin of a product will face tougher restrictions if Queensland and South Australian governments get their way.

The two states are working together to argue for better food labelling laws to enable consumers to make informed decisions when deciding on food.

Under current regulations, shoppers are being misled by products claiming to be Australian, and South Australian Minister for Business Services and Consumers John Rau wants that changed.

He wants less loopholes available to food manufacturers and suppliers, who are able to use the “made in Australia” label even if the product was fully imported.

There only has to be a suggestion that it was “substantially transformed” in Australia and half the cost of production occurred here for a product to display the label, and Rau says the rules create confusion for shoppers.

“In practice, this means that manufacturers can get the word ‘Australia’ on their goods, even if the
ingredients are entirely from overseas and more than 50 per cent of production costs occur in other
countries,” Rau said.

“I doubt whether many consumers would be aware that a product labelled ‘Made in Australia’ could
be manufactured from 100 per cent imported ingredients.”

Queensland and South Australian consumer affairs ministers decided at a recent meeting to call for tougher regulations to put in place, because current standards are not working.

“The new national consumer laws have not fixed the problem,” Rau said.

“In fact, they have increased confusion.

“South Australian consumers want to buy local to support Australian producers.

“Accurate country-of-origin food labelling is essential to enable consumers to make informed decisions.”

“A uniform approach to country-of-origin labelling is clearly required in the national consumer legislation and we will be working to produce a new proposal to clear up this confusing area,” he said.

“This new approach should make it perfectly clear where raw ingredients come from, regardless of how and where they are transformed.

Potentially harmful BPA still present in canned foods

Research conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund has found harmful levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) in a number of popular canned products.

The study by the US organization found many of the canned goods commonly used over Thanksgiving and Christmas, including gravy, carnation milk, corn, beans and cranberry sauce, contain potentially damaging levels of BPA.

“Single servings of almost half of the products tested had levels of BPA comparable to levels that laboratory studies have linked to adverse health effects,” the report said.

Jeanne Rizzo, president and chief executive of the Breast Cancer Fund said families should be able to feel safe when eating festive meals.

"How many more Thanksgivings will families have to worry about this uninvited guest before manufacturers finally decide to take it out of cans?”

BPA is used to make the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans which forms a barrier between the metal and the food which helps to prevent bacterial contamination.’

Problems can arise when the toxic chemical leaches from the resin and make its way into food.

In Laboratory studies, BPA has been linked to adverse health effects inclusing breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is particularly damaging to young children.

In September BPA was found in a variety of soups and foods marketed to children, prompting calls to have the chemical banned entirely.

Last year, a similar study by consumer watchdog CHOICE found 33 of the 38 products they tested contained BPA and only one serving of 29 of contained a dose of BPA exceeding safe daily level of exposure for a 70kg adult.

In July 2010, the Australian government introduced a voluntary deal with major retailers to phase out BPA in baby bottles and tinned foods.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand monitors the presence and regulation of BPA in Australia and says studies have shown there are some safe levels of the substance.

“The internationally established safe level, called the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI), for BPA is 0.05 mg per kilogram of body weight per day,” it says.

“The TDI is an estimate of the amount of a substance in food that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk.

“It is based on animal studies and incorporates a safety factor which allows scientists to calculate a safe level of consumption for humans.”

The other important factor, according to FSANZ, is that the amount of BPA a person would have to ingest for it to be dangerous is quite high.

“A nine month old baby weighing 9 kg would have to eat more than 1 kg of canned baby custard containing BPA every day to reach the TDI, assuming that the custard contained the highest level of BPA found (420 parts per billion) in a recent survey by CHOICE,” FSANZ states.

While some levels of exposure to the chemical may be safe, the problem is the lack of information declared by companies about BPA in its products.

"Consumers have no way of assessing BPA levels just by looking at cans on supermarket shelves," Gretchen Lee Salter, policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund said.

"The findings of this report highlight the urgent need to remove BPA from food packaging so that shoppers can be confident that the food they are purchasing is safe for their families—not only on Thanksgiving, but every day."

William Goodson, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon and senior clinical research scientist at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, published a study in September showing BPA causes non-cancerous cells to grow and survive like cancer cells.

"We know from recent research that a BPA meal creates a spike of this estrogenic chemical in the blood," he said.

"Natural hormones work by spikes, so this is exactly what you don’t want, especially in young kids, who shouldn’t have any estrogenic spikes at all."

