ACU Students' Research-informed Action Project Plans

Group RiA Plans
Project Title: Water Usage and Saving Patterns in Australia
Team Members: James Dickinson and Chris Ryan
Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
SSI Description
Our STSE issue is focussed on weather patterns in Australia and how they affect the public’s view of water usage and storage. This issue came about when a discussion between the two of us led to patterns of water saving and water usage in the Australian public. In terms of public opinion, there seems to be a difference between generations of what is acceptable water usage and how long we “need” to save water for. Put crudely it is almost a shift from saving water isn’t a big deal to “we need to do this for our future”. Another point of interest is the reasoning behind the public’s view of weather, rainfall and water usage. It seems that there is a view that any rain is good and that it always contributes to our water storages. Because the phenomena El Niño and El Niña control the rainfall in Australia, it is imperative that we get our water situation sorted, as there is no accurate way of determining how long an El Niño or El Niña would last; coupled with global warming, the dry periods experienced in Australia could potentially become longer, directly impacting our water storages. With this in mind, education is the best approach to secure our water storages.
Measures have been put in place here in Victoria in the form of a desalination plant, however at this stage it has not been used. The project was started in a time of drought, but after multiple delays in construction and blowing the initial budget, the plant was finally able to produce drinking water on September 6 and is expected to be in full production by the end of 2012. Currently it not necessary and public opinion is that it is not wanted, yet will this be a viable option in the future?
[Feedback from Dino, Elizabeth, Rob, and Tony]
Water usage and saving water is also one of the STSE topics that our group is passionate about. Although this might not be an issue severely affecting Canada at the moment, we realize that many parts of the world face water shortage / clean water problems mostly due the the nature of the environment.
Research Plans
Primary Research:
We hope to conduct a survey across various age groups addressing water saving habits in both dry and wet periods in Australia. Further, it will address the level of understanding of these dry and wet periods and what causes them (El Niño and El Niña respectively) as well as how global warming would relate to this. This is a direct way to gain an insight into the approaches the public take to water saving.
Secondary Research:
- Looking into water saving strategies in other countries.
- Contacting those who are currently devising strategies and approaches to save water in Australia.
- The stance of other countries in terms of saving water.
- Gain a greater sense of the public’s opinion on the issue of saving water.
Conducting a survey for the public is one of the fastest ways to get results back and it is easy for high school students to do. It seems to us that you are going to just approach people randomly in public and ask them to do a survey. Is there a specific group of people, such as age or gender, that you are targeting for the results? You need to be careful of biases in the results if the sample you get is not random. People who do not care much for saving water may not answer the survey and the results may be skewed.
The secondary research that you suggested for students to do is good in that most of the information can be found online at various government websites. We're not sure how you will be able to gain insights on public's opinion on the issue of saving water though. Contacting those who are currently devising strategies for saving water may be difficult for high school students to do since government officials may not have time to answer questions or be inclined to do so.
Possible ActionsThe Victorian Government’s theme is “Our Water, Our Future,” this makes sense because obviously we need water to survive. There are other alternatives that we can seek in order to maintain our water supply at a high level instead of relying on rainfall. Through the reintroduction of water saving techniques we will be able to limit our water use and save it for the future. The Wonthaggi Desalination Plant will allow us to consume sea water as drinking water however we need to seek other alternatives in order to re-educate people about saving water.
By speaking to local Government it would be possible to organise a SAVE WATER DAY, where people will limit their water usage. Changes could include, hand washing clothes and dishes, having one shower instead of two and not leaving the tap running whilst brushing your teeth. We could also create a PAMPHLET that could be dropped off into letterboxes. It would outline the benefits of saving water and educating older adults that they still need to save water to benefit the future generations. A SEMINAR could be beneficial for country towns so that they know their being included in this awareness campaign. Seminars will educate residents on global warming and in particular the affects of El Nino and La Nina. Stating the differences and how each one affects Australia. Even though we may be coming out of a current wet period (La Nina), we still believe it is paramount to continue to educate the public on the benefits to saving water.
We felt that educating the public on saving water is very important. Students may run the "SAVE WATER DAY" at their school first to judge the results and then proceed to speak with local government about this STSE issue. Handing out pamphlets is definitely another action that is do-able for high school students. Using social media, such as facebook and twitter, and posting youtube videos on water saving can also spread of the important message of this STSE issue.

