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Fat-Fighting Mission Will Continue to Fail With Labels

It has emerged from a Lateline report last night that an agreement has nearly been reached between public health experts and food businesses for a new food-labelling regime. The system, if adopted, appears likely to be legislated by government in 2013 in a bid to arrest the growing obesity epidemic in Australia.

It had been hoped by those involved in public health that a s0-called ‘traffic light’ system would be adopted for use in the fight against obesity.

This system would have seen processed foods labelled with either green, orange or red dots. Under this scheme, if a product had a green dot it was perfectly okay. If food had an orange label it would have meant ‘be careful, this food is just a little on the naughty side’. Red would have meant, ‘danger, danger, you are clogging your arteries as we speak’.

Instead, the purported compromise would see a ‘star system’ pursued on labelling of processed foods. This idea would be much like the way that movies are often reviewed. There would be a five-star system and the more stars there are, the better the product for you in terms of health.

Ostensibly, both the star system and the traffic light solution are meant to be quick and simple ways of identifying foods that are good, bad or downright dangerous if consumed too much. Frankly though, neither of them actually understand the obesity problem and the reasons for it, nor will colourful marks or star-charts actually help the obesity problem.

Neither the stars nor the red, orange and green ‘lights’ would say how much of a product should be consumed. Of course, if you’re only eating foods with green and rarely orange or red, then this probably will not matter so much. It still is possible however, for people to become overweight through lack of exercise despite some pretty healthy choices.

In this way the Recommended Dietary Intake, or RDI labelling of foods clearly trumps the other two methods advocated by health lobby groups. This form of nutrition information shows the fat, salt and sugar content at the very least and gives a very handy outline of the proportion of these elements in terms of the recommended consumption of the average person.

It is the clearest way of labelling how much of a particular product the average person can consume before it becomes over-consumption and would not leave people confused as to how much food any given person could digest in a relatively safe manner.

But of course, there is a problem too with foods that have the RDI on the packaging and that is time, a point acknowledged recently in response to the fat tax in Denmark failing to work. This is not about how long it takes to eat food, but how long it would take for people to add up the numbers. People are time-poor, and because of that, any form of labelling will effectively be redundant.

Time is also an important factor in the sense that fast food, more often than not, unhealthy, is much quicker for people who are busy with work and other commitments.

Other issues relating to ease of access are also an important part of the equation when thinking about how to cut the fat. Both the prevalence of unhealthy foods and the low costs are significant impediments to a healthier Australia.

The time has come to think past fancy labelling and other government-imposed nonsense. Those kinds of policies, despite supposed research to the contrary, simply will not work.

However, if any food labelling has to continue to exist, then it should be based on the RDI of fat, sugar and salt in particular. This appears set to be superseded.

A Broad and National Royal Commission the Only Way

Finally, it seems that a significant national inquiry into what appears to be widespread abuse within the clergy is near. Calls  New South Wales has just announced an inquiry and Victoria has already set aside twelve months for an inquiry of their own. But these state-based inquiries are too limited in scope and there is little doubt that the problem crosses state borders. There has been so much focus too on the Catholic Church, the main source of such horrendous allegations, but a broader approach in that sense too is necessary.

Both the New South Wales and Victorian inquiries are incredibly limited. In the case of NSW, announced last week after a Lateline interview with a state police officer, the investigation will be limited to the allegations made by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox during an interview on the ABC news program. The events in question are limited to a specific region in the state and surround an alleged police cover-up of very disturbing incidents.

In the case of Victoria, their inquiry is wider in scope, but far from a powerful royal commission. Victoria’s sex abuse is being investigated by a parliamentary inquiry but is not limited in scope like the New South Wales’ iteration will be.

The parliamentary inquiry in Victoria covers abuse in all religious and non-government organisations, not just the Catholic Church or a specific region within the state. However, like the newly announced investigation in NSW, the committee inquiring into these matters does not have the extensive power that a royal commission commands.

There really now, more than ever, is a need for a full royal commission into child abuse and it must be a national one. We have passed the point of no return. There is not one option left to deal with a large number of alleged indiscretions except for holding a royal commission.

For some time now those calls have been met with resistance despite a significant number of cases coming to light where there was abuse, mostly within the Catholic Church, but also a wider array of religious and other institutions.

Most of that resistance has come from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the main denomination at the centre of the bulk of the allegations that have been raised in the public domain of abuse and inaction.

Worse still, it is also alleged that there has been a systemic cover-up, the active burying of cases involving incredibly devious acts of sexual depravity and violence against Australian children. All for the maintenance of power.

It is incredibly sad, indeed ridiculous and very concerning that the church believes itself above the law. Child abuse, any abuse is a crime and as such there should be absolutely no tolerance of reports that it is occurring. It absolutely beggars belief that anyone would not report alleged indecency, in favour of dealing with it in-house. Going to police is the one and only option.

Australia’s politicians have been way too slow to act. We have known about a number of cases of abuse and inaction on the part of the church for years and yet, until this year, little had been done anywhere in the country.