Consumers have sent out 50,000 letters to canned food manufacturers urging them to get BPA out of canned foods and replaced with a safer alternative, as part of it’s the Breast Cancer Fund’s Cans Not Cancer campaign,

A number of food manufacturers have heeded the advice, including General Mills and Nestle, who have announced progress on alternatives to BPA in canned foods.

The Breast Cancer Fund wants regulation to make it mandatory for companies to disclose BPA levels in products.

Front-of-pack food health labels to be developed within a year

Foods sold in Australia will have front-of-pack labelling with easy to understand nutritional information within a year, but it will not necessarily be the controversial traffic light system.

That was one of the key decisions made during the meeting on nutrition and preventative health with state and federal government ministers in Melbourne on Friday.

In response to the recommendations in the Food Labelling Review Report – or Blewett Reprort – the Federal Government’s Forum on Food Regulation will consult with representatives from health organisations, industry and consumer groups to develop the new system.

The decision to have simple front-of-pack nutritional labelling is somewhat surprising, given that the government announced prior to the meeting that it would not be supporting the traffic light system.

Since the scheme was first suggested by consumer watchdog CHOICE, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has been arguing that the traffic light scheme is too simplistic to work.

It released a statement on Friday supporting the decision by government representatives.

“As previously stated, Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing industry is happy to work with the Forum on Food Regulation to look at global evidence on developing a preferred approach to a single, front-of-pack food labelling system,” chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“The recently released Institute of Medicine report, commissioned by United States Government, as well as the work done by EUFIC in Europe may be good starting points.”

It is still unclear what will be included in the front-of-pack labelling, which will have to be more informative than the traffic light labelling but still clear and easy to understand.

Once the design and content of the labelling is decided, companies may be given up to two years to implement the changes, which is the amount of time alcohol manufacturers have been given to voluntarily introduce pregnancy warning, before regulation is implemented.

Health claims on packaged foods and drinks will also undergo a drastic overhaul, to prevent misleading health claims such as ‘low fat,’ ‘high fibre,’ and ‘no added sugar.’ being made.

The Forum’s also decided to appoint Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to undertake broad consultation on a draft standard for health claims and present a final standard is presented to Ministers next year has been welcomed by the AFGC.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, who chaired today’s meeting said the initiatives show the government are highly concerned with poor health and obesity rates and are thus making it a top priority.

“In considering its response to the recommendations, the Forum proposed actions over the next five years that endeavour to improve information on food labels to meet consumers’ needs, and minimize regulatory burden on industry and barriers to trade.”

Govt to discuss traffic light labelling today

Representatives from state federal and New Zealand governments will meet today to discuss the controversial traffic light nutrition labels.

After initial expectations that the Gillard government would approve the scheme, which would force manufacturers to display a red, amber or green lights for sugar, fat and salt content on the front of packs, it released a statement on Wednesday revealing it does not support the measure.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) was against the scheme from the beginning, saying it was too simplistic to work and instead wants to focus on improving the Daily Intake Guides on the back of packets.

Amy Cowper, a senior lawyer with Sydney based firm Truman Hoyle, agrees the scheme is not likely to be successful.

“I do think it’s too simplistic,” she told Food Magazine.

“I think it can work, in the UK they’ve seen it works to come extent but I agree with the federal government’s decision that it is too simplistic.

“We’re putting these labels on but people should be making their own decisions about what they’re eating, we’re creating a nanny state by putting such implicit things on the labels.”

If the federal government sticks to its decision not to support traffic light labelling, it will be positive for manufacturers, Cowper explains.

I think it’s fantastic for manufacturers because when you have red light appearing on a product, it indicates it is high in fat or salt and many would see that and think “oh, I can’t buy that,” so it will turn consumers off.

“I think its great for manufacturers that the federal government don’t want a front-of-pack system because it is damaging to products that are high in fat like cheese which are part of a balanced diet.

“But the red would turn people off and that’s not a good solution.

“A major problem with [traffic light labeling] would be the red tape and having to comply with information systems too.

“It would be hard for all manufacturers to comply straight away and then there are additional costs for the business.”

While the Gillard government announced their stance already, it could change its position throughout discussions, or separate states and territories could make their own rules, which would still mean additional work and costs for manufacturers.

“I think states and territories can make their own laws anyway so even if don’t agree with the federal government’s decision, New South Wales could decide to mandate this in the state.

“If all states and territories agreed then in terms of implementing it, it will go to Senate and if it’s approved by the Senate it will be made law and once its made law, I’m not sure how long if at all they would give businesses time to conform.

Whether the traffic light labeling is introduced, or more detailed Daily Intake Guides are brought in, manufactures will require some time to gather and declare the information needed.

