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
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.
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.