Food policy must be on election menu – AFGC

Posted by Josette Dunn on 28th July 2010

Neither major political party has a policy on something that affects every Australian, every day – food and groceries, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said today.Highlighting that Australia’s $100 billion food and grocery industry is four times larger than the automotive sector and employs 315,000 people including more than 150,000 in regional Australia, AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said there’s been no focus on this vital industry during the 2010 election campaign.

“It’s disappointing and amazing that no political party has released a policy position to ensure that Australia’s largest manufacturing sector – food and grocery – has a robust future,” said Ms Carnell, who challenged all parties to reveal their industry policy statements before the Federal ballot on August 21.

“I’m sure all Australians want to continue to enjoy high-quality, affordable, nutritious and Australian-made food, groceries and beverages and not be reliant on products imported from the Asia Pacific region in the future.

“Food and grocery is a major exporter of value-added products – about $25 billion a year – spends almost $4 billion on capital expenditure and invests about $500 million a year on R&D – yet there’s still no sign of any party policies.

“With a growing population and demand for food globally, we urgently need a change of direction to fast-track a major policy menu so Australia will continue to have a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply into the future.

“We must also recognise the importance of research and development for innovation and sustainability as well as focusing on the whole value chain from farm-gate to factory.

“Food and grocery manufacturers have been subjected to increased cost of labour, power, water and a strong Aussie dollar – all of which have made it harder for Australian-made products to compete with cheaper imports.”

In fact, the value of food, beverage and grocery imports have increased by 40 per cent over the past five years resulting in a trade surplus that has fallen from $4.5 billion in 2004-05 to $150 million in 2008-09*. (*Source: AFGC’s State of the Industry 2009 compiled by KPMG)

“If Australian consumers are going to continue to have the choice of buying locally-made products, this must be increased,” Ms Carnell said.

During the 2010 election campaign, AFGC is encouraging all parties to commit to a broad-base National Food and Grocery Agenda, which should include:

> A Minister responsible for the food and grocery manufacturing industry
> Incentives for R&D leading to product innovation and increased production

> An efficient transport system with better infrastructure and consistent rules and regulations

> An environmentally sustainable food chain – with a focus on better packaging, efficient use of water, minimising food waste and energy use

> A focus on improving export capacity

> Continuous improvements in food safety

> Support for production of clean, green, healthy and affordable food both for Australia and the world

> Better packaging and efficient use of water

> Consistent rules and regulations.

Ms Carnell said if government and stakeholders can form a partnership to develop a National Food and Grocery Agenda, Australia can effectively address and safeguard production, sustainability, safety, health, export and trade issues surrounding food and groceries in this country.

“Industry stands ready and willing to work with government and stakeholders on this important issue which needs a whole-of-government approach,” Ms Carnell said.

“A thriving and prosperous food industry will contribute many benefits to the Australian economy including increased job opportunities, especially in rural and regional areas and a sustainable food supply into the future.

“Overall, Australians want a sustainable, robust and local food production and processing sector – they don’t want to be increasingly reliant on imports for our food supply.”