Project Title: Misleading Food Labelling and Marketing
Team Members: Emma Parker and Lisa Reynolds
Group RiA Plans
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Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
SSI Description
Currently food companies are using food advertising and marketing to confuse consumers into buying products that are ‘supposedly’ healthy however can be misleading to uneducated consumers. Companies chose to advertise ‘fat-free’ products to consumers as healthy alternatives/options however their products are often high in other constituents such as sugar, preservatives and additives.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) are a regulatory body that dictates food advertising and labeling standards in Australia and New Zealand. In addition to this, Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims in food labels and advertising (CoPoNC) regulate claims regarding fat, saturated fat, sugar, fibre, cholesterol and energy on food packaging. For example, the terms such as ‘light’, ‘lite’ and ‘diet’ are frequently used to skew the true contents of food products on the market and such a regulatory body aim to remove the ambiguity of such labeling.
Despite these regulations/standards food packaging remains misleading for food consumers. This leaves consumers unaware of the true contents of products and the impacts on their health. Companies also tend to use ‘healthy sounding words’ or ‘food groups’ e.g. ‘Low GI’, ‘Quinoa’ and ‘Chia seeds’, to promote greater nutritional content in their products. This is part of the ‘health-wave’ that is popular at present and the drive to achieve ‘optimal health’ (the lazy way!). It is controversial as to whether the quantities of these ‘super-foods’ in such products actually provide any health benefits. To add to this issue, the abundance of food and product options in supermarkets further confuse uneducated consumers.
Overall, it is apparent that food companies are taking advantage of consumer’s lack of knowledge and naivety in order to increase product sales.
Research Plans
Primary Research:
In terms of the primary research, we will produce and hand out a questionnaire that asks questions/feedback relating to consumers and their interactions with product labeling and packaging. Questions will provide both quantitative and qualitative results that can be used for the development of objective analysis.
Questions will touch upon:
- General demographic questions (Gender, age, geographical location, socio-economic status, education, cultural background)
- Do you look at food labels? (Yes/No)
- What nutritional knowledge do you have? (Comments)
- What do you look for on food product packaging? For example slogans or ‘healthy’ words such as ‘diet’ (Comments)
- What do you take into account on the food labels, for example sugar content or salt content (Comments)
- Do you feel labelling is clear? (Yes/No)
- Do you find food labelling and packaging misleading or confusing? If so, why? (Yes/No, plus comments)
- Is there anything else you find confusing when shopping in a supermarket? (Comments)
- When you consume foods, do you follow the serving size listed on the nutritional level? (Yes/No/Sometimes, plus comments)
- Do you think any additional information should be included on food labels and packaging? (Yes/No, plus comments)
- What nutritional information are you specifically looking for when reading the nutrition label? (Table below)
Could not insert the table without Wiki going mad! So we have 'explained' the table below
A series of different nutritional categories would be listed, including, serving size, calories, total fat, saturated fat, transatured fat, total carbohydrate, fibre, sugar, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.The questionarre would then ask if the consumer 'Sometimes', 'Never' or 'Always' looks at the amount of each nutritional category products.
Primary Research Context:The Food Labelling Questionnaire will be targeting people of different:- Age- Gender- Socio-economic status- Geographical location- Cultural background- Education status (VCE, tertiary etc…)People will be surveyed directly from different areas of Melbourne and Victoria, through face-to-face interviews and via phone communications. This way we can collate information, both quantitative and qualitative results, over the limited time frame. Results will highlight ‘at risk’ groups in the population, gaps in peoples’ nutrition knowledge, target areas for implementation of health promotion initiatives and other (potentially unpredicted) findings.Secondary Research:Secondary research into food labelling practices as well as legislation and standards will involve investigating the regulatory bodies and current Australian and New Zealand legislations regarding food labelling and packaging. These will include comprehensive analysis of specific FSANZ Standards as part of the Food Standards Code, that we believe to be correlated to consumer confusion. These will relate to both food advertising and food labeling (specific to “Truth in Labelling” and “Nutrition, Health and Related Claims” – Standard 1.2.7 and 1.2.8). The Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims in food labels and advertising (CoPoNC, also be a part of the aforementioned primary research.Secondary research will include a literature review on the current body of work that exists in relation to food labelling and packaging for products both in Australia and New Zealand as well as internationally to allow for comparison.Journal article examples:Kelly, B., Hughes, C., & Chapman, K. (2009). Consumer testing of the acceptability and effectiveness of front-of-pack food labelling systems for the Australian grocery market. Health Promotion International , 24, 120-129.Cowburn, G. & Stockley, J. (2005). Consumer understanding and use of nutrition labelling: a systematic review. Public Health Nutrition, 8, 21­28.Wandel, M. (1997). Food labelling from a consumer perspective. British Food Journal, 99, 212 – 219.Possible ActionsTo combat the issues of consumer confusion in supermarkets, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating chart and Dietary Guidelines for Australians could be displayed around supermarkets. This way the public can receive easily understandable nutritional education when shopping in supermarkets. The inevitability of misunderstanding of food labelling and packaging by consumers in the supermarket is high, and the quantity of food options on offer in supermarkets will be constantly growing. Therefore the provision of this nutrition information, which has shown great success on a public health level, could be promoted on large posters in supermarkets.The further promotion of phone apps could also be beneficial as they provide consumers with ‘instant’ and valuable nutritional information. For example ‘Foodswitch,’ an app by BUPA that allows consumers to scan a product and be presented with healthier options that they could purchase in place of the original item. Pushing for the development of similar apps that were backed by the Australian Government and FSANZ could be useful and based on proper Australian and New Zealand standards so that consumers know the information provided is legitimate. Contacting the Australian Government and FSANZ to develop such an app will be part of our action.We also feel that making change to the current health education system in Australia could improve consumers’ ability to understand, and steer clear of, misleading product labelling and marketing.In AusVELS at Levels 7 and 8 of the Health and Physical Education Domain, there is a focus to teach students to ‘learn how to analyse nutritional information provided in advertising and product labels, and to make decisions about how this information can be used by, or influence, individuals in their food choices.’ In reality, health educators have flexibility to choose educational content that they would like to use during Years 7 to 10, that corresponds to most, if not all the AusVELS curriculum domains. However Units 1, 2, 3 and 4, completed throughout Year 11 and 12, provide more regimented guidelines for teachers educating Human and Health Development. Food labelling and food advertising fits into areas of the VCAA Curriculum units, through topic areas such as Government and Non-Government Health Promotion Initiatives. Specifically, Unit 3 incorporates key knowledge areas that address the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the Dietary Guidelines, in addition to legislation developed by FSANZ. Despite this, it is only a very small component of the course and the main ideas represented may or may not be assessed. As part of our action, we believe it is important to petition to the VCAA to further increase the emphasis on the importance of nutritional education surrounding food labelling and food advertising, as well as the strong association it has with other content areas such as determinants of health and the National Health Priority Areas (NHPA). Further to this, petitioning for increased teacher professional development in this area could improve the teaching and learning of this important area of health education. We believe that providing adolescent students with an awareness of the food industries manipulative practices places them in better stead to understand the general public’s confusion when shopping, and go on to make better decisions long-term as food consumers.
[Feedback from Mahin Aman and Marzena Serwin]
SSI Description
Misleading food labelling and marketing seems to be an issue all around the world. Large corporations in their efforts to market the same unhealthy product as a healthy alternative have resorted to false labelling. It is true that consumers fall prey to these marketing gimmicks and seem to think that they are making a “healthy” food choice when in fact they are not.
It is great to see that there are regulatory bodies out there like Food Standards Australia and New Zealand that are actively monitoring false advertising claims on products. Here’s a link to 10 misleading food product labels in Canada from CBC news:
Emphasis should be placed on educating consumers on understanding (misleading) food labels. Regulatory bodies like FSANZ should look into offering workshops and education seminars for the public on how to decipher food labelling. Both, regulation of food labelling and an educated public will help curb misleading food claims on products.
Research Plans
Your primary research questionnaire looks great – it is detailed and asks specific questions that will allow you to understand the consumer habits of each individual. You could also potentially include pictures of two of the same products (one being a healthier alternative – but with misleading claims) and ask which product the consumer would select in a grocery store. This will help you to understand the role of marketing in targeting consumers. In terms of presenting the questionnaire, aside from phone and face-to-face interviews, you could look into posting the questionnaire online on a course website or personal site and direct people to it. Use of social media may also help direct people to the site for the questionnaire. This would help get more feedback and a larger sample size to base your findings on.
The secondary research that you will be conducting on legislation and food standards will be very helpful to your study as it will provide background information on which to base your recommendations and plans of action.
Possible Actions
Your possible actions plans are well thought out, structured and can potentially be implemented on a large scale. You could possibly make a sample poster of nutritional information that could be placed in a grocery store to include with your assignment.
In terms of incorporating health education into the school curriculum, here is a link to a Food Marketing and Labelling lesson plan that we found:
Lesson plans like these could be made part of education curriculum to demonstrate to students the importance of monitoring what they purchase. Education in schools is a positive strategy in raising health conscious adults of tomorrow. Moreover, much of the same education could be provided to adults in workshops, seminars, online tutorials, and flyers to help make them more aware of misleading food labels and advertisements.

