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The decision of retail giant Coles to increase the nutritional value of its house brand foods is one more sign that better health through low chemical eating is in high demand.
Cole’s has announced its new house brand ‘Quality Brand Standards’
which will target areas like salt, fat and artificial colours and
Coles became the first major retailer in Australia to introduce home brand organic food in 2004, due to “growing consumer demand for organic” and all product sold in their “You’ll love Coles Organic” range now displays the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) ‘organic bud’ logo.
This latest news provides further evidence of the opportunities available for ‘ready-to-go’ organic processed food as consumers demand more additive and preservative free foods.
One prime area of opportunity is in children’s foods.
“The organic standard eliminates 50 additives which have been associated with children’s behavioural problems originating from foods,” says Sue Dengate, founder of the Food Intolerance Network.
“Theoretically, if organic standards were adopted as mandatory tomorrow, all the current troubles we’re experiencing from preservatives and additives would vanish.”
She says it is essential there is more commitment to getting rid of foods with ‘added nasties’ by retailers in Australia.
“There are in particular six artificial food colours which have been banned in the UK after being connected to hyperactivity in children, which are still commonly found on shelves where children’s food is found in Australia – but are banned in organics.” (colours are: sunset yellow (E110), tartrazine (E102), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124), quinoline yellow (E104), and allura red (E129)).
Ms. Dengate pinpoints Nestle’s renowned Smarties confectionary as one high profile case of ‘different country, different colours’.
In the UK Smarties no longer contain any artificial colours – they were removed amid consumer concern after the Liverpool University identified a possible harmful cocktail effect on the nervous system from artificial colours and chemicals.
More than two years later, Smarties found on Australian shelves still contain five out of the six artificial colours banned in the UK.
The need for fresh produce as well as processed items to keep ahead in health and high quality claims has also been highlighted by Bryan Silberman, from the Produce Marketing Association in the USA.
But he adds flavour into the equation.
“The term ‘stealth health’ is a term bandied around, where food that is healthy has to be combined with flavours - fresh produce needs to be aware of this, as do other food manufacturers,” he said (source: Food & Drink Magazine, October).
And he says while there are moves towards ‘ready to eat’ solutions, the trend to look out for in all foods in the future is that of the ‘locavore’ – or eating food which has been locally grown and developed.
Mr. Silberman says young mothers – also typically large purchasers of organic – especially want to be connected to their food and where it is grown.
“This is something the large supermarkets cannot provide that the local retailer can.
He says right now at the retail front - “everything small is getting big, and green is definitely in.”
Documents leaked to media and reported by British newspaper ‘The Independent’ last month revealed European leaders could be looking to speed up the introduction of GM crops and foods.
Records of a series of private meetings reportedly stated government representatives from 27 countries believed “something had to be done to ‘deal with’ public resistance to GM” and allow its more rapid uptake.
were convened by Jose Manuel Barroso, the pro-GM President of the European
Commission, and chaired by his head of cabinet, Joao Vale de Almeida.
of the group, its objectives and its outcomes, have not been made
‘The Independent’ interest in GM has been fuelled by claims from the
Biotech industry that GM will be necessary to feed the world.
reportedly focused on how to speed up the introduction of GM crops and
food, and how to persuade the public to accept them.
The GM debate continues
genetic modification applied to food plants say GM could decrease poverty
in developing countries by getting crops to grow in arid or harsh
They say health
benefits are possible, with those involved in projects like ‘golden rice’
- a rice variety containing GM modified elevated vitamin A levels –
claiming it could reduce blindness and childhood mortality worldwide.
But if the
arguments for GM can start to sound convincing, the arguments against it
“GM crops have
often performed worse than conventional varieties in countries including
India, Indonesia, Brazil and Paraguay.
years, small farmers in China have earned more planting conventional
cotton than the Bt variety, and in India and Indonesia many small farmers
have suffered from the agronomic failure of Bt cotton.”
In 2005, ISAAA
claimed 6.4 million Chinese farmers benefited from Bt cotton. According to
FOE research (by the Cornell University), far from improving farmers
lives, those using Bt cotton could expect to witness the slow emergence of
indirectly creates a safer environment for the growth of non-bollworm
pests. Entomologists have suggested that it takes between five to ten
years for such a secondary pest population to grow to a level at which it
poses a significant economic threat.
pests are not adequately taken into consideration, new technologies like
Bt cotton will only serve to exacerbate problems associated with poverty
monoculture is also an issue – with GM soybean expansion in South America
increase deforestation in areas such as the Amazon, displace poor rural
families and reduce food security as crops for domestic consumption are
replaced by export-oriented soybean monocultures.”
limited number of large corporations dominate the GM market, producing a
narrow range of GM crops that only a few countries traditionally
maize, cotton and canola now represent almost all of the world’s GM crop
acreage, most engineered for herbicide tolerance or insect resistance.
