Focus groups conducted by University of Adelaide scientists found that a majority of shoppers see the words "free-range" as an indicator of a product's quality, while products identified as “GM-free” might lead consumers to believe mistakenly that other groceries that did do have ethical labels contain genetic components.
“[Ethical] labelling often lacks consistency and does not present consumers with enough in-depth detail to help inform their everyday food decisions,” said Heather Bray of the university’s School of Humanities.
“People who are reading a product labelled as being humane may also be reading that label as an indicator of quality.”
Understanding of Australia’s current GM food labelling laws, which require food containing genetically modified ingredients to be labelled as such, is also inadequate, the study found.
“There is also no legislation regarding labelling to indicate the absence of GM ingredients,” said Dr Bray.
This means that consumers who buy a product marked “GM-free” because they thought it was a “healthier” alternative might not realise that all versions of the product available were GM-free.
“Although there are no fresh GM fruit or vegetables sold in Australia, many of our research participants viewed seedless watermelons and ‘overly large’ strawberries with suspicion as being potentially GM,” Dr Bray added, suggesting that better ethical labelling might help inform the consumer.
This is a subject the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (Nasaa), an organic certifier, has long been aware of.
Nasaa general manager Ben Copeman said most consumers would be unaware of what it takes to produce organic produce, and while many products claim to be “organic”, the only way for consumers to be fully sure is to look for a label issued by an approved certification body.
“Consumers need to be aware that only products labelled ‘certified organic’ are 100% free of GMOs, hormones, additives, chemicals residues and synthetic fertilisers,” Copeman said.
In Australia, organic products are certified to a voluntary national standard by one of five private certifiers, who then apply their own labels which carry a certification logo and number.
“This is the customer’s assurance that there is a third party verification of the integrity of every step of the production process, from paddock to plate,” said Copeman.
Products that are simply labelled “organic” may not be free of chemical residue or may be fully imported and packaged in Australia, and unlikely to be certified to a recognised standard, he added.
More news from Down Under...
Time not right for full Kiwi dairy deregulation
New Zealand’s dairy industry has not seen sufficient competition for the government to consider full deregulation, the country’s Commerce Commission has concluded in a draft report.
Tasked by the Ministry of Primary Industries in June to review dairy competition, the commission expressed concern that major dairy producers could raise their prices without adequate oversight.
Deputy chair Sue Begg said the panel’s primary concern was that factory gate competition was limited, though she identified encouraging farm gate signs across some pockets of the country.
“Without the existing regulations, Fonterra would be able to increase the price of raw milk it sells to other domestic processors. This could in turn result in higher retail prices for dairy products in New Zealand,” Begg said.
“While there are signs of competition and growth in the farm gate market, particularly in Canterbury, Southland and Waikato, Fonterra faces little competition as the dominant buyer of raw milk in most regional markets.
“However, it does not have the ability or incentive to reduce prices to farmers in this market due its co-operative nature and constraints from competitors.”
The commission also concluded that Fonterra has limited ability and incentive overall to shut competitors out of dairy markets if the regulations were removed.
The draft report outlined options for amending the regulatory regime, beginning with a gradual relaxation of raw milk regulations with an eye to allowing a factory gate market to develop.
It also suggested resetting market share thresholds to 30%, from the current 20%, as the trigger for a competition review of the dairy industry.
“Full deregulation currently poses a potential risk to domestic competition in goods such as fresh milk and cheese, where independent processors are dependent on regulated access to raw milk from Fonterra. Taking a staged approach to deregulation would mitigate this risk,” said Begg, who said any changes would need to be carefully managed.
The commission has called for submissions from interested parties, in particular to test evidence of the likely costs and benefits of deregulation, and whether its recommended approach to developing a more competitive factory gate market is appropriate at this time.
Coopers bucks declining beer trend by announcing record revenues
Coopers Brewery has defied falling Australian beer consumption, increased pressure on margins and higher malt prices to post record beer sales and revenues for 2014-15.