Project Title: Alternative Energy in Australia ;

Team Members: Bernard Street, Finn Mulhall and Ammie Bergmeier

Group RiA Plans
Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Canada (with names)
[Feedback from Hodan, Sabika, Peggy, Benny]
[Feedback from Jeff, Derrick and Lukas]

SSI Description

The majority of Australia's electrical energy production is sourced from the use of fossil fuels such as coal. Global warming, pollution levels and the availability of natural resources demands that alternatives to fossil fuel are implemented as soon as possible.
It is known that other countries in the US and Europe have invested in alternative energy production that is both sustainable and economically viable. Some of these countries have less 'solar potential' than Australia, yet have invested in and developed new alternative energy systems that could be suitable for the Australian climate. In particular these include new solar and
The purpose of this socio-scientific issue is to research alternative energy production in countries other than Australia and investigate the potential and merits of adapting these systems to the Australian power grid. The primary research will focus on analysing the potential solar energy at different locations in Australia. This potential energy will be contrasted with the energy output of coal plants to determine their feasibility as a commercially viable source of alternative energy in Australia.
The goal is to determine what alternative energy systems are available to us, what their viability is and ways they could be implemented. This will form a proposal for an action plan outlining strategies of implementation.
It is very interesting to note that you are comparing the alternatives used in Europe and the US to what could also be implemented in Australia. We were not aware that Australia has such great solar potential that they are not utilizing. In Canada we use hydropower quite extensively using Niagara Falls and other waterfalls in Quebec.
Hello Bernard, Finn and Ammie,
We think it is important that you are focusing on alternative energy production as opposed to just considering reducing end use on an individual basis (which is more commonly talked about, at least over here). This is a quick video that talks about why this is important: One important criticism of this video however is that he advocates for nuclear power. In reality, the life cycle GHG emissions during construction, decommissioning, mining uranium ore, etc. tend to cancel out the low GHG emissions during operation (this is referred to as Nuclear Energy Cannibalism). It is also important to realize that although individual end use reduction may not be that effective, systemic end use reduction is very necessary as well (ie change building codes to make our buildings more sustainable, require manufacturers to produce better appliances), though we understand this isn’t the focus of your STSE issue.
This is an awesome figure to check out if you havn’t seen it: You can see right away where the real problems are. Since the generation of electricity and heat is the largest chunk of GHG emissions it is definitely a good place to start (It also reveals that buildings, residential and commercial, are responsible for 16.5 % of total end use GHG emissions which is huge as well!)
As the other group mentioned, we do use a lot of hydroelectric power in Canada. The obvious problem with hydro is the huge impact on ecosystems. However, if strategically implemented, they can be a reliable source of fairly clean power. Australia doesn’t seem to have the same potential for hydro as Canada though.
On the other hand, Australia does have high very high solar potential compared to a lot of other ‘developed’ nations. See the world map on this site: Also, solar PV technology is constantly getting more efficient. It is good that you are considering what your power grid can be adapted to use. Infrastructure construction costs can be high. In Canada, there is some craziness with our grid in how it is tied to the U.S. grid. There are times that we are forced to sell our power to the U.S. at a loss because we are generating too much power! (Most of Ontario’s power comes from nuclear. You can’t just turn a nuclear plant off). I think solar is a great bet for Australia, though you should definitely look into wind and other technologies as well.
By the way, I think you might want to check your links in your write up. None of them seem to be working.

Research Plans

Primary Research
To generate a more tactile understanding of the issue we plan to measure the amount of energy per square metre from the sun in Australia. One way to do this is to use water - by measuring the temperature change and using some known properties of water such as specific heat capacity, we should be able to get a reasonable measurement of the energy. Comparing this to known values in other countries which are already successfully implementing solar technology, should give us greater understanding of the possibility of implementing such projects in Australia.
We will also put together a list of solar facilities that are already in operation around the world, as well as a list of possible sites in Australia. This will involve a cost-benefit analysis based on most suitable solar technology. AN excellent place to start will be Spain - where 24 hour supply solar power plants are already in operation- see Factors we will consider will be the pollution generated by the construction of such projects vs the savings they make, ease of building, cost etc.
Further we will look into the current programs which exist in Australia as well as the economic and political opportunities and barriers to implementing this technology. A good place to start will be this document One of the most common methods in other countries of promoting the construction of renewable engergy projects is to pay for any electricity going back into the grid at approx current market prices. However, in Australia while this kind of scheme does exist it is capped at levels way below what would be provided by solar thermal generators and so only really promotes smaller projects such as wind turbines - which in turn are often prevented by local state and territory planning laws. This is not a very conducive political environment to implementing alternative energies, so ways around this or possible ways of modifying these barriers need to be researched.
You idea to measure the solar energy per square meter is very cool. It will blend with the curriculum very well and it will also be quite fun for the students to apply their learning in this way. Your plant o look into the current solar facilities and programs is good as well since it will introduce students to what is happening right now which may be something new to them. You are raising some awareness on crucial issues and problems that exist right now that the students may not be know of .
We like your idea of trying to measure the amount of energy per square metre from the sun. You can then compare it to insolation data for your area (insolation is the amount of solar energy received at the earth’s surface). You could also build little solar pv cars (or some other device) that illustrate the power of the sun in hands on way.
The concentrated solar thermal plant in Spain is amazing! It looks perfect for Australia. We think you are right in looking at a cost-benefit analysis along with pollution (or net GHG emissions).
That ‘Energy in Australia’ document looks like an excellent resource! In Ontario, we have a FIT (feed-in tariff) Program for projects over 10kW as well as a MicroFIT program for projects under 10kW. If you generate your own power from an alternate source, you sell it to the grid at a much higher price than you would normally buy it at (the price schedule can be found at As a reference, we generally pay 6-11 cents/kWh for our power). It is surprising that in Australia, your system is capped. The government benefits from large private alternative generation systems and should be incentivizing it.

Possible Actions

The consumption of electricity occurs at every level of modern western life. As such action can be taken at each of these levels. That said, household usage contributes about 12.5% of total energy use in australia - see
Given this, focusing attention on this sector will be less useful - the remaining 87.5% of energy is used in business and industry and it is therefore here where the
biggest impact can be made. However, in order to develop motivation for change there must be two action strategies to implement change.
The primary action
The primary action will focus on understanding the commercial viability of alternative energy sources. If it can be demonstrated through our primary research that the alternative energy systems discussed are viable and profitable options then this information could be used to source large scale investment from energy companies looking to shy away from less desirable and less efficient coal systems.
The secondary action
The secondary action revolves informing the public about cleaner alternative energy options. While the residential sector accounts for just 12.5% of total energy use in Australia they hold a high potential for energy companies to capitalise if one company was to capitalise on a cultural shift, such as a full turn to demand alternative energy.
Through information and education about alternative energies we will attempt to motivate and empower the public to action their own demands to the power companies.
This could be achieved by starting an online blog relating to the issue or holding talks for students in schools which present alternative energy options.
Letters may also be written to government organisations petitioning for more research into alternative energy options. Here, examples of success stories in other countries may be included in order to support points made.
If the residential market begin to demand sustainable power then energy companies will see the market value and be more likely to invest. This in turn could lead to market competition across the energy sector with all investing heavily in alternative energies to gain market favour.
Final goal
The final goal of this RiA is to action change within the energy market at the source of the energy production. In presenting alternative energies as commercially viable and desirable investments for energy companies we may be able to pave the way to a new future of sustainable, ethical and planet friendly energy production so the generations of tomorrow can share, enjoy and prosper on this planet just as we have done.
Your actions seem great and detailed. For you secondary action you can also raise awareness on how different countries are refunding their citizens on the excess power they produce from their own personal solar panels. Then the students may write to the government asking for such incentives.
The actions your group has discussed have the ability to make to major impact, however, this impact is dependent on private enterprises and government’s buying into the idea of alternative sources of energy (which seems like a difficult thing to achieve with how today’s economies work).
That being said, one additional consideration you may want to make is related to the larger impact many smaller actions can make.
For example, educating the public citizens on energy efficient practices for the home, and how to identify and use energy efficient appliances is one possible path to take. The specific actions could be as simple as a pamphlet or poster campaign, or even as complex as a design workshop to help educate people.
Now you may be asking how this relates to sustainable, renewable energy.
If every person became more energy efficient, the demand for energy would decrease. This means energy companies would see a drop in revenue. This will drive these companies to find ways to increase margins (to maintain revenue). This is where lobbying other sources of energy becomes powerful. If at this point it can be shown to these companies other sources of energy can be harnessed at a higher margin with more benefit to the environment, these companies might be more willing to consider them.
Hope this helps; it’s just an idea of also tackling this problem from the bottom-up in addition to lobbying the powers at the top.

