The taste of things to come

Agriculture is big business in Australia. It is the country's second largest export next to natural resources. Australian agricultural produce is highly regarded for its quality around the world. Inexpensive high quality beef, poultry, cereals, vegetables and fruit provide the cornerstone of the nation's comparatively high standard of living. Visiting international chefs are quick to point out that Australia has the world's finest and freshest food ingredients to work with. But success in agriculture did not come easily.

Agriculture in Australia got off to a bad start. Not one of the 1,485 people that arrived with the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788 was skilled in agriculture or livestock husbandry. They found it difficult to farm the ancient soils, notoriously deficient in nutrients, and were unaccustomed to the extreme variations in the climate. Despite early hardships, by 1803 the colony produced its first grain surplus, and by 1913 Australian wheat, wool and fruits were highly regarded for their quality. Sheep had been bred to such perfection that they were sought after overseas, and Australian agricultural machinery had been judged good enough even for Americans to copy.

Today, Australia has one of the most advanced agricultural industries in the world, backed by a foundation of solid scientific research and development capability that ensures the continual evolution of agricultural techniques and technologies.

The country's principal contributions to innovation in agriculture have come from the disciplines of nutrition, breeding, genetic engineering, disease control, weed and pest eradication, building, machinery and equipment design and computerised farm management and control systems. And in spite of the uniqueness of the continent's climates, soils, vegetation and ecological conditions, many of the farming systems and innovations developed specifically for local conditions, can and have been successfully adapted for use in other countries.

The supermarkets of the 1990s offer a bewildering array of packaged foods from every corner of the world. In reality however, most are variations on older well-known products or prepared foods, which housewives used to make up at home. There are few really new products. It is imaginative packaging and presentation that create the illusion of greater choice. The two truly major changes in food technology since the late 1940s, were the introduction of frozen foods and the global trend towards instant and convenience foods. Ice cream and instant coffee were among the first frozen and convenience foods to be globally accepted. Nestle, Birdseye, Findus, McDonald's and McCain's are all global household champions of the modern age of convenience foods.

In Australia, many of the early food processing technologies were imported and adapted to domestic requirements. Canning technology was English. Milk separator Swedish. Pasteurisation French. Roller milling Hungarian. Lager brewing technology and techniques for testing fat in milk were from the United States.

However, Australia has a long history of research and development in food technology. The Victorian Government's Pure Food Act of 1905 and its associated regulations, was the first such legislation anywhere in the world. Today, the Australian Food Standards Committee uses the results of chemical and toxicological tests from all over the world to evaluate and recommend which substances may be added to foods, and their maximum amounts. It also determines the maximum allowable levels for many contaminants, including residues of agricultural chemicals which may find their way into foods.

Until the end of the Second World War, most of the technical people in the food industry were chemists. Engineers who built and maintained machines, and solved specific problems and provided expert services to the food industry, did not regard themselves as food engineers. And with a few rare examples, microbiologists were hardly heard of. In Australia, W J Scott, who was hired by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as a biochemist in 1933, was one such exception. Scott's demonstration that water activity, rather than the water content, of a food system that governs microbial growth and toxin production, was one of Australia's major contributions to modern food processing technology. This research had a significant impact on the processing, storage and formulation of foods globally.

Since then, there have been many more innovative contributions to food processing technology from Australia. In the following pages, we review some of Australia's internationally most significant currently commercially available products and technologies in agriculture and food processing.

World first products and technologies in agriculture and food processing

Public Notice: Due to an unresolved dispute with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), who copied and adopted as their own certain material from Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published the material in their Australia Open for Business website, without remorse or recompense, access by Australian Government servers to this online edition has been blocked indefinitely.

Print Edition: ISBN 0646252119 - Paperback - 224 pages - 350 illustrations - $55.00 incl. GST.

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