The influence of the food lobby has come into the public spotlight over the past week, with revelations that Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash’s chief-of-staff, Alastair Furnival, has strong links to the food industry. Furnival previously worked as a lobbyist for several food companies and is the co-owner of a firm that has represented the food industry.
The controversy came as Nash personally intervened to have health department staff withdraw a website launching a new government-approved health star rating food labelling system for Australia. Nash has since been accused of breaching ministerial standards for failing to declare Furnival’s conflict. And Furnival resigned from his chief-of-staff position on Friday.
This incident has exposed one of the many ways in which powerful food companies exert their influence over government policy. From a public health perspective, the major concern is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Eating only raw foods has emerged as a popular dietary trend. Proclaiming an emotive health message, it is enough to make you think twice before next adding heat to your food. But fear not – on the scales of health, there is little to tip the balance in either direction.
Raw food advocates claim cooking food destroys the natural enzymes and nutrients that would otherwise give us optimal health and control body weight.
A raw food diet is almost entirely plant-based and includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, vegetable oils and juices in their natural uncooked state.
On the pro side, there is great merit in this type of diet. If you are currently eating a lot of processed food, then switching to raw food will be a clear nutritional win.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop "insists" that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is "very positive". But Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is equally insistent that there is a serious problem with the relationship. If there is regular dialogue between Australia and Indonesia, as Bishop claims, it would seem it is being conducted at cross purposes.
Bishop says the two countries talk officially almost every day, but that does not seem to have thawed relations. They were talking when the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, was again called in for a "please explain" over Australia’s asylum seeker "life boat" policy.
But what Bishop is not saying is that these conversations amount to a one-way rebuke. The most recent of these negative statements is that Natalegawa will raise the "escalated" issue of Australia returning asylum seekers to Indonesia in Australian-supplied life boats with United States Secretary of State John Kerry.
The US is a partner in the Bali Process, established in 2002 as a regional response to people smuggling. The Bali Process includes as members those countries that are the principle source of Australia’s asylum seekers, as well as those countries they are transiting through.
However, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he is relaxed about this, no doubt because the US is unlikely to want to become embroiled in a regional spat between allies. But it does, again, indicate the depth of Indonesia’s concern over asylum seekers traveling from international waters back to Indonesia on Australian government-supplied boats.
There is no doubt that the Indonesian response to returning asylum seekers to Indonesia is, to some degree, playing to a domestic audience ahead of forthcoming elections. As with all countries, Indonesian foreign policy primarily projects domestic priorities. This does not, however, diminish the extent to which government mishandling of domestic concerns may wreck foreign relations.
Perhaps more so than most other countries, given its fractured geography, Indonesia has always been deeply sensitive about foreign powers impinging on its territorial sovereignty. Coming on the back of inadequately dealing with phone-tapping revelations -- exacerbated by fresh reports that Australia’s phone tapping was much more extensive than first reported -- and then Australian naval vessels entering Indonesian territory, putting asylum seekers on Australian government boats and sending them back to Indonesia now has Indonesia searching for possible responses short of expelling Australian embassy staff.
What Indonesia wants -- and what the Bali Process was established to deliver -- is a regionally co-ordinated approach to the asylum seeker issue. In short, Indonesia wants Australia to work collaboratively to stem the tide of asylum seekers, for those who do reach the region to be quickly and appropriately processed, and for Australia to accept greater regional responsibility.
That Indonesia wants to keep the Bali Process on track is part of the "very positive" conversation with Australia -- and it is falling on deaf ears. Ahead of a change of government in Indonesia and thus charting less certain diplomatic territory, Australia is likely to remain similarly blind to the damage this issue is causing to the long-term bilateral relationship.
Fermented foods have been in our diet for thousands of years. Beer and wine are classic examples of fermented foods where yeast converts sugars to alcohol. Other types of fermented foods use bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, to make foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and many others. And when you start talking about bacteria, you move into the realm of probiotics which come with a long list of health claims.
Today is Valentine’s Day, and it seems that the marketing of the day, and of many occasions throughout the year, has stepped up substantially over the past couple of years. Many believe that Valentine’s Day (or VD for short), is now simply feeding our consumerist culture. But there is probably more to it than simply marketing gone mad – although marketers are pretty good at tapping into our very human vulnerabilities.
Few people would need to be told how much of a serious problem the obesity problem is in Australia. The most recent Australian data paints a grim picture of our health, with 63% of adults deemed to be carrying too much weight.
Despite the best intentions of public health programs and a never-ending supply of best-selling fad diets to choose from, the Nation’s collective waistline continues to expand. So is the problem too far out of control? Is willpower and personal responsibility not enough in the face of pervasive food marketing, and declining levels of physical activity?