Project Title: Petrochemical use & Food Security

Team Members: Tom Ellis & Elleise Ngawaka

Group RiA Plans
Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
SSI Description
The focus of our RiA plan will be food security. The World Health Organisation describes food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.
There is an ever increasing need to focus on food security in the world today; some of the issues which may affect food security are as follows: distribution, trade, production, climate fluctuations and global warming, population growth, globalisation, economics, multinational corporations, land grabbing, civil unrest, and peak oil.
At a local level Australia produces enough food to feed three times our population (~60 million), and currently has a high level of food security. It is understood that in the future many of the issues listed above may affect our ability to maintain this. Particularly drought, as Australia is currently one of the driest countries in the world and food production remains limited to a small amount of arable areas. Climate change models predict it will become drier in the future, negatively affecting food security.
Globally the issue is much more dire, and can be highlighted by a series of articles on the front page of today’s (11/10) website for the guardian newspaper ( Including this article ( describing how extreme weather events are driving food prices up, much of the USA’s maize crop is going towards biofuels, and due to recession in the U.K. many low-income families have cut their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables because of higher prices. This map ( provides an interesting overview of which countries are most at risk (Canada & Australia seem to be fine).
[Feedback from Amanda, Ryan, Amy and Giancarlo]
We thought that your description was interesting and had never considered how many things affect food production and distribution. Although drought will likely affect you, in Canada, we have a different problem in that it is only feasible to produce large quantities of food for 6-8 months of the year. There was a large movement to eat locally within our community and a book on the "100 mile diet" by Canadian Authors Alisa Smith and JB. MacKinnon was an interest summation of the project:
In your Description, you may want to focus a bit more on the one aspect that you will be exploring. It is a huge topic and this might help students to understand the research stage better.
[Feedback from Marzena Serwin and Mahin Aman]
Your topic is very intriguing. Although education is emphasized throughout the world, we often fail to address old practices that are increasingly concerning. The use of petrochemicals is one of these issues and high school students will find this particular intriguing because it affects them directly, on a day-to-day basis. The use of petrochemicals in food it not common knowledge, however, it is critical that students become knowledgeable about these issues as they are future consumers. It is very neat how you tied in the use of petrochemicals into the issue of food security, when the chemicals used in food production become scarce.

[Feedback from Elleise Ngawaka & Tom Ellis]

Thank you for your feedback! We agree that the use of petrochemicals in food is often overlooked and ties in well to the issue of ood security, and possibly the future of food security with petrochemical resources predicted to become scarce. We hope that this topic would engage students because it concerns their very basic physiological need as a human being.

Research Plans
Secondary Research:Through our secondary research, we hope to learn how dependent agriculture is on petrochemicals, and also what developments are being made to ensure that agriculture can continue when our natural resources become low or run out. Also, we hope to find what effect this will have on different countries and their food security status.It is well documented through scientific findings and also through the media that developing countries such as Africa, Asia, and many islands across the Pacific region suffer the most from having very low food security. Through looking at the government websites of western society countries, such as Australia, we want to investigate what they are doing to contribute to food security in affected global areas, and if these contributions will have to increase in the future.We hope to research organisations to find out what their roles are in education and helping solve this SSI Issue. We plan to look at organisations that deal with food security issues globally and also within the national framework of Australia. Some of these organisations include World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC) which is run under the Australian Federal Government. WHO looks at the foreign trade and policy issues that affect food security on a global scale. The AIFSC also has an international focus, and looks at addressing food security in developing countries, as well as agricultural technological advances and the benefits of their adoption within agricultural practices. The AIFSC also aims to educate individuals about the benefits of the adoption of this technology. As for the national relevance of our SSI issue, recently the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry under the Australian Government has released a paper discussing the opportunity for the nation’s first ‘Food Plan’. We hope to further delve into our research by looking at the organisation websites and also any relevant research or articles that may have been produced by them.To help the primary research component of our action plan, we want to look at research articles produced by relevant organisations and scientists who may predict the future of petrochemical use in agriculture and what effects it may have on our food prices and food security on a national and international scale.Primary Research:We have a couple of ideas that we could use as primary research when looking at the petrochemical dependence on our food production.One is to keep a food diary of what we eat during a week, and to record the top three petrochemicals used in its’ production. By doing this we hope to be able to look at the most widely used petrochemicals used in food production and through secondary research find out what the current level of these resources are, and when they could possibly become scarce.Another idea is to again keep a food diary for a total amount of a week, and keep record of the kilometres it travels from production and into our kitchens. By doing this we hope to be able to estimate the petrochemicals used for transportation of our food, and again find out the availability of these chemicals and also when it may become any less available or more expensive, and also if there are alternatives that could be used.
Secondary Research: This is a good choice of secondary research and your sources were very informative. We also suggest that you look into more locally focused actions that people have taken. We think it is very important to show kids that other people have taken action and been effective. Another example from the "locavore" (100 mile diet) actions taken in Canada is a company called Food Nation. The article that we have attached is a summary of the activities of a group of individuals trying out the diet and recording their own experiences. Food Nation
Primary Research: The primary research that you suggest is great! The idea of a diary of food intake would really help students to understand their own food intake and the effects that it has on the environment and the community. We would suggest that you provide students with a format for the journal entries though, since this will be challenging. Finally, you will need to thoroughly teach students how to decide which petrochemicals are used in their food production, as this is not at all obvious. The idea of tracking how far your food has traveled has even more appeal since that is more easily understood.
Your research plan is very neat! We like the idea of using a food diary to track food consumption and then tracking the use of petrochemicals used in the production of each item. This is something students can easily do and the research they conduct to track their own petrochemical use will be a real eye-opener. When we googled “petrochemicals in food” we found many interesting websites. We really liked: it gave a very good overview of the use of petrochemicals in products used on a daily basis. Including cosmetics and household cleaning agents. Although this isn’t what you are focusing on directly, the background information may prove very useful for students. Another website that illustrated the dangers of extensive dependence on petrochemicals was: Here the Ecology Center provides health risks associated with use of petrochemicals in food products. Aside from looking at the use of petrochemicals in the food your students consumer, they could also reflect on how those foods are affecting their health. With regards to the issue of food security, we found this webpage to have a lot of useful information and helpful links: Perhaps you have come across the Community Food Security Coalition whose mission is to, “ catalyzes food systems that are healthy, sustainable, just, and democratic by building community voice and capacity for change”. It would be interesting to determine, whether indeed their practices are healthy, sustainable and just and whether new initiatives are making use of petrochemicals or if they are trying to minimize or avoid their use altogether. Perhaps the first question to pose is, whether it is possible to eliminate petrochemical use in food and would this help us mitigate or minimize food security issues?