Total beer sales for the year rose 4.7% to 78.8m litres—the independent brewer’s twenty-second consecutive year of growth—while revenue for 2014-15 increased from $231.3m in 2013-14 to $235.1m. After-tax profit increased by 3.2% to $28.9m, up from $28m.
Tim Cooper, managing director of the South Australian family business, said that an 6.3% increase in packaged beer sales had offset a 2.7% fall in keg beer volumes, which dropped to 12.8m litres—a level the company last saw in 2009.
“This mirrors the fall in Australian beer consumption since 2009, when the national volume was 18.7 hectolitres,” said Dr Cooper, adding that overall annual Australian beer consumption of 17m hectolitres is now at 1872’s level.
“This troubling fall in consumption represents a loss of nearly 10% of Australia’s beer volume in six years, despite a growing population.”
Coopers’s margins remain under pressure as retailers fight to maintain profits in the face of declining volumes by demanding increased discounts and rebates.
“Higher rebates for kegged beer results in upward pressure on wholesale prices, which in turn results in further reductions in consumer demand,” said Dr Cooper.
Coopers has also faced a significant rise in the cost of malt, one of its beer’s main ingredients, which has increased by $60 per tonne over the last year.
Despite the pressures, Coopers, a large-scale niche brewer, had managed to increase its market share to almost 5% of the total beer market.
“Our international beer portfolio continued to perform strongly, underpinned by excellent relationships with our international partners, Carlsberg and Sapporo,” said Dr Cooper.
“We also reached agreement late in the year with US craft brewer Brooklyn Brewing to brew and distribute Brooklyn Lager in Australia and New Zealand.”
Agri-views: Underestimated humous ‘takes extremes out of system’
Humous is the “holy grail of farming”, according to a New South Wales pastoralist who has been able to triple stocking rates at the organic certified beef farms he manages by building soil humus levels.
Glenn Morris, general manager of Figtrees Organic, said the water-holding ability of the material is a biological solution to Australia’s growing water crisis.
“The benefits of soil humus are multi-faceted but it is thoroughly underestimated as a component of land and water management systems,” he said.
“One part of soil humus is able to store approximately four parts of water. Increasing soil humus not only helps to retain water, it also helps to store soil carbon and provide a buffer against droughts and floods.
Healthy, biologically active soils “take the extremes out of the system”, something that cannot happen with dead, chemically treated soils, Morris said.
NZ MPI warns of raw milk risks
New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries has cautioned consumers after a series of recent cases of foodborne illnesses linked to raw milk.
A ministry official reiterated that consumers remember that there are risks with drinking milk that has not been pasteurised to kill bacteria like campylobacter and salmonella that are potentially present.
"Many people who drink raw milk do not always fully understand the risks and don’t realise that there is the possibility of getting sick from the harmful bacteria in the milk,” said Matthew Stone, director of animal products.
"No matter how carefully the animals are milked there is always a risk that harmful bacteria can get into the milk."
He advised those who choose raw milk to get it directly from the farmer, and only to buy it for personal and household consumption.
Blis appoints new chief executive from Fonterra
Blis Technologies, a listed New Zealand probiotics manufacturer, has named Fonterra manager Brian Watson as its new chief executive to replace Barry Richardson, who will leave at the end of the current financial year after nine years in charge.
“[His] related experience and overall leadership qualities convinced the board he would be the right person to lead the company through its next stage of development," chairman Peter Hennessy said of Watson (pictured), who will start work at the Dunedin-based company in February.
Blis’s shares were suspended a week ago after the company announced it was investigating a quality issue in one of its international markets. It subsequently took a NZ$350,000 (US$230,000) provision for a speckled discolouration of a lozenge product line for distribution in Europe.
However, the company says it still stands by its forecast to double full-year revenue to more than NZ$5.3m.
Listed in 2001, Blis was founded on a natural antibiotic to control streptococcal throat infections and went on the develop lozenges, sprays and additives for dairy products; its mainstay being its Blis K12 throat guard.