Australia: Vegemite is 'gateway to misery' – but will not be banned

Government decides against plan to limit sales of yeast spread after claims it is used to brew moonshine

(Image credit: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The Australian government has decided not to introduce a control on sales of Vegemite, which would have limited the amount of the yeast extract spread an individual could buy at one time because it is being used to produce illicit alcohol.

Vegemite, Australia's answer to Marmite, is being bought in bulk to brew moonshine in remote indigenous communities, where it has become a "precursor to misery" according to Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion.

Time magazine says Scullion suggested sales should be limited, claiming children were failing to go to school because they had hangovers and that the ale produced was a factor in domestic violence cases.

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Now though, Scullion's prime minister has over-ruled him, says the BBC. Tony Abbott said yesterday that Vegemite was "reasonably nutritious" and he would not control it because "this is a deregulatory government".

Abbott added: "The last thing I want to do is have a Vegemite watch."

The salty brown spread is manufactured from a by-product of the brewing process and the story goes that brewer's yeast can be extracted from it and used to make alcohol. However, The Guardian today pours cold water on that notion.

"Few in the Northern Territory, where there are 19 communities that restrict alcohol, have been able to confirm any knowledge of the practice," says the paper. It goes on to quote one former teacher as saying homebrew is being made with orange juice poured through nappies.

Dr John Boffa of the People's Alcohol Action Coalition, who is based in the remote town of Alice Springs, told the BBC the problem of illicit alcohol was not widespread, however it is brewed.

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."

Alwyn Lyall, the chairman of Western Yalanji Aboriginal corporation told The Guardian: "It really got up my nose when this got out. I'm wondering, who's telling these people this sort of garbage?

"It's alright for [the federal government] to make sly remarks about the [indigenous] community and sly grogging but what it really comes back to is meaningful employment in our community."

Vegemite is known to many Brits for from Men At Work's 1981 song Down Under, and the line: "I said, 'Do you speak my language?' / He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich."

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