[Feedback from Elleise Ngawaka & Tom Ellis]
We hoped that by allowing students to track their own food consumption and their affect on petrochemical resources it would again engage the students on a personal level, and would raise awareness that they would hopefully pass onto their peers and family at home.
Thanks for the additional website resources. The Natural Pure Organics website does provide a great overview of what petrochemicals are and their various uses, and dangers which we agree would be very helpful background reading/research for students regarding this topic.
Your suggestion of students looking at the effects of petrochemicals on their personal health is a great way to include other domains of the curriculum into science.
We had not come across the Community Food Security Coalition, thank you for providing the website. We though your suggestion as to determining if their practices reflect sustainable and safe practices would be a good task to set for students in a class or group discussion.
Questioning the elimination of petrochemical use is definitely viable and in a way the big picture question of what we hope to research and further act upon.
Possible Actions
Possible action may be to approach local councils about the idea of starting community food gardens & have initiatives to start food gardens at home. Schools then may be able to get involved, and this would provide an opening for food education and nutrition to all ages of students. This would also be a way to reduce the use of petrochemicals in the production and transport of food.
To introduce students to the issue in a secondary classroom setting, we could adapt our suggestion for the primary research activity for them. The students will then be able to conduct research on their own eating habits, and by doing so may find other areas of the STSE issue that they may be interested in.
Other ways to promote awareness about food security in Australia and also those countries that we provide food imports for would be to create a blog to share information on the area. People of the general public would then be able to share there views on the issue, and it is a way to bring people of the same views about the issue together possibly create a group that could further awareness and action.
Finally, it is important post-research to reflect on our own food habits. What we eat, where it comes from, and how petrochemical-intensive it was to grow or rear.
Not to harp on the 100 mile diet, but you could use this as a framework for starting a local eating group. Local gardens are great and beyond helping the environment, they provide a wonderful place for students to meet up and work together. Other actions that are possible would be a campaign for local eating, or even a letter to government explaining their research and requesting something simple (eg. tax cuts) for those who can prove they are locally aware.
We agree that reflecting on personal practices is a good start. Many high schools in Ontario, Canada have begun what is referred to the Green Roof Project ( ) if a ‘roof’ isn’t available, than school flower beds are converted into vegetable and fruit gardens. This empowers students and it is great way to make use of the land available.
Good Luck with your work – it looks very interesting and promising!
[Feedback from Elleise Ngawaka & Tom Ellis]
Green Roof Projects are great ways to use available square footage, and also to reduce energy use of buildings. It should ignite the great hobby of gardening and being self-sufficient in the students involved. Thanks for your feedback and suggestions, they are much appreciated!

Project title: Animal testing ; Monique Hofman, Chloe Sharpe
Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
Animal testing has been a part of human practices for hundreds of years. It was first used to learn more about the human body, through the dissection of pigs under anesthesia. The first public display of anger towards the use of animals in a science setting was in 1863 when there was a protest against vivisection, however it was not until 1873 that the first cruelty act for animals was introduced.
Animals used for testing are not always given the best treatment as they are traditionally kept in cages, isolation, are not exposed to daylight and treated poorly. This is not reflective of the natural life the animal would experience outside of this testing and can be very detrimental to the animal. These animals do not have the ability to volunteer for this process like their human counterparts; they are bred for the sole purpose of experimentation.
In the technological world we now live in, it is no longer necessary to conduct research on animals’ as there are many other more viable options, based around the three R’s;
  • Replacing the use of animals with alternatives example cell, tissue, and organ cultures; chemical systems, blood products; computer simulations, plastic organ models
  • Reducing the number of animals to the minimum needed to yield accurate data
  • Refining techniques to minimize or eliminate pain and distress and employing housing and husbandry techniques to enrich the captive environment to reduce boredom and promote natural behavior
The issue becomes more of an economic one, as these options are likely to be more expensive than traditional animal testing. This has been brought to the forefront recently, with cosmetics giant L’Occitane recently making a move back towards animal testing so their products could be sold in China. This was a necessary step for the company, as the Chinese government does not allow cosmetics to be sold in the country unless they have been tested on animals. L’Occitane had previously ruled out animal testing from their company and therefore do not need animals to test their products. This issue is therefore a global one as one country’s policy can easily change the practices of a large multinational corporation, even if this goes against their moral code of conduct in order to enhance their overall profit margins.
[Feedback from Alan, Cody and David]

Your topic is an interesting one, and we would like to find out more about it. Perhaps it would be helpful to have a basic idea of what types of products are usually tested on animals and to what extent. Also, you may want to look at differences in animal testing regulations between countries/geographical regions. You raise some valid points regarding the unethical nature of animal testing, but how about looking into some practical benefits of using the three R's? For example, wouldn't reducing the number of tested animals lower the costs?

[Feedback by Kevin, Kelly and Sanja]
We think your topic is very interesting and is one that would be quite engaging for students, especially those with pets or animal lovers. It would be a good idea to know what animals are most prominently used for animal testing and why. There are probably links and reasons why some animals are used to test certain products and identifying these would be a good learning process, especially since there are probably biological circumstances that force the use of one animal over another. The three R's you proposed seems like an effective manner of tackling the issue, by using some of the strategies we learned through the 3 R's of recycling.
The research that will be undertaken in which to further educate about the issue includes:
Primary research:
A primary research technique could be going into a local supermarket and looking at the range of shampoos, deodorant or lipstick. By looking at the various brands and lines, the clearness of the packaging and labeling could be examined to determine which are tested on animals and which are not. This could then help gather data to what is actually available on the shelves and if there is more of the animal tested products than non-animal tested products. This could also be expanded to focus on other products like meat and eggs where animals are subjected to mistreatment and the range of organic or free-range options that are supplied. It may also be interesting to look at the cost difference between the two options (animal tested and non-animal tested).
Secondary Research:
  • Looking into the treatment of animals in different science settings, for example university and research labs
  • Further looking into the three R’s in which could be used to prevent the use of animals in animal testing (this may be through looking at research articles and journals that have been released)
  • Contacting scientist who are involved or have a background in the research or use of alternatives for animals testing
  • Ethical statement and guidelines in which depict the rules of using animals in testing conditions
  • Statements from the animal cruelty act
  • Australia’s stance on the issue in comparison to other countries
  • PETA and other animal protection agencies policies
  • The approach of large corporations, including cosmetics and pharmaceutical giants.
  • Through published polls get a sense of the publics opinion about the issue.
Having students look at various products at the local grocery stores seems like a feasible project. It may be a good idea to assign groups of students to examine different types of products, as grocery stores sell just about anything. Pharmaceuticals could be another type of product to investigate. We thought that food products such as meat and eggs may actually be more related to the topic of food industrialization, although animals are clearly mistreated in food industries as well. Since local grocery stores will only provide a narrow scope of animal testing as a global issue, it may be helpful for students to focus their secondary research on different regional perspectives, in order to make comparisons.

