Monday, June 17, 2013

Fat-fighting nonsense in Australia

And what evidence do they have to show that this system will do any good?  None.  It's just dubious theory

The Government is touting a new five-star food labelling system as the latest tool to help fight the obesity epidemic in Australia.  The star scale would rate foods from half-a-star to five stars, based on nutritional value.

Federal, state and territory ministers will discuss the proposal for the new voluntary system at a meeting tomorrow.  If they agree, it is likely stars will appear on the front of food packaging by the middle of next year.

But it is understood the Food and Grocery Council is not convinced the plan is ready to roll out.

The federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Shayne Neumann, says he wants all jurisdictions and the industry to support the scheme.

"I'm very pleased the jurisdictional representatives will be there on Friday," he said.  "I've had some discussions already and I'm very pleased with the response so far in relation to it.  "An at a glance, interpretive information guide is what consumers want. It's a powerful tool."

Michael Moore from the Public Health Association of Australia says the system will make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices.

"People will be able to just, at a glance, have a look at the front of the pack and go, 'Hey this is four-and-a-half star food, that's obviously good for me, it's obviously good for my children'," he said.

"Or one-and-a-half stars - 'look we'll eat a bit of that but we'll be careful'."

The proposal has been worked on for months by representatives from the food industry and retailers, health and consumer groups.
Obesity tipped to soar

Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition says the aim of the proposal is very clear.  "The situation is very serious already. We've got more than 65 per cent of adults overweight or obese and 25 per cent of children," she said.  "And, the projections are that by 2020 that will rise to 80 per cent of adults and two-thirds of children."

She says it is a population-wide problem and while obesity rates are higher among low-income earners, it is a middle-class problem

"There's not going to be one magic bullet and we need to give people the kind of information that will help them make better decisions and healthier decisions," she said.  "So front of pack labelling system that gives people interpretive information will help them cut through the marketing spin."

Food and Grocery Council has concerns

Most packaged food will be covered. Soft drinks and confectionary will be exempt, but will display the kilojoule content.

But the ABC understands the Australian Food and Grocery Council has concerns about the cost to food manufacturers to change labelling and how the 'health value' of a product would be determined.

The ABC understands it is prepared to consider the options, but it has also written to the states with some concerns.  The council did not return calls from the ABC.

Mr Moore says the group has been involved in the process and has lashed out at what he calls their delaying tactics.

"I must say I feel a little jaded because my organisation, the Heart Foundation, Cancer, Choice, have spent quite a significant amount of time and quite a reasonable amount of money to come to this point and I think it's entirely inappropriate action from the Food and Grocery Council," he said.


British PM  backs genetically modified crops to prove Britain is pro-science

David Cameron has given the clearest signal yet that the government wants to see controversial genetically-modified crops grown across the country.

The Prime Minister told a conference of entrepreneurs that Britain needs to take a ‘really good look again’ at its policy on GM food if it is to prove it is a ‘pro-science’ country.

The intervention from Mr Cameron that he wants to see a GM free-for-all across the UK will alarm those who deride genetic modification as ‘Frankenscience’.

It emerged earlier this week that ministers are to push the European Union to relax restrictions on the cultivation of GM crops for human consumption.

But it is the first time that the Prime Minister has spoken up in favour of the idea. In opposition he was seen as being sceptical of GM crops.

Advocates argue that GM techniques increase crop yields, avoid the need for pesticides, and could be essential in assuring Britain's future food security.

However, any relaxation of current restrictions will be in the teeth of much opposition. A survey by YouGov out today found only 21 per cent of the population supported the technology, while 35 per cent opposed it.

Mr Cameron made the comments as he addressed an audience of scientists and business leaders in London at an innovation summit linked to the UK's leadership of the G8 group of the world's richest nations.

He said: ‘We need to make sure we are a very pro-science country. I think there are one or two subjects there we need to take on. I think it's time we had a really good look again at GM food and all of that.  ‘I think we need to be open to be open to arguments from science.’

The government is reported to be ready to call for EU restrictions on cultivation of the crops for human consumption to be relaxed.

The coalition has allowed small-scale cultivation trials for GM food but widespread use is effectively banned.

Some GM products are contained in imported foods, but most supermarkets have banned the ingredients from their own-brand products because of public unease about the material.

Earlier this week, science minister David Willetts supported calls for controls on GM crops to be weakened to make it easier for Britain’s farmers to grow them.

'We believe that GM crops can help make agriculture more efficient and also just as importantly more sustainable, by, for example, reducing the use of pesticides and the use of fossil fuels,' he said.

A European Commission analysis of 130 research projects carried out by 500 groups over 25 years concluded in 2010 that there is 'no scientific evidence associating genetically-modified organisms with higher risks for the environment or food and feed safety than conventional plants or organisms'.

But opponents of GM crops argue that it is far too early to conclude that the technique is safe – including many farmers, with a quarter of those surveyed saying they would not cultivate them under any circumstances.

They are concerned that GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds that evolve to adapt to engineered plants.

Mr Cameron also used the innovation event to launch a prize fund, with £1million of taxpayers' money, to encourage revolutionary new ideas aimed at solving the world's biggest problem.

He said the modern version of the 1714 Longitude Prize would be a ‘Britain's Got Talent’ for innovators.

‘There are so many problems in our world that need that amazing solution, whether it is a cure for dementia, solving the problem of diabetes, having a flight from Britain to New York that's carbon free,’ he said.

‘Let's challenge the public and challenge the scientists for which is the great problem we want to crack.

‘I'm thinking of something - Britain's Got Talent, you know, you switch on the TV and you watch the dog jumping over the pole, or whatever it is. Let's actually get the nation engaged on what the biggest problems are in science and in our lives that we need to crack, with a multi-million pound prize to then help us do that.’


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