“In short,” FOE
concludes, “GM has not proven superior to existing conventional crops”.
organic can help
When it comes
to developing nations it seems organic can drive poverty reduction faster.
Nations last month presented a study which found organic farming offered
Africa the “best chance” of breaking out of decades-old cycles of poverty
To support the continued
growth of sustainable alternative agriculture, the plan included Barack
Obama’s intention to increasing funding for the National Organic
Certification Cost-Share Program -
The plan also stated Obama
would aim to reform the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk
Management Agency’s crop insurance rates so that they did not penalize
The Rural Plan also covered
the market potential for organic.
‘Organic food is the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace and demand for sustainable, locally grown, grass-finished and heritage foods is growing quickly,’ it stated, adding that the new President will also help farmers realise improving their bottom line is connected with increasing environmental benefits.
“By using more wind and
solar in power production systems and sharing energy with other users; by
using new irrigation practices to conserve energy and water; by using no
till and other agricultural practices that reduce energy input and keep
the health of our soil sustainable.”
It reported Obama will also
be likely to encourage the use of methane digesters that are being used to
produce power from animal wastes, and has a strong interest in the next
generation of advanced biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol (produced
from a naturally occurring carbohydrate polymer commonly found in plant
Cellulosic ethanol is
chemically identical to ethanol from other sources like corn and sugar but
is available in a great diversity of biomass including waste from urban,
agriculture and forestry sources.
Currently, in Australia the
potential of some similar ideas is being investigated.
A report by RIRDC looking
at second generation lignocellulosics (including cellulosic ethanol)
stated their development in Australia could be a potential solution the
limited supply of ‘first generation’ biofuels, derived mostly from
“In a scenario where all
the Australian domestic crops of sugar, molasses, wheat and coarse grains
were converted into ethanol using first generation technologies, and all
biodiesel inputs were used to make biodiesel, we would still not replace
all of Australia’s transport fuel requirements (by a long margin for
diesel),” it stated.
“However the development of
second generation biofuels that utilise non-food plant materials, such as
sugar cane bagasse, native grasses, native perennials, forestry waste,
farm forestry, wheat straw, newsprint and cotton trash… could help reduce
our carbon dioxide emissions, as well as providing unique opportunities
for new agricultural industries.
Such industries may be
aligned with sustainable production systems similar to organic in
The report stated
opportunities could occur “particularly in less productive agricultural
lands where woody shrubs and perennial grasses can grow with few inputs."
It stated low-input high
diversity mixtures of grassland perennials for production of biofuels
could have many positives in comparison to corn or soybean, with mixed
grasslands producing 238 % more bioenergy from cellulosics than
mono-cultured crops like corn after ten years, with less inputs.
“These mixed grasslands can
be grown productively on degraded lands and therefore would not
“Labour will support the
ongoing development of organic farming and sustainable
Dr. Andrew Monk, BFA
Standards Chair, says while the Government’s sentiments toward organic
were strongly applauded, action was now needed.
“While the recognition of
the benefits of organic in the context of sustainable agriculture is
welcome, the BFA now looks forward to this being meaningfully translated,”
“Agricultural R&D and
policy that actively supports the uptake of more biologically orientated
and organic agriculture options is the next step.
He says these outcomes
would do more for the Australian organic industry than subsidies for
organic certification as outlined in Barack Obama’s plans.
“Currently there remains an agricultural environment still orientated towards non-biological approaches, and the first step is the beginning of a journey of culture change - that is unlikely to happen overnight.”
GM foods are launching into a new realm – human
Two new so-called ‘super-foods’ are the latest in a total list of
just three GM food products claiming to improve health which have passed
preliminary research stages.
A purple tomato has been crossed with snapdragon genes to
reportedly boost levels of the anthocyanins antioxidants in mice.
And a GM soya bean has been found high in long chain omega3 acids
(chiefly found in oily fish) which proponents claim may stop heart
The two join ‘Golden rice’ - a genetically-modified rice variety
for elevated vitamin A levels - in the engineered ‘high health’ line-up.
“Essentially, it’s because with so many genes interacting with
outside factors it is incredibly difficult to produce something that will
stand up under vigorous testing with regards to health.
He says consumers have every right to be wary about ingesting GM
“In the peer-reviewed science literature there is yet to be a
long-term animal feeding study on GM food products that spans several
“That is incredibly important – we need to see the impact of GM on
embryos and in young and developing bodies. Those aspects have not been
Dr. Stapper says we can get better quality food by going back to
the basics – decreasing chemical use and restoring nutrient density and
quality – with more research than ever arriving to prove it.
