Archive for the ‘Food & agribusiness’ Category

Live beef and sheep exports – enough is enough

November 27, 2012

Let’s face it, shipping live animals in cramped pens for long distances across tropical seas is inherently cruel. And a good number of these beasts then face further suffering on arrival.

Around 50% of Australia’s sheep and 7% of its beef are exported live. This is a clear failure of our agriculture and industry policy, and it’s heartening to see the number of farmers now joining the swelling ranks of activists for export bans on live shipments.

You must have sympathy for Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who brought in a temporary export ban but was soon overruled because of the huge political storm it created.

The reason of course is the fact that live exports have been the lifeline of the northern beef farmers and many sheep farmers through some very difficult times, and they simply will not countenance unions or anyone else threatening their commercial lifeline into Asia. As a result, it’s one of the most political of all industries and very resistant to change – the key reason for our inability to turn beef and sheep commodities into high-value foods.

So we’ve been kicking around some ideas here in Canberra about an Action Plan to value add beef and sheep through greater local processing. We figure it is both commonsense and totally consistent with the values of a Labor Government. Accordingly, we are proposing to build a collaborative joint venture ‘model’ for Minister Ludwig’s consideration.

I can’t go into detail here but it would basically apply this model to certain abattoirs in Australia. They would need to have progressive management that is amenable to working with unions, farmers and extension agencies to significantly lower costs at critical points along the supply chain. We figure that co-investment with enlightened foreign investors would also be smart in order to address some of the overseas market constraints. This is not rocket science – a group of us here in Canberra worked on the Button industry plans for steel, passenger motor vehicles, building and construction and textiles, footwear and clothing. The issues are not that different.

If your council is interested in being involved, please contact me ASAP.

This article appears in the December 2012 issue of LG Focus

Blewett Review of Food Labelling misses the point!

July 5, 2011

Former Labor Minister Dr. Neal Blewett recently headed a Panel that reviewed Food Labelling Law and Policy – it tabled its report in January, and the Australian Government’s decisions on the report’s recommendations are expected in December 2011. The delay is due to Blewett’s report needing to go back the states, territories and NZ for their final input.

 The terms of reference noted that labeling needs to convey product attributes to a potential consumer and the need is mainly at the point of sale. However the report gave scant regard to this. The Cockatoo Network made representations to the Department of Health and Ageing (which provides the secretariat) when we saw that the draft report had not sufficiently covered the issue of ‘country of origin’ labelling i.e. the wording ‘made from local and imported products’ could in fact mean that 99% of the product is fromChina! Such a lack of precision also thwarts regional branding efforts.

 The Blewett Review’s lack of treatment of this key issue was not helped by the submission by the Department of Industry, Science and Research, which opted out of the discussion. While DISR ostensibly exists to facilitate the growth of food manufacturing, its submission said:

“It should also be noted that any attempt by the Government to introduce country of origin labelling measures for the sole purposes of encouraging consumers to substitute Australian products for imported products could conceivably be considered to be inconsistent with a range of international trade obligations.”

We will continue to pursue this matter.

Food labeling

November 30, 2010

Australia’s former Health Minister, Dr. Neal Blewett, is heading a review of food labelling, and the Secretariat is located in the Department of Health. Therein lies the rub – most of the submissions have focussed on health and food safety. So we’re seeking a meeting to highlight how weak food labelling is harming regional Australia.

For example, food labelling usually states that ‘this product is made in Australia from local and imported ingredients.’ This tells us nothing – it’s certainly not consistent with consumers’ growing demand to know exactly what they are eating. A bout of food poisoning from imported product would force the issue.

While on the subject of food, cruising the supermarket aisles one can find many tinned food lines from Italy, Netherlands, UK, USA etc. at very low prices. Now these are relatively high cost countries and there is a good probability that it is dumped i.e. the prices are significantly lower than in the home country.

But strangely there is little evidence of anti-dumping cases being brought forward. We are mulling over an approach to new Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who was a champion for stronger anti-dumping policies when he was in Opposition.

In the meantime, if you support the likes of Beerenberg, Maggie Beer, and Bega Cheese, you support not only local companies, but those creating jobs in regional Australia.

Always handmade – Parmigiano in Reggio Emilia (BEST PRACTICE)

July 14, 2010

 This is one of the world’s best-known and most established clusters. Situated in Emilio-Romagna, the heartland of business clusters in Italy, the cluster can trace its roots to the 13th century.

 It attributes its distinctiveness to the taste that originates in place of origin, long aging process, natural fermenting agents and lack of any additives, and to the unusual cooperation among the milk producers, cheese makers, and agers who refine the cheese. Every step in the process is strictly regulated, from what the cows are fed (hay), how often they are milked (twice a day), the separation and the production steps.