The primary research technique that you proposed is a really good idea. You can tell students to look out for labels such as "this product was not tested on animals," "Is not tested on animals" or "cruelty free." If there was some way to expand the idea on the differences between animal tested and non-animal tested products such as their relative price difference, popularity and possibly level of effectiveness? This could be more information collected or done through secondary research.
Taking action on this point is a challenge for there is guidelines and animal cruelty already in place around the subject. The action that could be therefore more effective will be creating awareness about the alternatives and that they are out there for people to learn about.
Actions that could be taken to create more awareness and provide information about this issue could be a social media campaign. This would entail the creation of page in which address animal testing and offers information and links that could connect to resources that talk about the alternatives. This page could also allow for people to communicate about the issue and voice their opinions.
Another action could be contacting politicians about the concerns relating to animal testing. This letter could entail information as well as polls in which could be done to get support about changing the conditions/ treatment of animals. This could also apply to writing to a newspaper. Although this would change if writing to a newspaper the content would be on the same line however there would be more depth information about the material.
Contacting industries in which do not test on animals and getting their support in creating awareness. This information could be used to create awareness in the public and to other companies that do test on animals of the options and practices that this company uses to protect animal rights, as well as showing these companies that stopping animal testing is a viable and cost effective option. It could also be used to create a list on animal friendly companies, which could be posted to a website or handed out as a flyer so consumers are aware of what products they are buying.
Yes, we agree that increasing awareness of alternatives, in addition to benefits of alternate methods is a good approach. We feel that in order to gain public support, not only must consumers be made aware of the ethical issues, but clear benefits of non-testing alternatives must be known (or showing that stopping animal testing is a viable and cost effective option, which you mentioned).

The actions proposed sounds good and well thought out. We especially like the idea of contacting industries who are already standing against the use of animal testing to help support the campaign. They are experienced figures that would bring a plethora of knowledge regarding the practices of animal testing. Incentives such as tax cuts on companies who don't use animals for testing can also be a viable option if one can petition the government to implement such a program. But overall, we agree that the best action to take is to raise awareness on the issue.

Project Title: Drinking water in developing countries ; Team Members: Brydie, Thérèse & Vibha

Group RiA Plans
external image tap-water-generic_729-420x0.jpg
Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
Feedback from Dino, Elizabeth, Rob, and Tony.
[Feedback from
Hodan, Sabika, Peggy, Benny]
SSI Description
The issue that we will be looking at is the issue of the availability of safe drinking water in developing countries. We feel this is a very important issue that needs greater attention from the wider global community. Access to safe drinking water is one of the basic rights of every human being yet 75% of the global population are forced to use water which is unsafe to drink. It seems this issue is largely political. The technology for providing clean and safe drinking water has been under constant improvement for hundreds of years however many people suffer and die from diseases which they have picked up from the water supply.
One of our members Vibha, has had first-hand experience of this issue. In her home country of India there is a need to boil the tap water and filter it before it can be consumed. Many people attempt to sell bottled water advertising it as safe and clean. Unfortunately these vendors cannot always be trusted. Many simply repackage the common water supply and do not treat it in any way. The consequences of using unclean water must not be under-estimated. The use of unsafe drinking water is extremely dangerous. Around the world, more people die from water born diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever, than HIV/aids and malaria combined. In Australia many would find this difficult to fathom. Safe drinking water is easily accessed and many take this for granted.
As group we would like to raise awareness of this issue and highlight some of the practical solutions which are currently being developed around the world.
This water safety topic is also one of our very passionate STSE topics. In Canada, we have plenty of freshwater that is safe to consume straight from the tap and many people take this for granted. It is important that all people have this accessibility, education, and technology.
Our group is quite interested in this topic because we need water more than we need food. You raise some valid points and its interesting to note that one of you have personal experience in this subject. One of us also has seen this first hand in Pakistan where the water has to be pre-boiled to get rid of the pathogens in it. It is also very easy to get clean water in Canada so most people don’t realize the effort others have to go through to get the same quality of water.
Research Plans
Some primary research that could be done:
Performing water sanitising procedures:
Chloride / Iodine tablets
PUR water purification packet:
We could follow this with laboratory experiments on testing the quality of water:
pH test – using litmus paper
Filter paper looking for sediment
Looking at a drop of water under a microscope for microbes
Interviewing people who have experienced these issues to contribute to first hand data.
These organisations help underdeveloped countries: These websites provide useful secondary research about this issue. From these resources we would be mainly looking to address the following areas:
- Facts and figures about the global situation.
- Which countries are especially at risk and what methods are commonly used to sanitise water?
- The reasons behind this lack of safe drinking water.
- What are some of the solutions being developed by non-government organisations?
- What is the government doing in these countries to provide safe drinking water?
- What is impact upon the people? Possible link with other diseases?
Websites of interest:
A Layman’s guide to Clean Water:
Children’s safe drinking water
Central for disease control and prevention:
World health organisation:
World water council:
Youtube: PUR Water: Ch. 1 World Water Crisis
Personal account- Vibha
We thought that these are excellent and engaging first hand demonstrations that can be performed by high school students. These are the scaled-down versions of water sanitization protocols in Canada.
Before the students can go off to do these primary research, teachers should ensure that the students know how to handle the experimental materials (e.g. chlorine/iodine tablets) safely.
We were unclear on what grade this project would be targeting. We thought that since microscopes would be involved, it would be a grade 11 or 12 directed research project.
We thought that the way that your group structured the research plans was very well thought out. In particular, we really liked how the procedures are arranged in that we can clearly question each step in terms of efficacy regarding water sanitation and human health. Specifically, you can use the questions to bring other STSE issues to the students' awareness.
You have listed some great methods for water purification and testing. However we are confused as to how you will introduce these to your class. Is this part of the curriculum where you cover all this before you get into the STSE project? Are you looking for the student’s reactions after you do these experiments as to the quality of water available to people in developing countries.
Possible Actions
There are many organisations already in place which work to resolve this issue. Many of these organisations need financial aid. We would, through raising awareness of this issue, encourage people to adopt these causes into their list of personal charities. We could also fundraise money through hosting different events in local communities and donate this money to help support these organisations.
The ways in which we could create awareness:
- Develop a social media page outlining main facts and figures surrounding this issue.
- Organise a guest speaker at a community hall to speak about this issue. Perhaps someone from one of the well-known organisations. Alternatively we may wish to invite someone who has had first-hand experience of this issue. This may inspire listeners to take a greater interest in this topic.
- Develop a poster competition in our local shopping centre about the need for safe drinking water.
The ways in which we could fundraise:
Fun Run: entry cost of a gold coin to enter. Families may wish to sponsor participants. This activity may serve to highlight the body’s need for water.
A Dinner at the town hall. Members of the council and broader community are invited to a night which may include a guest speaker to set the focus for the night. The room may be decorated with posters informing guests further on the issue. The night may also include short documentary type videos to represent the issue in a real and visual way. Money would be raised through tickets for the night, door prizes, raffles and opportunity for individual donations.
We thought that the Fun Run idea was fantastic! The activity is engaging and it drives home the point that humans need water, especially, clean water. Even the people who are not participating in the activity will need water.
In constructive criticism, we thought that the Dinner with council members may not be possible at a high school level. The city/town council members may be extremely busy and may not able to attend such a function, especially one proposed by high school students.
If you are able to get the students interested in this topic your actions will be very successful. Using social media is a great way to use the students strengths since most of them are used to social media such as Facebook and Tumblr. We are wondering where the money you fundraise will go. Are you planning to give it to organizations that are actively purifying and providing water to people in developing nations. Maybe you can also think about including individual actions to address the issue rather than just group work. Maybe another action you can include is the research into the companies that are mislabeling the bottled water as pure and then writing a letter or mock letter to these companies to get them to address the issue. They could also lead protests against the mislabeling of bottled water. You can also address the issue of the environmental impact of the bottles as well as how they are only available to the rich population.

