Health star proposal 'a joke'

Fresh juice might be rated same as diet cola to the frustration of Australian citrus industry

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Archer Walters and his family at the Moree Valenica orchard owned by Grove Juice. "Figures show 75 per cent of Australians don't get their daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and orange juice is part of that."

Archer Walters and his family at the Moree Valenica orchard owned by Grove Juice. "Figures show 75 per cent of Australians don't get their daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and orange juice is part of that."

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One glass equals two oranges. How can that have a health rating of 2.5 stars? Juicers say new proposed rules are a joke.

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When it comes to branding breakfast a glass of fresh pulpy orange juice, rich in vitamin C and fibre, takes centre table. So it confounds Australian producers that they now have to defend their home grown product alongside diet cola.

At next month's forum on food regulation, health government ministers from Australia and New Zealand will debate a motion to lower the health star rating of fructose-rich orange juice from the top score of 5 to 2.5, in line with syrupy soft drinks simply because oranges naturally contain sugar.

Australian growers and processors of fresh orange juice are furious with the intention, as citrus requires more of a lifeline than a kick in the guts. What was once a staple at the start of a day has been taken for granted until a month ago when the Covid-19 panic created a double digit percentage jump in sales.

"One glass equals two oranges," reminds Moree grower Dick Estens. "How can that have a health rating of 2.5 stars? This is a joke."

The current Covid crisis has supplied an opportunity to re brand fresh orange juice. It seems the clean, green Australian product is keenly sought by homemakers with a twelvefold rise in social media traffic coming to the Grove Juice website from an Australian-made promotional Facebook page. Views on posts spruiking the value of Aussie citrus have jumped from the typical 100 to 1.2million views as domestic consumers seek local product amidst an ocean of imported concentrate - mostly from Brazil.

The industry position for production of juicing oranges has changed in the last six years, with table varieties like navel oranges making double the money at $700-750/t back to the grower compared to $380-420/t for Valencias.

Valencia oranges growing by the Gwydir River north of Moree on property owned by Dick Estens.

Valencia oranges growing by the Gwydir River north of Moree on property owned by Dick Estens.

Australian farm production of juicing oranges is forecast to drop 35 pc this year and Archer Walters of Warwick based Grove Juice says the figure is more like 45pc, back even further on last year's production. Mr Walters is in partnership with Dick Estens at Moree who farms Valencia using ground water and drip irrigation lines that doll out 6ml/ha a year, combined with good summer rainfalls. However even last year the best oranges produced 50t/ha in the hundred year drought.

Most table citrus goes to South East Asia where the Citrus Cylid has prevented the establishment of large scale plantations. The resultant citrus greening disease - an affliction that likely jumped species because no variety of citrus is immune - has also changed the Florida landscape and has infected South America. Brazil is Australia's largest supplier of orange juice concentrate, but affected plantations may have been sprayed, weekly, for the cylids to keep greening disease at bay.

In light of these recent trends Archer Walters at Grove Juice says the recommendations before the Australia and New Zealand ministerial forum are an insult on Australian agriculture.

"They're trying to lump orange juice with sprite and Coke and that's far from the truth," he said. "Fructose in juice and sucrose in soft drink have very different impacts on the body.

"Figures show 75 per cent of Australians don't get their daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and orange juice is part of that."

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