Diggings 15 February 2020

First up in this edition of Diggings – I have for some time now been trying to find out how much government funding for Research and Development (R & D) goes into native food projects. The answer from friends in the R & D business is that it appears no-one keeps any data on this. I wonder how much of the new money promised by the Morrison government will be targeted for the native foods industry? I am not holding my breath. Also in this edition more on the ongoing exploitation of seasonal workers with a surprising statement by National Party member Matt Canavan; another article on reframing/rewriting Indigenous peoples’ relationships to land and resources; a couple of articles on one of my favourite topics gut flora, our health and our diets; and more good stuff to sprout new shoots of thought from the compost heath.

Scott Morrison pursues commercialisation of Australian research with $2 billion new money

”Scott Morrison will continue to tip out large dollops of money when he addresses the National Press Club on Tuesday, with his theme “building national resilience”.

He will announce the government will fund a $2.2 billion Research Commercialisation Action Plan, which includes about $2 billion in new money The strategy is directed to areas “where Australia has significant comparative advantage and capacity to harness new opportunities,” Morrison says in an excerpt of the speech released ahead of delivery.

These include medical products, food and beverage, recycling and clean energy, resources technology and critical minerals processing, defence and space.’


Coalition senator likens government’s seasonal worker scheme to indentured labour

Nationals senator Matt Canavan has likened his own government’s controversial Pacific Island seasonal worker program to indentured labour and a cartel, with visa holders unable to easily switch jobs in an environment that was ripe for abuse. The Queensland senator’s comments came during a federal parliamentary inquiry into allegations of worker abuse under the scheme, which on Wednesday heard evidence of poor conditions and threats from employers against speaking out.


Pacific workers face deportation despite probe into their employer

The federal government has threatened to cancel the visas of Pacific Islanders brought to Australia to fill chronic worker shortages in the meat processing industry even though their claims of being exploited by their employer are under formal investigation. Home Affairs officials last month wrote to a number of Pacific Islander workers to notify them of the intention to cancel their visas after they stopped working for labour hire firm Regional Workforce Management, which sponsored their visas and placed them into various meat processing companies


How “Wilderness” Was Invented Without Indigenous Peoples

The myth of pristine wilderness has deep roots. Some draw the line all the way back to 1095, when Pope Urban II purportedly introduced the concept of terra nullius: the idea that any non-Christian land is a blank slate for the taking. The link between this phrase and Pope Urban may be apocryphal; nonetheless, over the centuries, waves of European colonization rode on the back of this sentiment. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, English writers expounded on the idea that if Indigenous peoples did not fully occupy, or sufficiently cultivate, land, they had no title to it. These concepts formed the basis of British colonization, including their justification for ruling Australia and dispossessing Aboriginal peoples of their lands. Such thinking led many European colonists to ignore the influence of Indigenous peoples they encountered. As University of Maryland, Baltimore County, ecologist Erle Ellis, a lead author on the PNAS study, puts it, “Within the pristine myth, these people don’t have agency, and that’s pretty important to the whole concept” of that myth. “Once you start thinking of these people as actors and as shaping nature, it means that anything you do to them changes nature.”


Care package: Top chef Massimo Bottura opens Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney

Working with charity partners around the world to create community hubs for the socially disadvantaged, where fine food and fabulous fitouts meet a serious anti-food-waste focus, Sydney is their latest collaboration. “In Australia, people have a deep appreciation for food, its origin and connection to land and nature. There’s a celebration of food and gastronomy,” Bottura tells me from the US. “But we still see habits of waste while individuals do not have enough to eat. The Refettorio is a place where we can bring these two ideas together, to show a new way of thinking about sustainability and caring for one another.”


A gutful of lunchbox hype – has selling ‘good bugs not drugs’ for kids’ health gone too far?

The concern about these products is not just a matter of scientific evidence. In the race to commercialise such products (as with other new food technologies including nano- and biotechnology), the social and ethical dimensions of this burgeoning industry have been neglected. Industry sees the process of properly considering such questions as slowing down innovation. But it’s vital to answer these social and ethical questions to ensure community expectations and standards related to food science and innovation are upheld.

In these times of heightened anxiety about child health at school, gut-healthy products can give parents and carers a greater sense of control over their child’s health. Yet almost all of the conditions or diseases gut-healthy foods purport to address have complex causes located in a myriad of structural factors. Public health researchers call these the social determinants of health.


Boosting your ‘gut health’ sounds great. But this wellness trend is vague and often misunderstood

If you walk down the supermarket aisle, you may be tempted with foods marketed as being good for your gut. Then there are the multiple health blogs about improving, supporting or maintaining your “gut health”. But what does “gut health” mean? Is it the absence of disease? Is it no bloating? Or is it something else entirely? And how strong is the evidence “gut health” products actually make a difference?

Small-town butchers thrive as supply shortages hit Australian supermarkets

The paddock-to-plate business model and short supply chains have allowed small-town retailers to sidestep most of the shortage problems faced by the large supermarkets. Tamworth local butcher Paul Avery, of Ford’s Butchery, hasn’t just survived during the shortages, but thrived over the past two years, picking up new customers as the shortages hit, many of whom have stuck around. Avery’s small shop saw an increase of customers as meat cabinets in supermarkets started running bare. “That happened when the pandemic started,” Avery said. He estimates that maybe 20% of the customers who were refugees from the supermarkets during the shortages have stayed.


McDonald’s push into regional Australia angers health experts amid warnings of ‘food deserts’

But the move could be controversial in towns that have battled to keep the fast-food giant out of their backyards. Tecoma, on the edge of Melbourne, fought unsuccessfully to stop a McDonald’s development and Tamworth council faced controversy when it approved its fourth Mcdonald’s outlet in a town that suffers high rates of obesity. Megan Belot, the president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said the expansion was not a positive outcome for rural patients who already have an increased risk of obesity. “It’s nice to think that there’s going to be more jobs and opportunities for our younger people to work in a place like McDonald’s, but realistically we don’t need fast food in our smaller rural communities,” Belot said.


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