THE sale of Vegemite in Australia should be limited in some communities because it is being used to brew alcohol, a government ministry has warned.
Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion said remote Aboriginal communities with an existing ban on alcohol sales because of addiction problems should consider withholding the popular spread.
But Australian prime minister Tony Abbott quickly dismissed suggestions of an outright ban on the product, created as a war-time replacement for Marmite.
Reports of the brewer’s yeast in the spread being used to produce beer and ale in Queensland and the Northern Territory promoted the initial concern. Individuals were said to be buying up to 20 jars at a time in shops and there were suggestions children were not turning up for school because they were drunk from home brew.
Mr Scullion said: “Addiction of any type is a concern but communities, especially where alcohol is banned, must work to ensure home brewing of this type does not occur.
“Our priority has always been to get kids to school, make communities safer and get people into jobs. Businesses in these communities also have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions.”
He added: “The government is not seeking to place any restrictions on Vegemite or any other yeast product that may be used in home brew in remote communities.”
This is not the first time restrictions have been considered on non-alcoholic products used to create alcohol. In Queensland, 19 communities limit or ban alcohol and in 2013, the government suggested lifting restrictions as reports surfaced of products such as Ribena juice being used.
Selwyn Button, from the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, said at the time: “They’re using a whole range of products and items that can be used to essentially ferment and turn into alcohol.
“It’s anything that they can get their hands on that has the ability to ferment,”
Prime minister Abbott said there would be no outright ban on the Vegemite and defended the spread.
He said: “This is a deregulatory government and the last thing I want to do is to have a Vegemite watch … because Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches.
“What’s important is that we ensure that remote communities, all communities, are being properly policed.”
Mr Abbott said the government was focusing on its new Healthy Welfare debit card to limit money spent on gambling or alcohol by those on unemployment benefits.
He said: “People who are largely reliant on social security for their income will be spending the vast bulk of their income on things that are good for them and their families.”
Dr John Boffa of the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition in the Northern Territory said the problem of brewing alcohol at home was not widespread and local communities needed to initiate solutions to addiction problems themselves.
He said: “We’re talking about an isolated problem in a couple of communities around a very large nation, and a nation where there is a very large number of Aboriginal communities, and every community is different.”
Vegemite was first created in 1922 by the Fred Walker Company, which later became the Kraft Food Company, when they developed the spread from brewer’s yeast.