It would appear, on the face of it, that our politicians fear the influence of not just the Catholic Church, but also the wider religious movement. But that fear is incredibly ill-founded and terribly misplaced.

Religious movements are no longer anywhere near as powerful as they were. They would like to think they are and the impression of ongoing power remains. The simple fact, however, is that they are not.

In any case, politicians should not fear any real or perceived influence that religion does or does not possess in Australia. The lives of Australian children are far more important than any political benefit. Power should not corrupt to the extent that sexual abuse is ignored by MP’s across the country. Sadly, it just might, at least until the political pressure to act against these allegations becomes too strong.

People are experiencing more hurt suffering in comparative silence. The vast majority who have had acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them would want some form of closure, some acknowledgement that their pain and suffering is real and needs to be dealt with by a proper judicial process, not forgotten about or buried within an organisation.

It is understandable the visceral anger and hatred directed at institutions and the individuals that represent them, for having failed in the basic duties of a citizen, organisationally and individually when it comes to the law. People do deserve much better treatment at the hands of those caring for and providing guidance to impressionable and vulnerable young minds.

Unfortunately, some of those understandably outraged by the actions of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations have called for the tax exempt status of these organisations to be revoked as some form of punishment,

Any kind of remedy must be civil or criminal and should not extend to taking away the tax-free status of religious organisations that still, despite their massive and unjustifiable failings in relation to protection of children within the church, do extensive and helpful charity work.

What is abundantly clear is that a wide-ranging and national inquiry is needed into abuse within the church. The states have either failed to do anything at all or have not gone anywhere near far enough in prosecuting this matter.

A royal commission must now happen and should certainly not be limited to the Catholic Church. All denominations must be examined in a broad inquiry without fear or favour.

Support for the inquiry needs to be across partisan lines. As of this afternoon all political parties, except for the ALP and most Independent MP’s have pledged support for an inquiry. A large and growing number of Labor MP’s have however voiced support for a royal commission.

It would appear that the momentum towards a national inquiry into sex abuse within the church is now inexorable and that can only be a good thing,

Sadly though, a lot of pain has been endured during the unnecessarily slow process.

The Politics of Sweaty Palms and the Live Export Trade

Another day and another shocking video emerged overnight on Lateline, showing what is believed to be Australian cattle being mistreated in an overseas abattoir. This further shocking footage has led to Animals Australia and others, including some parliamentarians getting louder in their advocacy for the live export trade to cease altogether. This comes not a year after the live export trade was temporarily shut down by the Gillard Government, under Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, until the government saw fit to reinstate it under assurances from the respective parties, a ban that caused the industry some woes, largely in the Northern Territory.

A new package of oversight was worked on over a period of time between the key stakeholders in government and industry with a focus on processes in an attempt to ensure that the horrific images would not be replicated anywhere else in the future.

Of course these dreadfully disturbing images have now been repeated in an Indonesian abattoir, in footage just as sickening, if not more than the previous recording.

Nobody ever said, after the legislation in response to the original video, that the same sorts of images would never ever see the light of day again, would never force us to think had we gone far enough. Indeed it was always that the legislation would have an eye to improving the welfare and livelihood of cattle that Australians send overseas, to a country which slaughters their animals in a particular manner for cultural and religious reasons. To attempt as best as practicable to cut out the practises which have led to such barbaric deaths.

The question is, do we need to get sweaty palms over this and engage in the kind of politics of panic that such an event seems to invoke? Or do we deal with it in a pragmatic fashion, realising that our cattlemen need that market and that the Indonesians would be assisted in having our cattle available to them, being in relative proximity in our region?

There is a cultural and religious freedom element in this argument, as has been said in the past, the methods of slaughter are part of long held ideas about the Islamic culture. Do we seek to deny any nation that right or do we engage with them in much better ways of performing their traditions which have animal welfare firmly in mind?

Yes, we could certainly look at better ways of monitoring the supply chains and the situation in individual slaughter houses and that is probably a fair argument. However, on this count we can also go too far, by having officials in another country too often in an oversight capacity we run the risk as a nation of offending the sensitivities of the Indonesian people and in a way their sovereignty.

What we must do is ensure that there is a stronger level of training provided to and observed by all abattoirs, not just in Indonesia, but in other similar nations. We could perhaps observe more times a year than at present, each abattoir slaughtering Australian cattle and provide the kind of ongoing training and updated equipment, with the help of Indonesia that would allow for the killing of our animals to be done much more humanely on a more regular basis

What we do not need is a sweaty palms, knee-jerk reaction in panic to an horrific, but as far as we know isolated incident which would see all live trade, not just to our Indonesian neighbours, but to other nations which practise Islam cease altogether. Both not acting further and banning the live export trade altogether are harmful in their own ways for both our reputation overseas and our economy. Nobody wants to see the kinds of nauseating images we have been exposed to in recent times, nor do many want to see our live cattle not being exported. Cool heads, not clammy palms must prevail.

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