Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Federal Budget - how about something really meaningful?

With the Federal Budget being brought down next week, it's time to reflect on how things could be. When I arrived in Australia, Frank Crean wasTreasurer - and things haven't improved since. Treasurers take the same advice from incumbent bureaucrats and make the same mistakes as their predecessors

Steady State Economics presents a different view of how we could run the world, instead of chasing the illusiuon of perpetual growth. It offers the concept of an economy that is completely sustainable. A community with a size and structure that doesn't grow, but remains stable to match the limits of the natural environment and its resources.

Greed and self-interest led to the last global financial meltdown. It was an inevitable result of Government policies, big business demands and mass gullibility.It will happen again (and again)unless Governments, industrialists, commercial interests and individuals choose a different path from the God 'growth'. The same greed resulted in a pathetic and useless outcome from the climate change talks in Copenhagen.

Traditionally, economics taught in our universities has been based on an assumption that continuous growth is the only way to generate a better life for everyone on the planet. It argues that growth will raise living standards, lift people out of povertywhilst the cycleof supply and demand will solve environmental problems and the depletion of world resources. The classic view is that exponential growth is good and fast growth is even better.

Advocates of steady-state economics dispute this view. One of the first was John Stuart Mill in the 19th century and he has been followed by people like Herman Daly who maintains that the economy is a subset of our ecosystem. The global ecosystem is finite, a closed system which cannot grow. Matter neither enters nor leaves it. The ecosystem also provides the economy’s resources and a sink for its wastes. Continuous growth forces a collapse in the ecosystem which then becomes unable to support the economy and the community.

Some who question the current economic system, note that the ecology of the planet is increasingly under pressure, with natural resources such as forests, fish stocks, minerals and soil being depleted at alarming rates. Land for food production is increasingly scarceand pollution levels are making water and air unusable or unsafe.

The idea of a steady state economy is a way of addressing the problems of an unsustainable human society. Because the resources of the economy are all derived from the natural environment, the ecological dependence and the availability of natural capital means there are strict limits to any growth. Instead of continuous growth and 'development', a steady state economy would have zero growth, at sustainable levels of production and resource use. Renewable resources would only be used at a natural replacement rate and non-renewable resources would be used no faster than renewable alternatives could be found. Limits would be needed for population size, consumption, and the gathering of personal wealth. The steady state would maintain the entire population at a comfortable level which neither threatens the natural eco-systems and resources of our world, nor forces people to live uncomfortable lifestyles.

One definition of sustainability is to have a population and an economy in equilibrium. The birth rate matches the death rate and commercial activity is maintained at a constant level. If we reach this state, the peaks and troughs of a demand-driven society expecting to make more money this year than in the previous year will be a matter of ancient folk lore

There have been many arguments against the steady state theory. Oneis that zero growth would result in a serious economic depression, high unemployment and huge shortages. However, Daly counters this by pointing out that such a depression is part of the design of the current economic system. It's an inevitable consequence of chasing growth. A steady state economy has an entirely different basis that requires a smaller economy which better matches the availability of resources. Under a steady state system there can be no shortage. Our current economy has become far too large relative to the ecosystems and it cannot be sustained at this level. Just as economists and accountants teach that a business has an optimal scale of operations, where the marginal revenue equals the marginal cost, the optimal scale of the economy is where the marginal gain from growth equals the marginal cost of growth – costs such as pollution and resource depletion. It's clear that,over time, growth generates more costs than benefits.

Implementing the theory of steady state economics is inherently difficult. It requires a total change of ideology for economists, consumers and governments of developed and developing countries, and meets strong opposition to what is seen as its extreme requirements. Their whole thinking revolves around growth. It's hard to imagine the mandarins in organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or any of the Government leaders in the G20 looking kindly on any suggestion that they should stop worshipping growth.

But Daly, along with many others has identified the most urgent step in fixing the world's economic problems as cutting unfettered growth. This demands limits on family size and allocating fixed stocks of manmade capital.