“With the mandatory labeling on alcohol warning pregnant women against alcohol, they’ve been given two years,” she explained.

“They might take same approach with other labels.

“Once they’ve implemented laws they generally give time to make changes because it means they might have to get legal advice get information about what’s in products.

“One proposal was that wherever oil or fat or sugar is added you have to disclose that, for example, palm oil, but it might be that a manufacturer doesn’t know what types of oils are in their product.

“Palm oil is one that has more attention because there are animal rights groups that urge people not to eat palm oil because it’s derived from palm oil trees and a lot of them are from Asian areas occupied by orangutans so by doing forest clearing, it’s damaging their habitat.

“This is act a win for animal rights groups, because if the federal government makes them disclose whether palm oil is in a product, it would almost certainly turn people off buying that.

Trade marks in packaging expert and lawyer Sharon Givoni and Cowper both agree that if more detailed ingredients labels are introduced, it would have to be include education for consumer, because many don’t understand which fats, oils and sugars are good or bad.

“It would have to be done very carefully and supported with a good education overseen by government or consumer-focused body,” Givoni told Food Magazine.

“I think education might be required for a lot of consumers, who don’t know what trans fats are, for example,” Cowper said.

“A lot of people re conscious about what they’re eating so if they see trans fat on a label they might not buy it.”

But Givoni told Food Magazine the issues surrounding suggestions of better labeling and information are more complicated than simply deciding how to label food.

“A lot of our food is dead food, because it so overcooked, is stored so long and has so many preservatives,” she said.

“The irony is that plenty of people are undernourished but still overweight.

“At end of the day there’s a much bigger global issue that comes down to education campaigns.

“It’s a very complicated issue because consumers have their own habits and don’t necessarily want to change them.

“These schemes will only work if people are educated, and the people who want the information might already be educated and others wont care and will still buy the products anyway.”

Givoni suggests that manufacturers should also be encouraged to provide smaller portion sizes, as they continue to increase the amount of food a person feels is appropriate to consume.

The federal government’s decision is expected to be known next week, but Cowper believes we already know what it will be.

“Unless strong rejection from New Zealand, I wouldn’t see them changing,” she said.

Legal issues create confusing private label environment

Supermarket private labels may be purposefully creating similar products and packaging to more established brands, but under current Australian laws, it is possible that little can be done to oversee the issue.

Last week the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) accused supermarkets of deliberately copying the design of well known products in a bid to confuse consumers into buying their private label.

The AFGC wants the practice stopped, saying it hinders competition in the sector, but trade marks in packaging and Intellectual Property lawyer Sharon Givoni told Food Magazine it may not necessarily be realistic.

“Judges often talk about sailing too close to wind and sometimes there is a fine line between what amounts to copying and passing off and what you can get away with,” she said.

“The four main areas that come into play are trade mark protection like if the product name is too close or look of the packaging shape, copyright protection depending on factors such as the images used on the packaging and misleading and deceptive conduct and passing off, which to some degree relies on there to be consumer confusion.

Givoni explained that in terms of misleading and deceptive conduct being proven, the current laws are somewhat difficult.

“One of the issues with Australia laws is that you need to show that consumers have been or are likely to be misled,” she said.

“Same with passing off – you need to show that one company is passing off the other’s goodwill or reputation.

“In some cases this can be done.

“It comes down to a question of fact, including how bold the brand name is on the packaging and what consumers really think when they are buying the products.

“Do they think that a Coles Brand is really from another source?

“The other thing to bear in mind is sometimes if someone doesn’t protect intellectual property early enough and enforce it for third parties it can become generic in the term that its free to use.”

And it would not be an easy task, she said, to prove consumers were being confused by packaging.

“Whether they are confused is a concept of fact,” she told Food Magazine.

“Because if they’re not confused, it is skirting very close to the edge, but unless can pin them down for a legal issue like passing off, it would be hard to make a case.

The other important thing to bear in mind is that copyright might also apply if what is copied is the graphic elements of the packaging, Givoni explained.

Last week National President of the Australian Institute of Packaging, Pierre Pienaar told Food Magazine weighed in on the debate, telling Food Magazine that from a packaging perspective, the decision to have similar bottles or designs is actually not a bad move.

“I view it very differently from most others in terms of whether it’s been a deliberate ploy,” he said.

Pienaar explained that when manufacturing packaging products, there are ways for companies to make it cheaper and easier, by adapting to the sizes and materials already used.