 In 1901 the Reggio Emilia Chamber of Commerce established a union between producers and traders of cheese to brand its origin. In 1928 a voluntary Consortium for Parmigiano Cheese was established, and since 1955 it has protected its brand and prevented those outside Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna from using the name or mark fraudulently. The EU’s campaign against the use of protected European food names by producers outside the designated region of origin is also intended to protect the name “Parmesan” from cheese products originating outside the designated production region.

 The continuity of the cluster depends on attracting apprentices into a program that takes at least 8 years. More than 20% of the cheese is now exported, with recent domestic demand slack, in part because of the drop in pizza sales in Naples. The consortium is looking for ways to increase its exports, difficult for the many small producers. Last year the Italian government purchased 100,000 wheels of the cheese and donated them to charity. (Source: Appendix to Growing Jobs, Vermont-Style: Skills and Knowledge for Vermont’s “Sustainable Food System Cluster” and Natural Resources May 2010 – details next month)

US food hubs

July 4, 2010

THE Obama Administration is reportedly looking to rebuild the country’s rural economy by creating a parallel universe of local and regional markets and “food hub” distribution centers to help farmers market their production closer to home.

The US Department of Agriculture has released a “gap analysis” that maps the locations of small livestock producers by county, and compares production to the availability of small slaughter processing facilities and rendering plants. The study is part of USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative.

Food hubs are aggregation points – similar, in some ways, to co-operatives – where farmers can bring goods that are inspected and graded for resale to wholesalers. The food hubs provide storage and logistics services for buyers and sellers and have been “hugely successful” in some areas of the country. The food hubs often are “hybrids” that combine a traditional wholesale market with a retail farmers market.

Angles for Cockatoo members

  • Our US members are tracking developments to see if there is real policy grunt behind this initiative.
  • The real value is arguably to coordinate public and private infrastructure (e.g. water treatment, roads, refrigeration, auctioneering software systems) and related spending (e.g. training, marketing) around such food hubs, and therefore create best practice investor beacons. The Dutch (Food Valley) are the best at this?

Europe’s shame

May 25, 2010

The EU is launching a public debate on agricultural policy, with a view to policy changes by 2013. It says the current policies face “major challenges” from climate change, food availability and resource pressures.

The EU says its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) seeks to guarantee farmers a reasonable standard of living, ensure sufficient food at fair prices, and preserve Europe’s rural heritage.

BUT the reality is that the CAP accounts for 40% of the EU’s budget – it was almost 50% a couple of years back. It is arguably the world’s greatest industry subsidy scheme in terms of cost (€55bn a year) and duration (53 years!) and impact on other nations. By artificially inflating costs, it’s been a major factor in the worldwide rise in food prices and has seriously damaged trade and consigned many developing nations to subsistence production. 

Regrettably a recent EU survey shows 6/10 Europeans continue to support for it. Go to

Beerenberg – the triggers were Premier Bannon and the Sunday Mail

May 25, 2010

We recently came across an article about Grant Paech, the founder of Beerenberg Jams (Hahndorf, South Australia) and the secrets of his success. “In these early days the jam was made on the kitchen stove and sold in pots from roadside stalls and at local markets. The success of the jam led to the planting of other crops and the introduction of new varieties of jam, followed by condiments and sauces.”

 “By the early 1980s Beerenberg had established a reputation for quality and full-flavoured natural products. In 1985, the company entered a new stage when it began producing small glass jars of jam for Qantas, which had previously used imported products. After the success of this venture, the mini jars were introduced in luxury Australian hotels, where the farm-style quality of the jams was an immediate hit.”

“Buoyed by the growing reputation of his products, Grant Paech then focused on luxury hotels overseas. Beerenberg products are now on the breakfast trays of 300 of the best hotels in the Asia-Pacific region.”

 But we have the Good Oil on the whole story – because 5-6 years ago we interviewed Grant, a lovely, genuine bloke. The trigger was then SA Premier Bannon flying Qantas first-class to London. He didn’t believe the English jams on the breakfast tray measured up to the Beerenberg product. On his return home, he told a Sunday Mail journo who ran it in an article.

 The days and weeks went by as the journo waited for Grant to ring him. Finally the journo gave up and rang Grant asking “Well, what are you going to do about it?”  Grant was stirred into action, and approached  ACI Glass for a price quote for the supply of small jars. The price was very high because Grant could not  provide any assurance of a long-term supply contract. So Grant then met with Qantas’ SA manager who took up the cudgels, and the rest is history.

 Huge lesson for all us. Every idea needs a trigger, and then persistent follow-up.


Cairns’ Tropical Innovation Hub

March 25, 2010

Good to see the advance of the Cairns Institute – Tropical Innovation Hub, an idea that has got some traction. 

James Cook Uni is determined to see Australian tropical knowledge expertise connected to a wider marketplace. On another front, JCU is looking at a suitable niche for science training with tropical sustainable agriculture and resource management.  They attempted a tropical agriculture undergraduate course recently but it didn’t hit the mark, possibly because JCU were unsure of where their efforts best lay.