At its heart, overeating and underactivity are indisputably the cause of weight gain, yet the reasons for these occurring in the first place are a complex combination of genetics, environmental factors and psychological reasons.
Are you one of the thousands of people around the world in the past couple of days who created your “A look back” Facebook movie? Did it make you cry? Or maybe laugh at your wacky life?
The videos were a new feature available to Facebook users developed to celebrate the social network’s 10th anniversary. The program uses photos and activity from your Facebook feed to create a one-minute movie, accompanied by music that gets you emotionally involved.
But this wasn’t just for fun. The movies are examples of a clever contemporary technique used by marketers to build loyalty for declining brands.
Short of a bureaucratic snafu, which is always possible, Australian convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby will be released on parole from Indonesia’s Kerobokan prison within days. She's breaking new ground.
Parole is relatively uncommon in Indonesia, primarily because parolees have to be accepted back into the community in which they intend to reside. Many communities have been unwilling to accept convicted criminals, but Corby’s sister Mercedes and Balinese brother-in-law, Wayan Widyartha, appear to have secured support from their local community in central Kuta.
Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin has said Corby will not receive any special consideration for or against as he considers some 1700 applications for parole over the next few days. She will, he says, be treated as would any other prisoner.
Corby has refused to acknowledge guilt over smuggling marijuana into Indonesia, which has been a significant factor in ensuring that she did not have her prison sentence fully commuted. However, this should not be a factor in whether or not she is paroled.
This is a positive sign for Corby, as there have been cases in the past where judicial decisions have been influenced by political considerations. Clearly, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono does not consider Corby’s potential parole as a political issue, although he is attempting to put forward a candidate in this year’s presidential election in July, and despite the damaged state of Australia-Indonesia relations.
It shows, too, that the Indonesian judicial process is, or appears to be, operating in a straight and transparent manner, at least at the top. This has sometimes not been the case in the past.
As for Corby, assuming all goes according to plan, she will live with her sister and brother-in-law. She will be free to stay elsewhere in Indonesia, so long as she informs the local police of her intended whereabouts.
The catch, such as it is, is that she cannot leave Indonesia until her sentence is completed in 2016. She must also stay in Indonesia for a further year to assure Indonesian authorities that her parole has proven she is of reformed character.
On the scale of hardships, however, and especially after eight years in an Indonesian prison, living in Bali for the next three years should be relatively comfortable. This will be especially so if she is able to moderate any comments she might make to an enthusiastic media. Getting the local community offside with injudicious observations would be the last thing she would want over the coming months and years.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment that Corby will have to make is simply that of coming to terms with her prison experience. There have been indications, at different times, that she has been psychologically troubled by the experience.
More positively, that time will have ensured that Corby is at least familiar with the wider cultural mores of Indonesia generally and of Bali in particular. One would expect, too, after such time, she would have learned some Indonesian, which, although far from necessary in much of Bali, is always more rather than less helpful.
After her experience in prison, Corby’s next biggest challenge will be how she handles intense media attention. If she is able to secure a financially lucrative media deal, such as for an exclusive interview, she would be wise to be discreet about being rewarded, in effect, for her conviction for breaking the law.
Beyond that, we should not read into this parole any potential leniency for the so-called Bali Nine. They are still in very deep trouble.
So you’ve taken the FebFast challenge and committed to 28 alcohol-free days – well done. Far from a well-meaning charity gesture and test of your self-control, drinking less may just come with a bunch of health benefits.
Alcohol is an accepted part of the social structure in Australia, but it is a substance that has the potential to cause a great deal of harm. The effects of alcohol on health are well described and unfortunately, most of it is on the negative side of the health ledger.
Alcohol is a major cause of road injury and a significant contributor to domestic violence while higher rates of heart disease, liver disease, cancer, mental health problems and excess weight are all consequences of long-term heavy drinking. And let’s not forget about the ‘next day’ ill effects from an evening of over-exuberance.
You may have seen some recent press around a book ('Grain Brain') written by a US neurologist with the claim that eating grains (and most carbohydrate foods in general) are a major culprit in causing dementia, depression, ADHD and headaches.
What the book boils down to is yet another variation of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, gluten-free, saturated fat and high cholesterol diet. Its advice on cutting back on sugar and processed foods, which is supported by just about any dietary recommendation from peak health bodies for all major chronic diseases, is the one positive to come out of it.
The claims made in the book (and lack of any real solid evidence to support them) are so extreme, that you have to ask yourself, why isn't the rest of the medical world aware of these links and warning everyone of similar dangers?
That's because the risk factors for dementia are well-known and very well described and include: