A round-up of the big new stories to come from Australasia over the last week.
SA not willing to review state GM policy
In the face of federal government calls for states to reassess their GM policies, South Australia has publicly fronted up to say it will do no such thing.
Indeed, while Canberra has asked states with GM moratoria to review their positions by the end of 2014, SA agriculture minister Gail Gago says the state remains firmly committed to the ban until September 1, 2019 at the earliest.
"Our non-GM crops attract greater market prices and the exceptional quality of SA's food bowl is synonymous with the state,” she said. "We will not be doing anything to jeopardise this."
Gago said her decision was also based on concerns in the community about the long-term impact of GM foods. Neighbouring New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia allow the planting of commercial GM canola crops.
AFGC calls for end to container deposit scheme
The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has insisted that beverage companies require greater certainty regarding their ongoing legal obligations—not least when it comes to the Northern Territory Container Deposit Scheme (CDS).
“Business certainty is essential as we approach the busiest time of the year for the beverage industry,” said Gary Dawson, the AFGC’s chief executive. “The industry will need to look at its options if the NT government is unable to provide this certainty.
“The NT CDS has been shown to be a costly scheme. The NT government has inherited a bad policy that contains numerous flaws in the enabling legislation, continues to give rise to commercial disputes, has significant questions over the scheme’s legal underpinnings and has only increased costs for consumers with questionable environmental benefits.”
Dawson said that only one in four containers had been redeemed as part of the Cash for Containers Scheme by June 2012. Most of these were likely to have come from materials already collected in kerbside recycling bins in Darwin and Palmerston, Dawson said.
“The AFGC and our beverage industry members stand ready to work with the NT government to manage an orderly transition out of the container deposit scheme and replace it with arrangements that will deliver better environmental outcomes at no cost to consumers,” Dawson said.
New labelling regulations just the ticket
The decision by Australian and New Zealand ministers to support regulation of the voluntary nutrition and health claims of food has met with approval from the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council.
Katherine Rich, the council’s chief executive said that the move would provide a boost for consumers and export manufacturers.
“It’s taken more than a decade of hard work from New Zealand’s officials to see this project come to fruition, but the outcome is good news for our food producers,” she said.
“Not only will it help ensure consumers to have greater confidence that health claims are evidence-based, it also supports manufacturers in making claims on innovative products for important export markets.”
Under the new system, ministers decided that general-level health claims can be supported by either pre-approved or industry self-substantiated food health relationships. High-level health claims, meanwhile, will require pre-approval by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
The new code requires all health claims to be supported by scientific evidence, and will be permitted only on foods that meet specific eligibility criteria, including for nutrition.
Beetroot juice linked to lowered blood pressure
Researchers in Melbourne have discovered that men’s blood pressure can drop by an average of four to five points as a result of drinking beetroot juice.
Putting the findings in context, the team from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute wrote that “on a public health level, a reduction like that would equate to a 10% reduction in deaths due to heart disease."
"It's promising that we can see an effect from a single dose," Dr Leah Coles told WebMD. "That effect might be even greater over the long-term if they are drinking it day upon day."
The study involved 15 men and 15 women who drank around 520ml of a drink containing about three-quarters beetroot juice and one-quarter apple juice. A placebo drink was also consumed. Among both men and women, blood pressure levels dropped six hours after drinking the beet juice. But it was the men who saw the most significant difference, an average of around 4.7 points compared to the non-beetroot juice drinkers.