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Tuesday, 7 May 1985
Page: 1790


Mr EWEN CAMERON(9.39) —Tonight we are debating the Rural Industries Research Bill, the Rural Industries Research (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill, the Tobacco Charge (No. 1) Amendment Bill, the Tobacco Charge (No. 2) Amendment Bill, the Tobacco Charge (No. 3) Amendment Bill, the Poultry Industry Levy Amendment Bill and the Poultry Industry Assistance Amendment Bill. These Bills affect various primary industries. I wish to confine my remarks to the Tobacco Charge (No. 1) Amendment Bill, the Tobacco Charge (No. 2) Amendment Bill and the Tobacco Charge (No. 3) Amendment Bill. Tobacco growing is a major industry in the electorate of Indi. In fact, of the 292 Victorian tobacco quota holders, all except one are situated in this electorate. The industry in Victoria is a major employer. On 1978-79 figures, the latest available, more than 1,500 people are employed in tobacco growing and close to 90 are employed in tobacco research and engineering. The area produces approximately 37 per cent of Australia's tobacco, with a gross return of $25m.

The coalition is not opposing these Bills but there are some matters of importance to tobacco growers which must be raised at this point. Because of a declining level of tobacco production, the industry's contribution to research was increased from 2.5c to 3.5c a kilogram earlier this year. The Commonwealth Government agreed to match this levy. If this step had not been taken there would have been insufficient funds to meet the research commitments of the industry. The tobacco industry is most concerned that the necessity may arise to increase the levy again and there is no provision in these Bills for the Government to continue to match this contribution beyond the present level. I quote a paragraph from a telex sent to concerned members of this House by the President of the Tobacco Growers Council of Australia:

The tobacco industry warrants special consideration for research funding for two main reasons:

-The industry is relatively small and already levies itself proportionately far more for research than other industries. The Government strongly supports industry research endeavours.

-The Industry is currently facing very severe adjustments pressures as a result of the declining levels of assistance received. In such an environment research results are crucially important in cushioning some of the worst effects of the adjustment pressures.

It is important for the Government to set to rest the industry's fears on this matter. Another area of concern in the industry is the cutback in membership of the Tobacco Research Council, with a possible imbalance resulting in representation from particular sections of the industry. Growers in my electorate are worried that they may not have a representative on the Council and thus this important growing area will suffer from a lack of communication. They feel that it is important for the people who actually contribute funds to have a significant say as to how the funds are spent. The growers would also like to have some form of assurance from the Government that cost recovery will not get out of hand. There is concern that, as the cost of the Australian Tobacco Board is deducted from the grower contribution prior to the matching grant by the Commonwealth Government, cost escalation could result in less finance being devoted to research projects. Growers are also concerned that financial management and associated costs within the Department of Primary Industry may eat away at their contribution prior to the Government matching that contribution.

Late last year the Victorian Government decided to phase out funding of the Ovens Tobacco Research Station at Myrtleford over a period of three years. The decision was made despite pre-election and post-election promises and undertakings by the Australian Labor Party and the State Minister for Agriculture. The tobacco growers of Victoria wrote to the Victorian Premier pointing out the need to maintain a viable tobacco leaf industry in north-eastern Victoria. They pointed out that this was necessary to meet the needs of the market, to provide employment opportunities for hundreds of people in the region and to allow tobacco leaf growers to continue in their legitimate pursuit of earning an income. The growers pointed out that research plays a vital part in maintaining viability, just as it does with all agricultural and industrial pursuits. The Victorian State Government collects $80m a year in tobacco licensing fees and the Commonwealth Government collects $1,000m a year from excise imposed on tobacco and tobacco products. The growers quoted from a letter dated 22 March 1982 written by the endorsed Australian Labor Party candidate for the State seat of Benambra, which covers this area. The candidate said:

A Labor Government will place greater emphasis upon research which it is felt is not adequately catered for at the present time. In your industry, greater amounts will be provided for research into crop damaging diseases and the improvement of productivity on a tonne/hectare basis . . . your members may be rest assured that nothing will be done by a Cain Labor Government which will jeopardise the incomes, well being and welfare of the tobacco industry as an integral part of rural production in Victoria.

In view of these assurances which were made on behalf of the Victorian Government, it is difficult to accept its actions in withdrawing funding from the tobacco research area. The growers have had a number of consultations with the former State Minister for Agriculture about research funding and other matters; however, they have not had a favourable answer to their repeated requests for an opportunity to talk to Premier Cain about the situation. It is understandable that Victorian tobacco producers are deeply concerned that the Commonwealth Government may also let them down.