This year, a review which looked at forty studies from the past six
years comparing organic and non-organic foods found organic did indeed
deliver more essential nutrients per calories consumed.
Organic plant based foods were on average 25% more nutrient dense,
containing more of the health inducing polyphenols, flavonoids and
antioxidants, linked to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer,
He says despite all hypothetical claims, the GM industry hasn’t
come up with the goods yet.
“GM claims of better human health, improved fruit quality, GM grass
for better digestibility for animals and so on are all nonsense – we can
get that already.
“Change to a healthy soil and biological management alters the
expression of genes in current varieties in amazing
“Organic farmers see their cattle grazing for half the time they
used to because they have higher minerals in the grass and organic cows
produce high quality, highly nutritious milk.
“Animals become healthier when feeding on healthy plants from
“And healthy plants are more than capable right now of providing all the antioxidants and flavonoids we need.
He says isolating genes away from the bigger ‘whole plant’ picture
“GM puts a certain gene from a different species into a host and
creates new proteins that have never been in existence before.
“The molecular structures of these proteins are then compared with
the molecular structures of known allergens and the safety of the GM food
is worked out on that basis.
“But these techniques do not take into account the way the protein
is structured in the produce.
“For example, a GM pea which originally was pronounced
non–allergenic and ‘substantially equivalent’ with non-GM peas, was found
to be allergenic for mice when actually tested with a new experimental
“Scientists found when testing the structure of the molecule taking into account the sugars in the product around it, that it was the combination of a sugar and the new protein that made it allergenic.
“By far the easiest way forward is to work with what we already
have available to us in
He says that does not involve “going back to the dark ages - as
many scientists want us to
“With our incredible current knowledge we can improve on the food
production of the past without relying on synthetic fertilisers, chemicals
and GM, but recognising and learning to use the powers of nature.
“Such systems have already proven productive and healthy by innovative farmers.”
Two organic roadshows in Armidale and Coffs Harbour this month show an escalating interest from northern NSW in growing and eating chemical free.
Organics in Armidale
A hunger for sustainable
alternatives to fertilisers, herbicide and pesticides is being driven
by price and a national emphasis on the environment, says Dr. Paul
Kristiansen, agricultural lecturer at the New England University in
He says the number of producers looking at going organic around Armidale is rising – “particularly in meat - organic wool, prime lambs and beef” – but but that a high level of farmer support will be needed in the future to keep converting farmers on track.
“Consistent demonstration plots, awareness raising events like road shows and places where farmers can come to interact and discuss their concerns and successes are critical,” he says.
“I remain convinced the limitations of organic remain at this point on the supply side.”
He says even in Armidale, organic appears to be pushed by consumer demand.
“There’s a very popular interest in lifestyle, food quality and sustainability".
He says the Armidale region may attract organic wine producers in the future.
“There’s a small – but very strong amount of interest growing in organic viticulture locally.
“The Armidale region has a great climate
for very high quality organic grape production.
An appetite for environmentally sustainable products from consumers, and high diversity in available organic produce is the recipe driving organic demand in Coffs, according to Kevin Doyle, owner of organic retail outlet Kombu Wholefoods in Bellingen.
“From the steamy hinterlands, to the coast, to the Dorrigo Plateau - we are incredibly blessed to live in an area with such climatic range, which can produce mangoes at one end and orchard fruit on the other – without relying on chemicals,” he says.
“We have access to a large variety of product from a relatively small region – and the local organic growers do a fantastic job of exploiting that!”
He says the popularity of organics in Coffs is growing rapidly.
“The local community is very passionate about working towards a more sustainable future for the region and has been quick to embrace locally produced organic food as a part of that.”
He says with the Coffs region working hard to establish a reliable organic food base, going organic in the area has the double benefit of low ‘food miles’.
“The viability of farming and eating chemical free will increase alongside the rising cost of oil, petrochemicals and transport”.
He says less distance travelled also cuts the expense of organic for local buyers, compared to food that has been trucked from interstate.
But he says it is health concerns that bring most people to the door.
“There’s been a much wider range of people buying organic in the past four and a half years, with a steady stream of people unhappy with their health who want to reduce the chemicals they consume.
“Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing beautiful food come into the store fresh from the fields, in the arms of the people who’ve grown it.
“And there’s no doubt the consumer responds to that kind of quality – produce walks off the shelf an hour or two after arriving!”
Hear more on organic farming at the Armidale/ Coffs Harbour BFA Organic Roadshows!
When? Armidale: Friday 28th November 8.30am –
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Your Organic Advantage
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