The world's population has outstripped the carrying capacity of the earth. Steady state economics requires that the population be stabilised at well below the natural carrying capacity, rather than at that level. This means that resources will be better utilised and lifestyles maintained at comfortable levels, rather than at low standards of living. The gathering of personal wealth needs to be limited to avoid over-consumption and waste that reduces the food and other goods and services available to the wider community.

In order to achieve the steady state, the following steps have been suggested to limit growth, stabilise populations and wind production back to a sustainable level:

  • Apply substantial taxes on fossil fuels, especially petrol – fossil fuels are finite and reliance on them can therefore only be temporary. There needs to be deterrents to using fossil fuels and incentives for finding alternative sources of energy.
  • Abolish subsidies encouraging fossil fuel use – fuel prices in many countries are subsidized, so that the price reflects neither the value, nor the finite nature of fossil fuels.
  • Price water to reflect scarcity and encourage conservation – over-consumption and wasteful use has resulted in scarcities of drinkable water in many countries, both developed and undeveloped, and the pollution of waterways.
  • Halt immigration – in developed countries the natural population is below the replacement rate and population growth comes largely from immigration. Halting immigration will mean that local populations will gradually decline naturally. It is also claimed that such a move would have global benefits as immigrants from poor nations living at even low standards of living in developed countries would consume more than they would in their own countries.
  • Eliminate subsidies to industrial agriculture – mass production of food, through crowding or excessive use of fertilisers are already revealing massive repercussions such as ‘mad cow’ disease, declining soil fertility, and pesticide contamination of soil, water and animals.
  • Abandon globalization – this concept completely challenges economic notions of free trade, as Daly argues that ‘by encouraging consumption of cheap imports and pressuring domestic producers to cut costs, makes it harder to set prices so as to reflect ecological costs’ and domestic markets need to be protected from cheaper imports to maintain sustainability.

Steady State economics challenges the view that a traditional ever-growing economy will lead to wide-spread global prosperity, including the preservation of the environment through the mechanisms of supply and demand.

Daly concluded that increasing global wealth will never raise the living standards of the poor, because the benefits of growth go to the owners of surplus, who are not poor. Furthermore the need for surplus will deplete all the natural resources and result in widespread economic destruction. With a steady state economic system the resources of the world can be maintained. The population would be stabilised, growth would be brought to an end and the economy would continue to draw on renewable resources but at completely sustainable levels.

Is superannuation just a con?

Any investment that relies on tax concessions to make it effective should be treated with great caution. And that's the main problem with superannuation. It's a great way of generating a huge financial pool with Governments, fund managers, investment advisers and merchant bankers skimming off the top – but Joe Blow citizen at the bottom of the pile has no guarantee that much will be left when he (or she) needs it. The industry spruiks about it's financial performanceas though it is something wonderful. However if you look at the figures it really only works if there is continual growth which is not going to happen.

In the end its an elaborate sham, a lottery in which there are many winners (such AS the fund mansgers) along the way. Some individuals enjoy the benefits when they finally retire but there will be many who don't receive anything like they expected. For them the gamble won't pay off!

For more on a "Steady State Economy" go to http://learningforsustainability.net/susdev/steadystate.php 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Colouring additives in the spotlight during Food Allergy Awareness Week

With national food allergy awareness week starting in Australia on May 17, consumers will have a growing focus on what additives are included in our food.

Eggs are often cited as a source of allergic reactions – but it may not be eggs which are the problem.

Colouring additives in poultry feed

All major egg producers and many small ones, even those which claim to be free range and organic

- use colouring additives in the feed they give their hens.

Their use is completely unnecessary in a free range flock, as hens running on quality pasture and at

low stocking densities will obtain enough carotenoids from the green feed in the paddock to

maintain good yolk colour. The colour will vary – depending on the time of year and what each hen

has been eating – but many egg producers want to con consumers by using additives to provide

consistent, bright yolk colour.

Many of those additives are synthetic-adding to the chemical cocktail mix in food. But even those

which are claimed to be 'natural' are manufactured in factories – often in China. What the

manufacturers mean by using the word 'natural' is that the additives may be derived from natural

products but are processed and concentrated into a powder or liquid.

