JUICE

REPORTER: JAMES THOMAS

Valued at more than a billion dollars the Australia's Juice industry is big business.

Coca Cola, Heinz, National Foods. The message on their juice is simple -- FRESH. Fresh as the orange it came from, fresh because it's squeezed daily, a premium juice its fresh. But, the truth is not found on labels or websites.

Juice companies have a secret. It's called aseptically processed juice and it's anything but fresh. "It can be up to 12 months old. I mean, I've heard they've kept it for up to two years... These are all over the country at the moment" says Ron Gray, a citrus grower for most of his life.

Aseptic juice is freshly squeezed juice which is heated anywhere up to 95 degrees to kill bacteria. Then it is packed into 1000 litre bags and cold stored for months if not years. "It is not publicised but everyone in the factories knows it goes on" says our whistleblower.

Aseptic processing kills an orange's essential ingredient - vitamin C, it reduces taste and changes colour. Shortly, a company whistleblower tells us what they do to aseptic juice to make it acceptable to consumers. It will leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Ron was having trouble getting a decent price for his fresh oranges. It puzzled him why processors weren't buying his oranges. That's when he discovered juice companies had massive stockpiles of aseptic juice. "They are using this as a leaver to talk down the price they are paying the poor grower."

Ron says juice companies are buying more oranges than they need when prices are cheap with aseptic processing they can store the excess. "They are boiling them up and putting them in large aseptic bags into cool store."

When supply is low and prices should rise, Ron says the companies offer unrealistically low prices, knowing they have stores of aseptic to fall back on. "They'll say to the poor old grower, we don't want your fruit, we have plenty of aseptic juice and a month later they'll come back and offer half of what the original price was."

Ron says growers should be getting 40 cents a kilo. He's been offered 5 cents a kilo by the juice companies. "They are doing it for money, they are making money out of this the easiest and cheapest and simplest way they can. That's all it boils down to."

Companies say they must use aseptic juice to supplement shortfalls in the supply and that it is expensive to cold store juice. Ron says the advent of aseptic is not just killing the industry but bad for consumers. "We have gone backwards from a healthy product to an absolute disaster."

"You are removing a lot of the fresh tasting components of that juice. So it becomes a much blander orange juice" says George Polymiatis. He makes Polly's Juice. "We certainly don't use aseptic or concentrate. It is straight from the orange."

A microbiologist by trade, George says aseptic is an inferior damaged product. "The moment you heat it... The vitamin c level is reduced by 50%" says George.

It's not just Vitamin C which is lost. "We'll also add a little highlighter to it, to give it a bit more flavour. Valencia Essence… It is a liquid that tastes like valencia orange... I am not sure if it is chemical or natural, not sure" says the whistleblower.

Fearing repercussions our whistleblower refused to be identified. He knows all about your orange juice. "I've blended juices for national foods."

But how do you know the aseptic is in it? "Because as a blender, I've put it in, it is part of the formulation."

National foods makes Australian Fresh and Berri Daily Juice. They refused an on camera interview but admitted using aseptic juice. How much goes into each container may shock you. "When you buy fresh juice in winter, 20% would be fresh and the rest of it would be aseptic and concentrate" says our whistleblower.

None of the juice companies list aseptic juice as an ingredient on their fresh juices. "Well look at the label, it says Australian fresh but it's far from it. I don't reckon boiling fruit juice and storing it for up to 12 months can be described as fresh. So consumers are being conned" says Senator Nick Xenophon. He is moving to legislate for more honest labelling.

"I've introduced legislation to put truth in food labelling with Bob Brown and Barnaby Joyce. This is an issue that goes beyond politics" says Nick.

Until that happens, customers have no way of telling which companies use aseptic juice.

In an email, Coca Cola, admitted using Aseptic juice. But they denied claiming their juice was "freshly squeezed". However, on their website Coca Cola's GV Premium range juice is clearly promoted as "fresh".

"Where products are marketed as fresh and they contain aseptic juice. Then,

in our view they breach the code that has been set by industry and line themselves up for prosecution" says Graeme Samuel.

Those words may have just sent a shudder through the spines of juice executives. Graeme Samuel is the Chairman of the Australian competition and consumer commission. "They are not fresh, if they have aseptic juice in them. They breach the code" adds Graeme.

Plant manager for Nippys Juice, Frank Morena tells everybody his product is fresh, that is, until he is reminded that he uses aseptic juice, which can be more than a year old.

For now, Food Standards Australia allows producers like Frank Morena from Nippys to hide aseptic juice in their product without telling consumers, much to the dismay of the ACCC. "The ACCC would have a strong preference that ingredients like this are marked on the packaging. But it is outside the jurisdiction of the ACCC to require that to be included" says Graeme.

"A small company like us has to compete with the multinationals... They use more concentrate than we do" says Frank.

Nippy's do produce a Juice free of aseptic, it's all orange. But, Frank has trouble selling it at 20 cents more because consumers can't tell the difference between aseptic juice and real fresh juice - because it isn't labelled.

Foods Standards Australia New Zealand in conjunction with the government can force producers to tell the truth. Ron Gray wishes they'd hurry up.