Oh this list could be long…but instead of going on forever I will try and stay specific in my ranting. These are the food related issues I personally find most irritating. I do however, reserve the right to be irritated by entirely different things tomorrow!
1. Food Miles – Now I am not a food mile zealot by any means, I actually believe that some food miles are good and even appropriate. I’m partial to Ethiopian coffee for instance and as long as its fair trade then I have no problem with buying it as I think the export income it earns Ethiopia is probably more important than the food miles it generates. Ditto Sri Lankan tea, spices from India etc. What I do have a problem with is products like Water Crackers (ingredients: flour, salt, water, vegetable oil) being made in China and then shipped to Australia. Has Australia suddenly become deficient in one of these items? We have wheat silos that are overflowing (largely due to inadequate rolling stock on the railway lines). We produce salt. The drought has finished for now so it can’t be the water. So perhaps its the vegetable oil, not enough palm oil perhaps….. ??? I ask you – How can it possibly be a good use of the worlds resources to ship water crackers from China to Australia?
2. Food Labelling: – Australia has some very odd food labelling laws, which I think at best confuse consumers and at worst are pretty misleading. I’ll give you an example: for something to be labelled “Made in Australia” the product needs to be substantially transformed here and 50% of the cost of the product has to be incurred here and that includes the packaging. What this means in reality is that you could import orange concentrate from overseas, substantially transform it by adding some water to it and then provided that process and the packaging cost more than the concentrate you can label it Made in Australia, despite that fact that its major component – the oranges, were grown elsewhere. Equally confusing are ingredients lists, often an ingredient only has to be listed if they reach a certain proportion of the total. For instance a product only has to mention it has genetically modified ingredients if they are more than 1% of its contents. Finally and for me most frustratingly ingredients are not always what they seem. For instance palm oil is able to be labelled as vegetable oil. Palm oil production is the single biggest threat to South East Asian rainforests, and with them the Orang U Tan. Zoo’s Victoria is just one organisation which is campaigning for distinct labelling of palm oil to allow consumers to make informed decisions. Shamefully both the Labour Party and the Coalition opposed a recent private members bill designed to ensure that Palm oil be listed separately as an ingredient on food labelling. Why companies are allowed to get away with anything other than completely transparent labelling I find baffling….Well it would be baffling if there weren’t such large amounts of money at stake….
3. Supermarket duopoly – In Australia we have two main supermarket chains, Coles & Woolworths, who essentially operate a duopoly. What this means is they have huge buying power and control over food retailing. This power is worrying, primarily for producers but also for consumers. At the moment Coles is in the process of offering large discounts on a range of ‘everyday’ items, specifically milk and fruit & veg. They present this as a great opportunity for their suppliers to sell more and for the consumer to buy at reduced prices. What this does is put huge pressure on both those producers who don’t supply Coles and the independent retailers they supply. To my mind Coles (and I don’t imagine Woolworths is any different) seems intent on driving the independents out of business, ensuring more people shop with them and forcing more producers to have to deal with them (on Coles’ terms) or go out of business. After living in the UK where many high streets don’t have a green grocer, or a butcher, or a fishmonger, or even a baker, I truly value ours and I really don’t want to see a time where I have to shop solely at supermarkets because the other options have all gone out of business.
4. BPA- Why are food manufacturers still allowed to use BPA in their packaging? Its potential health effects are pretty well documented and yet it is still used. Why? I’ll ask again Why?
5. Cage Eggs – In Europe there are many mainstream retailers who do not stock eggs from caged hens, or use them in their products. Many British supermarkets sell only free range eggs, yet in Australia the majority of eggs still seem to be caged. Corn fed caged eggs, Barn Fresh Caged Eggs, No Frills Caged Eggs, Omega 3 Caged Eggs, Environmental Caged Eggs and so it goes on, all the most ridiculous names imaginable for what is a fairly reprehensible product. Interestingly I heard recently that Victoria is suffering from something of an egg glut because so many people are choosing to keep chickens in their gardens…perhaps the Egg Board might like consider why…..
I could add a myriad of other issues to this list – the seemingly unfettered use of large amounts of salt, sugar and fat in processed foods being a good one, not to mention the marketing of ‘pretend’ health foods, but if I started I probably couldn’t stop. Instead I’ll leave it up to you to add your own personal bug bears to my list, if you have any of course. Alternatively you could head over to The New Goodlife for a more uplifting experience – her Top 5 Guilty Food Pleasures.