Three of the most widely used egg yolk pigmenters are:

Canthaxanin or Canthaxanthin which appears to be an unsafe additive. It can cause diarrhoea,

nausea, stomach cramps, dry and itchy skin, hives, orange or red body secretions, and other side


Do not use canthaxanthin if you experience breathing problems; tightness in the chest; swelling of

the mouth, tongue or throat; a skin rash or hives; you are pregnant or breast-feeding or you are

allergic to vitamin A or carotenoids.


Allergic reactions to capsicum may occur. Stop eating eggs with capsicum-based colouring and seek

emergency medical attention if you experience symptoms of a serious allergic reaction including

difficulty breathing; closing of the throat; swelling of the lips, tongue, or face; or hives.

Other less serious side effects have also been reported. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or health

care provider if you experience upset stomach; heartburn; diarrhoea; migraine attacks or burning

sensation in the mouth or throat.

Use of Capsicum is not recommended if you are pregnant. If you are or will be breast-feeding while

eating food containing Capsicum, check with your doctor or pharmacist to discuss the risks to your


Capsicum colourings can bring on anaphylactic shock. See details about which plants generate

these problems on this site at the University of Maryland:



Some people experience breathing problems, tightness in the chest, swelling of the mouth, tongue

or throat. A skin rash or hives may occur.

From the Auckland Allergy Clinic

Article written: September 2001

Salicylate sensitivity is the body’s inability to handle more than a certain amount of salicylates

at any one time. A salicylate sensitive person may have difficulty tolerating certain fruits or


What are salicylates?

Salicylate is a natural chemical made by many plants. It is chemically related to aspirin, which

is a derivative of salicylic acid. It is believed the plant uses it as protection from insects, and

they are everywhere around us.

Although natural salicylates are found in wholesome foods, some individuals have difficulty

tolerating even small amounts of them. The reaction to a natural salicylate can be as severe as

that to a synthetic additive if the person is highly sensitive. Some people are troubled by only

a very few, but some are troubled by all of them.

What is salicylate sensitivity?

Some adults and children have a low level of tolerance to salicylates and may get symptoms

that are dose-related. The tolerated amount varies from one person to another. This is an

example of food intolerance.

What are some of the symptoms of Salicylate Intolerance?

Chronic Urticaria & Angioedema

Trigger for Eczema


Nasal Polyps


Rhino conjunctivitis

Stomach aches and upsets

Foods containing Salicylates

Salicylates occur naturally in many fruits, and vegetables as a preservative, to prevent rotting

and protect against harmful bacteria and fungi. They are stored in the bark, leaves, roots, and

seeds of plants. Salicylates are found naturally in many foods and its compounds are used in

many products.

All fresh meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, cereals, bread are naturally low in


Foods with very high Salicylate content include:


Capsicum Hot Peppers

Capsaicin is the active component of Capsicum. Pure capsaicin is a volatile, hydrophobic,

colourless, odourless, crystalline to waxy compound.

Capsaicin Factsheet


A UK report on The Adverse Effects of Food Additives on Health, published in the Journal of

Orthomolecular Medicine described surveys on food intolerance which showed that as many as 2 in

10 people believe that they react badly to certain foods or to their constituents, whereas less than 2

in every 100 has been considered to be the official figure.

However, a recently published report indicates that small children are much more likely to react to

certain foods. Although the exact numbers are not known, surveys suggest that one child in 10 may

be affected in some way

Of the nearly 4000 different additives currently in use, over 3640 are used purely for cosmetic

reasons and as colouring agents.

The continued reason for the use of additives is based on the argument that they are present in foods

on such a minute scale that they must be harmless.

This argument may be almost acceptable regarding additives with a reversible toxicological action.

However, with additives which have been found to be both mutagenic and carcinogenic, neither the

human nor animal body is able to detoxify. Therefore even very minute doses of these additives,

when consumed continuously, will eventually result in an irreversible toxic burden, resulting finally

in cancer formation and/or in chromosomal and foetal damage. This is unacceptable, particularly as

the majority of these dangerous agents belong to the food colouring group.

