Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Free Range Eggs are not What They're Cracked Up to Be

Almost a quarter of all eggs sold now are laid by free-range hens — even though they cost up to four times as much as cage eggs and their claims to superior taste and nutritional benefits are debatable.

Consumers are paying up to $9.50 a dozen for free-range eggs — about $6 more than the retail price of a dozen cage eggs, according to the Australian Egg Corporation. Despite the cost, consumption has steadily risen over the past decade and now 22pc — or nearly 45 million dozen — of all egg sales are free range. The corporation — which represents all egg producers — said some people opted for free-range eggs because of animal welfare concerns, but customer feedback showed most were prepared to pay extra for the eggs because they believed they were more nutritious, better for health and better tasting.

However, corporation spokeswoman Jacqueline Baptista said research had shown free-range eggs were no different from those laid by caged hens. "Our extensive research has shown there is no significant difference in nutrition or taste between both types of eggs," she said. "Consumer feedback is that some people buy them for the welfare aspect of hens but we believe that it is animal husbandry practice that determines welfare, rather than the actual production methods farmers use for their eggs."

Ms Baptista said caged hens often had better disease controls and protection from predators.

But the RSPCA argues that battery hens suffer from confinement in cages which do not allow them space to exercise or to carry out behaviours such as wing flapping, dust bathing and foraging.

Free-range farmers say consumers believe it is worth paying more to know the eggs have come from "contented hens that range freely during daylight hours over natural sunny pastures" and return to sheds at night for roosting and laying.

But the research is now in.......there is no difference in quality. Why pay more, especially when the middle man or retailer is really the one that profits, not the farmers.

[partially sourced from Australian Egg Corporation media release]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Unmanned Aircraft Coming to a Farm Near You.....Soon!

In an ultra-modern take on a St Bernard bringing brandy to stranded skiers, pilotless aircraft have this week been dropping water to someone ‘lost’ in the outback. The outback is near Kingaroy airport in Queensland, and the person is a mannequin, but the unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV) are real.

It's all part of this week's 2008 UAV Challenge – Outback Rescue, which CSIRO's experts in autonomous robots are helping judge.

Going beyond remote control, UAV’s rely on computers, sensors and the global positioning system (GPS) to figure out how to perform tasks given to them by a human operator.

One of the richest UAV competitions in the world, the UAV Challenge is an initiative of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA, a partnership between CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology), the Queensland Government and Boeing Australia Limited.

Participants in the open competition have an hour to fly up to five nautical miles (approximately nine kilometres), search four square nautical miles (over ten square kilometres) for ‘Outback Joe’, drop a 500 millilitre bottle of 'life saving' water close by him then return to the airport.

"The UAV Challenge helps promote the significance of UAV’s to Australia," said CSIRO's Dr Michael Bruenig, Deputy CEO of ARCAA. "Here we're showing how UAVs could save lives by quickly and cost effectively delivering medical supplies to critically ill patients in remote areas, but UAV's could also inspect powerlines and other infrastructure, monitor stock, keep an eye on water use or traffic flow and then there are defence applications in border security and surveillance."

CSIRO's research focuses on the civilian applications for autonomous vehicles such as our submarine, helicopter, ground vehicles and robots for mining. "Since last year's competition, we’ve already seen increased participation of regional Australia in high-tech industry," Dr Bruenig said. "We particularly value having a category for high school students because it exposes them to potential career opportunities in this area in Australia."

Real opportunities are already being considered in the large scale pastoral industry in northern Australia, including monitoring of bores, erosion, pastures, cattle herds, fences and gates. Opportunities also exist for road and pastoral condition monitoring. Some of these last areas are already satellite checked, but using unmanned aircraft provides real time opportunities to check, rather than the delayed evidence available from satellites. With light aricraft and even ultralights used already, this is a modest step forward, but with very real benefits. Biosecurity border survelliance already has moved to investigate use of these aircraft across northern Australia.

Yes.....there are opportunities for news making with saving lost people, but the real ongoing benefits will be to industry.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Would YOU Buy Milk from China? Or Any Food from China?

Credibility comes and so easily goes. It can be destroyed so easily, and even by others.

Business dealings with the Chinse always tend to have overtones of someone on the make. The old “whats in it for me” concept. Or often, how can I make something out of the transaction....even a bit more than the normal. The usual middle man syndrome.

This week the news all over Asia is the story of contaminated Chinese milk products. Not just a bit contaminated with a few E.coli or as sometimes happens, a small piece of glass or metal that came off equipment. No, this time it is a full blown deliberate addition of nothing less than the toxic chemical, melamine.

And the reason? A deliberate attempt it seems to obfuscate the system by boosting milk protein levels with the addition of the melamine. Just to make a lot more money, as milk is sold on protein content.

After all, even China bans melamine in food products, including milk. Companies it seems may not have been testing for the melamine.........but then, did they really expect the middlemen, those who consolidate milk supply from small producers and deliver to the milk processors, would be ADDING a toxic product to help boost protein levels and hence their profits?

This seems to be the story. No doubt there is more to emerge over the next few days and weeks.

Sure, the factories have been caught out big time. And senior people appear to have been suspended or resigned from the factories already.

Consumers are being screwed again over poor products. This time they are killing children, or making them very unwell. Emotive material and there are widely shown images on Asian TV channels.

Westerners might be crowing a little with the range of regulatory checks and balances, and may seem to show the western style checking schemes of both self regulation and an overarching regulatory system of the government in a good light.

There are already some trends towards increased regulation of previously self regulated areas in western societies. Will this trend accelerate?

Experiences in China reinforce a view that while laws may exist, the regulatory framework and an attitude in business / society seem to thumb their noses at their existence, or use corrupt practices to circumvent them. Has this been the case here?

There is a lot at stake...........including the credibility of much of food production and regulation in China. And do not forget, a lot of fresh Chinese products are exported......quite a few shipments get refused entry to countries over food safety already, without much publicity, eg toxic residues in food, high residual agrochemicals. Not to mention the past problems with lead paint on children's toys.

The stakes are high. Not to mention Chinese government credibility. Will the Australian government impose generally tighter regulations for Chinese food imports to Australia for example?