Fears for future of Australian food

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 20th May 2008

Hidden environmental costs make food production more vulnerable than previously thought and food industry professionals should prepare for continuing rising food prices, a new report has shown.

The report, Secure and Sustainable Food Systems for Victoria, produced by the Victorian Eco-Innovation Laboratory (VEIL), investigated the relationship between food, resources, health and the environment.

The ability for Victoria to feed itself in the decades ahead has been questioned and follows similar findings in Western Australia where fears for the future of their food industry have been growing this year. The concern in WA has led to Jim Turley, Chief Executive of the WA Vegetable Growers Association, labelling the current system as “unsustainable”. “Simply, we won’t be able to grow enough food to feed ourselves,” Mr Turley told The West Australian.

Lead author Kirsten Larsen, based at the University of Melbourne, says food production will be increasingly challenged by changing climate, dwindling supplies of cheap oil and declining water and soil resources. “What has become patently clear is that major innovations – well beyond efficiency improvements in existing food production – are needed, and soon, if we are to have good food to feed all Victorians and to meet export demands,” Ms Larsen said.

“We have major gaps in knowledge about Victoria’s and Australia’s food systems that we must address,” Ms Larsen added. Strategies ranging from precision farming to urban food production provide glimpses of future food systems, but Victoria needed to carefully consider all approaches – old and new – to actively plan for and design sustainable and secure food systems.

The report is the first to explore vulnerabilities and opportunities in Victoria’s food systems from production to consumption, paddock to plate.

The report:
• examines how emerging policies – such as emissions trading – will combine with other price pressures to affect food security for many Victorians.
• identifies innovative and safe solutions and strategies being developed on farms, in businesses and in communities.
• suggests that dietary changes can significantly reduce environmental impact and can, in many cases, also be good for our health.
• calls for an immediate transition to food systems that regenerate Victoria’s soil and water resources, can cope with unpredictable and changing climate conditions, and provide affordable food to all Victorians while meeting international need.

“There is an urgent need to act. Environmental risks and resource constraints are already undermining our ability to increase food production and are reducing access to healthy and affordable food.”

The report is not welcome news as food prices are already on a rapid incline and fears of a global food shortage have become commonplace in some areas of the world.

The full report can be accessed online.