Project Title: The Supermarket Tomato


Group Members: Jade Bayly, Rebecca Cochrane, Susannah McGinnes

STSE Description

Decades of scientific innovation have created the modern supermarket tomato; available in any season, it is a perfectly round, uniformly red, unblemished fruit that can bounce back if dropped. With the texture of an apple and a distinct lack of taste, it is well designed for mass production and transport. By using the tomato as an example, we will examine the disadvantages of mass production of agricultural crops for supermarkets. To narrow down this broad topic, we will focus on the loss of taste, loss of diversity and the impacts on nutrition.
Supermarkets determine the type of tomatoes available to the public, based on factors such as ability to withstand long distance transport, shelf-life and superficial factors such as aesthetics. This has resulted in a loss of diversity of tomato varieties, as the shelves are dominated by Roma, Grosse Lisse and Cherry tomatoes. In the search for the perfect tomato for mass production, taste and nutrition have been forgotten. There are many varieties of heirloom tomatoes that are now only grown in some backyard vegetable gardens. We are risk of losing tasty and nutritious tomato varieties because characteristics such as softness, blemishes and irregular shapes mean they are not suited to mass production.
Not only are we losing diversity, we are also losing the opportunity to be self-sufficient in our own gardens due to the dominant use of F-1 hybrid crops. Growers must purchase new seed annually because the offspring produced from F-1 parents show reduced growth rates and genotypic variance to the parents. This means we are increasingly reliant on the varieties that are commercially available, rather than saving seeds and money in a self-reliant garden. By encouraging home and school gardens we can ensure that people have access to a greater variety of nutritious and appetising vegetables and are less reliant on supermarkets to determine their diet.
Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
[Feedback From Alan, Cody and David]
The issue of genetically modified crops such as the "supermarket tomato" is also one of our interests in STSE issues. Over here in Canada, most of the foods in our supermarkets (about 60-80%) are genetically modified and a number of these are genetically engineered as well. Although these crops such as the tomatoes are designed to have a longer shelf life, they taste bland because of the genetic modifications that cause a decrease in the starch content of the tomato.
Also, the labels “organic” and “contains organic materials” in grocery stores does not tell us everything about the crop. The organic label means greater than 95% organic and the other label is only greater than 70% organic. These are misleading.
We also thought that the idea of encouraging home and school gardens to plant their own authentic vegetables was great. It is a great way to save money on food and to get more nutritious vegetable in their diets.

Research Plans

Secondary Research
  • Research into the nutritional content of supermarket tomatoes, compare to market and home grown varieties.
  • Research into the diversity of modern tomatoes. This could be done by examining seed banks, heirloom vegetable catalogues and other resources.
  • Research the impact of breeding techniques and F-1 hybrids on the range of commercially available tomatoes.
  • Research into the ripening process used in commercial production, looking at the use of ethylene gas. Compare to the natural tomato ripening processes and look at the consequences for taste and nutrition.
Primary Research
  • Take a trip to a local supermarket such as Coles or Woolworths and collect data on the number of different varieties of tomatoes for sale. Repeat data collection at a farmers market and an organic produce shop. Compare to secondary research on the diversity of tomatoes completed previously. Make conclusions about the diversity of tomatoes available to the public.
  • A longer term research option would be to collect data at specific supermarkets and farmers markets once a week for a year. Data could be collected on the tomato varieties available.
  • Conduct taste tests to compare supermarket tomatoes with market and home grown varieties. Tomatoes could be given a rating on sweetness, acidity and texture and the results graphed for comparison.
  • Take seeds from hybrid supermarket tomato and attempt to germinate. Collect data on germination rates. Repeat by taking seeds from an heirloom tomato and attempting to germinate. Compare results.
  • Conduct ripening experiments on unripe tomatoes using ripe bananas that produce ethylene.
We thought that your primary and secondary research plans are excellent. One variable you could consider is "where" were the tomatoes from the supermarkets grown or imported from. This would give you a sense of how far the tomatoes traveled to reach the supermarkets and how would that affect the nutritional values, etc. You can also compare these data to the home grown varieties.
For the primary research, it would be hard for the students to collect data at supermarkets every week for a year, maybe a smaller time range would be more suffice.

Possible Actions

  • Create a pamphlet encouraging home growing of tomatoes. The pamphlet will include details on hybrid v. heirloom seeds, collecting and germination of own seeds (and money saving benefits of self sufficiency), benefits of increased taste/nutrition of the home grown tomatoes.
  • Create a school garden and encourage students to grow and look after the tomatoes. Collect and preserve the seeds and then try germinating new growth from these collected seeds. Send a pack of seeds home with an information/instruction pamphlet, outlining the benefits of home grown tomatoes, attached to school newsletter.
  • Integrate the school garden into the food tech classes that the school runs. Students would create tomato recipes, preserve tomatoes and cook tomato dishes as part of their curriculum.
  • Hold a stall at local markets or during the school open day promoting the health benefits of home gardens. Offer taste tests of supermarket/home grown tomatoes for the community to taste the difference for themselves. Pamphlets could be handed out providing the details of how to grow tomatoes at home and the benefits of doing do. Seeds, seedlings, recipes and dishes made with tomatoes could be sold to raise money to then be put back into the buying of supplies for the school garden.
  • A social media campaign and/or website could be established to promote the benefits of home grown tomatoes and even other fruits and vegetables. This could be created, updated and maintained so that the latest recipes, information and helpful tips are being made available to the public and local community. This could also be advertised on local radio and television stations.
We thought that these are all excellent actions that students could take. One thing to add is that instead of just promoting the benefits in the pamphlet or the social media campaign, mention some of the drawbacks of supermarket tomatoes and other crops as well. You can also take pictures or video clips of the experiments that the students have done and upload it to the website to show "visually" how the home grown tomatoes are different from the supermarket tomatoes.