The full report is available here:


An allergy is a hypersensitity disorder of the immune system. Allergic reactions occur when a

person's immune system reacts to normally harmless substances in the environment. A substance

that causes a reaction is called an allergen. These reactions are acquired, predictable, and rapid.

Allergy is one of four forms of hypersensitivity and is formally called type 1 hypersensitivity.

Allergic reactions are distinctive because of excessive activation of certain white blood cells.

Mild allergies like hay fever are very common in humans but allergies can play a major role in

conditions such as asthma. In some people, severe allergies to environmental or dietary allergens

may result in life-threatening reactions called anaphylaxis.

From a Food Additive Guide







Capsanthin, found in paprika extract, is a red to orange coloured spice

derived from the pods and seeds of the red pepper (Capsicum annuum).

Contains vitamins A, B, C and traces of Zn, Cu, Se, Co, Mo, etc. Paprika

extract also contains capsanthin. Capsanthin may be added to poultry feed to

enhance egg yolk colour.

Typical products include eggs, meat products.

Not listed in Australia. Avoid it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

'Free Range' definition may become clear

The egg industry is looking forward to a decision by Ministers for Fair Trading which clearly defines 'free range' production. It was expected that the Ministers would meet in April - but there are some indications that the meeting may be delayed following lobbying by commecial interests.  Recent decisions by the Federal Court, as a result of action by the ACCC,  have established a basic principle defining free range egg production - that the hens must be allowed to range freely on most days. But the issue of labelling is about more than just animal welfare. The industry is keen to see a clear and formal definition based on the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of animals, Domestic Poultry and including land sustainability measures.

A review of the Code is long overdue. When the current version was approved by the Primary Industries Ministerial Council and printed in 2002, it was scheduled for review in 2010. It was a development of an earlier version of the Model Code. Now that a review is being undertaken, it is essential for the free range sector of the egg industry to ensure that plans are not successful for intensive production standards to be adopted in place of the extensive requirements of the current code.

There has no science behind the free range stocking density proposals put forward by corporate producers and some bureacrats and there has been no scientific review of production processes to demonstrate that the standards contained within the current Model Code are no longer applicable to the industry.

The stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare for free range hens was developed by applying well established principles of agronomy. The issue of the upper limit on the long term stocking rate was debated strongly at the time, following pressure from local Councils and the EPA about how some farms were operating.

The experience of people who had farmed free range layers in the 1950s and 60's, when egg production was based on free range hens often run under citrus trees, was that for an operation to be sustainable, the stocking rate had to be low - less than 300 birds/acre (750/hectare). It was agreed that system should be regarded as Free Range egg production and the hens were to have access to the range during daylight hours. There was some dispute by new entrants to the industry who believed that they could design pasture rotation systems around their sheds that would allow higher rates.

So it was decided to take an empirical approach and work out what the maximum stocking rate could be to avoid the measurable negative impacts of nutrient run off and soil degradation and still be theortically possible to maintain pasture cover and avoid the issue of dust.

Some argued that as most hens were in sheds at night and may be locked in for part of the day so that only a portion of the hens actually entered the range area, the impact is lessened.

The dairy industry was very big at that time and local agronomists had data on the effects of applying very high rates of poultry manure on irrigated pasture. The agronomists studied the data on the maximum nutrient uptake a well maintained irrigated pasture could support and also avoid the problems of salinity build up observed in the dairy pastures. The stocking rate was calculated and a stocking density of up to 600 birds/acre (1500/hectare) was regarded as the maximum possible for long term sustainability.

At the time the Code was approved, it was accepted that to maintain consumer credibility, visitors or passers-by had to see the birds out and about on the range. It was also accepted that there is no valid animal management need to lock in the layers in the morning or during inclement weather.

Those currently involved in free range egg production agree that the fundamental elements of the Model Code, or other regulations introduced by Governments must be:

  • a maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare;
  • stocking density must be reduced in conditions where pasture or other vegetative cover cannot be maintained at the maximum stocking density;
  • no beak trimming of hens is permitted except when other methods of controlling outbreaks of severe feather pecking or cannibalism have been tried and failed (using the same criteria in the current Model Code); and
  • pullets must be allowed to range freely once they are fully feathered (about six weeks old).