“From a supply chain perspective, what they’ve done is absolutely the right thing, because if something is similar it doesn’t impact your secondary and tertiary packaging, it is all harmonised.”

He said the suggestions of a Supermarket Ombudsman to oversee the issue, as suggested by the AFGC, would be unnecessary, a position Givoni shares.

“I don’t real see how it’s relevant at all, given we’re talking about private businesses,” she told Food Magazine.

“A Supermarket Ombudsman could oversee the issue, but this would not change what the state of the law is”.

"However, it could encourage better practices and if so that would be a positive thing," she said.

“With more items entering shelves every day, it is a cut throat and ever competitive market."

2011 biggest year for online shopping

A new report from PayPal predicts 2011 will be the biggest year for online shopping in history, with sales tipped to reach $30 billion by the end of the year.

Despite the strong dollar, the online payment company says Australians still prefer to shop locally, with more than 70 per cent of online spending taking place in Australia.

Online shopping is growing at a almost 12 per cent year on year and 63 per cent of Australians have shopped at an overseas website in the last year, the report says.

Last month Google Australia released figures showing over 30 per cent of “Christmas” searches this year include foods and beverages in their search and online shopping will show a sharp increase in the lead up to the festive season.

“Over the next five weeks shopping-related search traffic is really going to accelerate,” Google Australia & New Zealand’s Head of Retail, Ross McDonald said.

Four million Australian online shoppers use PayPal when shopping online and over 40,000 Australian
retailers now offer PayPal and the busiest day for online shopping is a Monday between 8-9pm.

Fashion is the fastest growing online category with a 20 per cent year on year increase.

PayPal has also released a list of safeguards for shopping online, including how to protect your personal information and checking return policies.

They can be found on the PayPal website.

 

Diet Coke’s new campaign focused on one moment, one calorie at a time

Regular Coke cans and bottles are already suggesting mates you should share your beverage with, and the lower calorie version of the drink is now singing its lifestyle benefits from the rooftops too.

The Share a Coke campaign, where the company is printing people’s first names on bottles and cans, aims to connect with consumers by jumping on board with the social networking phenomenons and increased demand for personalised products and services.

Due to the success of the camaign, Coca-Cola is extending it through Christmas and into 2012.

The Diet Coke campaign released by Coca-Cola South Pacific today aims to have a similar impact on its target market: young women.

The “One Calorie Burnt in a Moment” campaign unveils some cheeky ways to burn the one calorie consumed in every 200mL of diet Coke, including “wriggling your way into new jeans” or “running to the loo…in heels,” and "one moment of passion."

“The campaign is designed to remind women of the diet Coke low-calorie benefits, communicating its relevance in a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle for all young women,” Pamela Wyatt, Marketing Manager for diet Coke said.

Advertisements for the campaign will be strategically placed for the greatest exposure to young women, including in magazines, online, outdoors and other tactical areas.

Govt not introducing traffic light labelling

Consumer watchdog CHOICE has slammed the federal government’s decision not to introduce compulsory front-of-pack traffic light labeling on foods in Australia.

Rumors had been swirling all week that the Gillard government would introduce the bill, which shows sodium, fat and sugar levels at a glance.

But ahead of the 9 December meeting of food and health ministers, the government has released its position on the scheme, saying it will not be approving it.

CHOICE has been calling for the scheme all year in a bid to curb the obesity crisis gripping Australia, where one in six is overweight and one in three obese, and has expressed its intense dissatisfaction of the governments decision not to follow expert recommendations.

“The Federal Government’s response defies the experts’ advice and ignores the public’s appetite for better, more informative food labels,” CHOICE spokesperson, Ingrid Just said.

“However, the States and Territories still have a once in a generation opportunity to put consumers first at the Food Regulation Ministerial Council meeting.”

The People’s Watchdog is calling on State and Territory governments to show leadership and commit to the introduction of mandatory traffic light-style labelling because it helps consumers make healthier choices.

“Disappointingly, the Federal Government’s announcement suggests that well-resourced industry lobbying is more important than the right of Australian consumers to make an informed choice about the food they eat every day,” Just said.

The Australian Food and Grocery Counci (AFGC) is against the traffic light labeling, saying it is too simplistic to work.

Instead, it wants to maintain the Daily Intake Guides, which it says offers a more detailed description on the health of a product.

But in August it a survey found that while most Australians understand the Daily Intake Guides, few use them to make healthier food choices.

Do you support the traffic light scheme? Or are the Daily Intake Guides more useful? Is there an entirely different measure we should be putting in place?

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
Close