Group RiA Plans – Group members: Catherine Clark and Szilvia Likar

Feedback From Preservice Teachers in Australia/Canada (with names)
[Feedback from Jeff, Derrick and Lukas]
Hi guys thanks so much for your thoughtful and creative feedback it is very much appreciated!
STSE Description
High fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a common sweetener used in the food and drinks we consume. As the use of HFCS has increased so it seems have our obesity levels and consequently other health related problems. The issue we would like to investigate is ‘how prevalent is the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup in the foods and drinks that we consume’ and is this sweet devil a major contributor to our increasing obesity and thus health issues such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Standard table sugar processed from sugar cane is typically 50% fructose and 50% glucose. On the other hand HFCS is slightly sweeter because it is processed to 55% fructose and 45% glucose and the fructose is the part which gives the sweetness of the product. Even though HFCS is similar to cane sugar controversy still exists about whether or not the body handles HFCS differently. Naturally lab rats have been tested but in truth the jury is still out about how exactly it affects humans compared to standard table sugar.
In the USA the use of HFCS has become very common in processed foods and it would appear the use of it will continue as corn subsides and sugar tariffs have made it a cheap alternative. In addition it is very easy to blend and transport because it is a liquid. However what about Australia and Canada? Is the HFCS as prevalent in our processed foods?
Hello Catherine and Szilvia,
This is an excellent STSE issue for students to explore, because it is immediately relatable to their daily lives. We thought that a helpful way to engage students would be to first show how HFCS is manufactured, for example:, especially to highlight the extensive processing that is involved. Certainly in Canada, we were surprised to find that HFCS is an ingredient in almost all food containing added sugar, simply because it is a cheaper alternative to use rather than natural sugar. This led us to think that an important aspect for students to consider is economics. The rise in the use of HFCS is directly connected to the U.S. government’s attempt to reduce American reliance on foreign oil. Ethanol derived from corn was seen as a way to enrich the domestic fuel supply, although it has taken decades to successfully market ethanol-supplemented alternative fuels and vehicles that use these fuels to the public. The subsidies that the U.S. government provided to farmers as an incentive to grow more corn to produce ethanol in turn led to a huge glut of corn, and it subsequently became economically feasible to convert this surplus corn into HFCS. Therefore the economics of corn ethanol and HFCS are tightly linked: (See We note that the U.S. government’s corn ethanol subsidy has quietly elapsed (December 21, 2011). Interestingly, increasing demand for corn ethanol has (in the short term) reduced the surplus of corn on the market while increasing demand and prices. It is possible that the lapse of the corn subsidy may ultimately have a negative impact on future HFCS production, and may increase the demand for natural sugar instead.
Research Plans
Primary Research – In this research we would like to survey our supermarket shelves to determine how prevalent HFCS is in the processed foods available to Australians. It would also be great if in a joint venture we could get some Canadians to survey their grocery stores as well. A comparison of similar products for percentage of HFCS would be interesting as we could then compare this to obesity rates in particular age groups in both countries. In the survey we would like to investigate the following:
1) What typically standard items (eg. Bread, soft drink, packet meals, cereals etc) contain HFCS and in what quantities?
2) What ‘youth’ marketed and processed food and drink contains HFCS and in what quantities?
3) Are there alternatives on our shelves that contain less HFCS or other types of sugar?
Secondary Research – Is HFCS more detrimental on our health than other processed sugar? There does seem to be conflicting views on the impact of HFCS alone on our increasing levels of obesity. What exactly are the two views and what is the research and evidence to support these views? Naturally occurring fructose like that from fruit and vegetables gives us a feeling of fullness because it is connected to foods which also contain an element of fiber but highly processed foods do not. So if I use some HFCS to sweeten my ‘apple all bran muffins’ is this worse than using condensed apple juice or cane sugar?
We like your ideas about determining the HFCS content of foods and drinks, especially those marketed to youths. In Canada, while nutritional information is universally provided to the consumer on product labels, we are afraid that determining the actual HFCS content in a particular food or drink may be difficult. Unfortunately, companies are able to mask the amount of HFCS included by also including natural sugars, because only the overall sugar content of the food or drink is measured. Also, the type and concentration of HFCS used is almost never reported, so while an ingredient list may indicate that the amount of HFCS is low (simply by its position on the list), it may in fact be used in a concentrated form to provide the desired sweetness. Luckily, there is reliable public information that students can research to try and discern the HFCS content of foods and drinks – including some surprising foods (yogurt, salad dressing) and even seemingly healthy ones (some breakfast cereals and “whole-grain” breads). As you point out, a good exercise for students would be to find alternative products that don’t contain HFCS. The potential health effects related to consumption of HFCS is quite contentious and the evidence either for or against seems to be strongly backed by the respective stakeholders. Another point of interest might be an investigation of the advertising and marketing of products containing HFCS, and especially the targeting of the youth demographic.
Possible Actions
As food is an absolute necessity for us humans this is a world wide, controversial and debatable topic. It is very important that the food we put into our bodies is nourishing and not having a negative effect on our bodies and our health. Hence it is important that this information is available to everyone, everywhere. The only possible action that fit this need was to create a web forum. On this forum we would invite people from all over the globe to read and evaluate our data and research and have them express and share their views. This would allow us to compare foods available in different countries of the world and see if the level of HFCS in their foods reflects what might be happening to obesity levels. Naturally the forum may also invite other researchers who have done different testing and experiments to share and present other points of view. Although the jury is still out about whether or not HFCS is the sweetest poison, education and awareness are crucial steps towards finding the real answers.
Another possible action could be to write to a number of newspapers, highlighting our findings and research and asking them to run a story relating to the issue of HFCS use in our processed foods. This article could be used in conjunction with our web forum with it highlighting how and where to access the forum.
An online platform and forum is an excellent idea for a form of action, especially since the internet is making information so much more accessible for everyone. Food education is difficult for a couple of reasons: marketing masks a lot of the crucial information, we live in high-paced world so people do not spend the time necessary to learn about the details of what they are eating, and in general the science behind food might be too complex for the average person to understand.
That being said, another form of action you may want to consider taking is the gamification of Food Education. Gamification is the process of making games of topics or in a context that you typically would not find a game.
The reason this might be a powerful action is because we have seen the success that simple games suchas Farmville have already had on existing major online platforms such as Facebook. Creating a game where the primary interest of the user is to have fun (and a by-product is Food Education), is one way to drive your message home to many people at once in a way that most people would be comfortable with.