The tobacco research team at Myrtleford is conducting several programs in 1985. These include research into the control of insect pests by the use of insecticides. Field evaluations are carried out into new insecticides as they come to hand. As well as assessment into the control of insects, a major objective of this program is to improve the elimination of residues and the reduction of hazards to users by the use of biologically active and specific materials which degrade rapidly and completely. Research is continuing into the control of black root rot, which is a major threat to the industry. The 1983 annual report of the Tobacco Board states:

The soil-borne disease black root rot was identified on approximately one third of tobacco farms (in Victoria) during 1983, and was associated with some 20 per cent loss of production in lower valley areas, which were those worst affected.

The disease is being combated by soil fumigation and the development of plant varieties which are not so susceptible to the rot. Another project is looking at the control of alkaloid levels and particulate matter index in tobacco. In other words, the industry is investigating plants which have lowered levels of tars and nicotines in leaf and smoke.

As is the case with most research work, the findings and solutions which arise as a result of the work often have applications in industry and projects outside the immediate area of investigation. It is interesting at this point to take a brief look at reports from America, where investigations are being carried out into edible tobacco protein. The January 1979 issue of the magazine Crops and Soils carries an article about research that might eventually lead to the use of protein extracts from tobacco leaf as human food, while leaving the residue for smoking or possibly for an animal feed.

The writer of the article, a former professor of biology at the University of California, Samuel Wildman, together with several of his colleagues, in 1980 entered into a joint venture with the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation to form a company called Leaf Protein International. The firm, together with General Foods Corporation, assembled a pilot plant operation to extract and crystallise protein from young, rapidly growing tobacco plants. A patent on the process used for doing this was applied for.

This protein, known as fraction I protein, is reported as having excellent nutritional value. Of enormous significance is the fact that the protein had no taste, colour or odour. Tests have shown that the product can be whipped, gelled, emulsified or heat-set readily. This means that it could be added to soft drinks-thereby giving them a food value-or it could be added to a variety of foods such as cereals, soups, frozen toppings and salad dressings, improving their nutritional value. While initially the process of extracting protein I was very expensive, further experimentation has decreased the expense and made it into a more viable proposition.

If tobacco were to be grown as a food source, it would be grown in a different fashion from what it is now. The farmer would sow pelleted seed directly and establish a stand of more than 150,000 tobacco plants per acre. In about six weeks the plants would grow to a height of about 18 to 20 inches. These would then be harvested, leaving a stump to sprout a new crop of stalks and leaves which could be harvested again in about another six weeks. It is estimated that the plants would yield 66 tons of fresh tobacco leaf and shoots per acre in a growing season of six to eight months. The plants would be harvested before they had accumulated nicotine.

If a food formulation is composed of 10 per cent tobacco fraction I, the possible nicotine contamination would be two parts per billion. In comparison, vegetables such as tomato, potato, capsicum and eggplant have several parts per million of nicotine in the edible parts. Comparison tests have been run to compare fraction I protein obtained from tobacco leaves with soy proteins and egg white. The fraction I material had the highest concentration of crude protein. In an article printed in the Journal of Agricultural Chemistry 1985, volume 33 No. 1, it is stated:

The high purity and natural value of Fraction 1 protein also make it suitable in medical application after desalting . . . High purity also assures a long shelf life from Fraction 1 protein. The present study demonstrated that Fraction 1 protein possesses functional properties superior to egg white and soy protein isolates in the aspects examined, and could replace or supplement egg white and soy protein isolate in existing food systems.

In Crops and Soils magazine of January 1979 S. G. Wildman said:

Patients with aggravated kidney disease need to undergo frequent hemodialysis to wash the sodium, potassium and other materials from their blood so they can stay alive. Such patients need to severely restrict their intake of sodium and potassium. But these are present in all other protein sources. If Fraction 1 protein were to be substituted for the sources of protein kidney patients now consume, they might need hemodialysis much less frequently than the two or three times per week that is now common.

Another possible use of Fraction 1 protein is as a source for artificial milk for infants that are allergic to cow's milk and who do not have a readily available source of human milk.

Other research into the use of tobacco leaf as a food source is being conducted in France, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Russia. It has been suggested that it may take time to develop consumer acceptance of an edible product derived from tobacco, and its first use may come from developing countries where there is a greater need for protein sources. However, tobacco must be seen as a significant source of protein for future generations. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you can see, continued research in the tobacco growing industry is of the utmost importance.