 For those wondering where this fits, agriculture and resource science forms much of the basis for the regional economy in north Australia.  Much of the development and innovation for our tropical future will come from this sector, matching resource availability with sustainable management practice. The recent release of the Northern Australian Land and Water Task Force assessment of ‘Sustainable Development of Northern Australia’ is food for thought, with a fairly stark reminder of the pressures that are likely to exist for future economic development. 

This helps to dispel unrealistic expectations of rabbit-out-of-the-hat solutions for Australia’s food needs if southern Australia gets drier, but also highlights the need to work with facts rather than just with emotion and ill-informed notions.

 So, it appears that JCU is seeking to examine this worthy question again, and may consider offering a post-graduate course in either sustainable tropical agro-ecology or sustainable tropical agro-forestry.  Given the evident decrease in other institutions’ enrolments in agriculture-related science area, and the scrutiny for sustainable development and tropical expertise, this is an important topic.  It is important to note that the current proposal is for post-grad training, and we still need to ask, where are the quality graduate-qualified people coming from?  This does not appear to be part of the current equation and will remain a gap in our future science resource. 

 If you are part of this sector, you may care to add to the feedback and assist with some market direction for our future training.  How relevant are these options to our needs? The link to a survey will allow you to add your thoughts and wisdom –


Angles for Cockatoo members

  • This note was submitted by ‘Tropics’ (he prefers this pseudonym due to contract work at present). Send your comments to us, and we will on-forward them.
  • This is a $44 million project – hence of some importance. The proponents would be wise to connect it to Asian and Pacific nodes. Please discuss!

Cairns Institute – Tropical Innovation Hub

January 12, 2010

As we’ve highlighted for months, if you’re looking for federal largesse, think HUBS.

Here is another – a $44 million world-class institute dedicated to research and innovation for tropical Australia – with 125 research staff – to be built in Cairns. The Rudd Government is providing $19.5 million in capital costs, and a further $8.75 million for research infrastructure. The Institute will be located at James Cook University’s Cairns Campus, which will contribute a further $15.8 million. The focus is on marine and climate science, public health, social & community welfare, tourism & indigenous development.

The concept was first tossed around 5 years ago by CREDC – phone hook-ups with people like Tracy Scott-Rimington (CREDC) and Jim Bitomsky (Kleinhardt Consulting), followed by a concept paper used by CREDC to drum up interest. I said then that JCU had to be the champion. But things moved sideways for a couple of years, and it seems the powers within JCU had ‘internalised’ the project.

 Some salutary lessons – getting projects off the ground requires a lengthy gestation period for ideas to be worked up to a viable and agreed stage. You also need a business plan for the banks and/or government agencies. And you need political patronage – Kim Carr’s prints are all over this project.

 P.S. CREDC was axed two years ago. It was always one of the most effective RDOs in Australia – Ecofish, Super Yachts, Tourism, hosting a great TCI cluster conference etc. Tracy, Jim and I are not seeking any glory on the Hub getting up – just a wider understanding that collaboration does win out eventually.

Far North Queensland – relaxation you can’t fake

November 22, 2009


The Cockatoo Team was in Far North Queensland in October. Herewith our report.

 Quality infrastructure – FNQ really is a well-integrated regional economy – there is now a breadth of economic activity beyond tourism, tropical fruit and sugar. Cairns Airport is delivering on the hub potential, with Japanese tourists and Gulf prawns coming in, telecoms equipment and meat pies heading out to Mt. Isa, Cape York and beyond. The roads, rural as well as urban, are generally first-class – although some Cockatoo members say the Cairns-Gordonvale sector is a car park in peak periods. The Cairns Esplanade has become a wonderful great example of infrastructure providing a focal point for a community.

Tourism characteristics – Despite the cheery dispositions, the city of Cairns is struggling. We are reliably informed that the unemployment rate is nudging 14%, due to falling tourism numbers and the NQEA shipbuilding facility losing a defence contract to Victoria. So the locals are talking about inventing new attractions based around adventure tourism. By the way, swimming in FNQ outside of swimming pools is a risky venture – take you pick of sharks, stingers or crocs. But the region’s point of difference is the genuine hospitality, and the undercurrent of relaxation. This cannot be faked, and it extends to all the locals, not just the tourism operators.

 Local produce – Another point of difference – the local produce – is being smothered. Take Port Douglas, 80km north of Cairns. It has a Noosa feel, with an excellent range of accommodation and restaurants. It suffers from a culture of appallingly weak coffee, but you can shrug that off. It has a serious lack of small businesses selling seafood, fruit and vegetables. When Rudd, Bligh and the Chamber of Commerce are crying out for small business growth, where are the policies and incentives for street stalls selling prawns straight off the trawlers, and greengrocers selling paw paws from the farms? Tourists want the unique and mystical experience. You have to shop at Woolworths in Port Douglas for such items – we could have been in downtown Canberra! Crazy state of affairs!