Growcom decries federal “she’ll be right” food policy

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 23rd May 2011

VegetablesPeak horticulture body Growcom has called for the urgent integration of food policy and programs by the federal government to plan for future food security.

Chief Executive Officer Alex Livingstone said the call follows the release of several federal government reports in recent days, which he said indicate an insular and complacent approach to national food security.

Livingstone said the government continued to take a ‘she’ll be right’ approach to food policy issues, spruiking figures showing that Australia produces significantly more food than we consume at a time when the World Bank is warning of increasing global instability with food prices increasing 36 per cent in the past year and 44 million people forced into poverty.

“In ABARE’s report, Global food security: facts, issues and implications released this week, the agency somewhat arrogantly states that the high income levels of most Australians ensures our capacity to purchase the food we need, whether imported or domestically produced. The agency concludes that as a consequence, Australia’s food security would not be threatened by any diminution of food self sufficiency that might occur with increased imports in the future,” said Livingstone.

“This totally ignores the fact that these imports may no longer be available in the future at any cost. It also ignores reports showing sections of the community without the resources to access fresh healthy food and growing demands for charities such as Foodbank to fill the breach.

“This head in the sand approach is echoed in the report Sustainable Australia – Sustainable Communities – a sustainable population strategy for Australia, launched by former Agriculture Minister Tony Burke last week, which complacently claims Australia is ‘sheltered from immediate concerns about food shortages because we produce significantly more food than we consume, exporting more than half of our food production while ensuring that around 98 per cent of the fresh produce sold in supermarkets is grown and supplied domestically.’

“In sharp contract to this conclusion comes the report Victorian Food Supply Scenarios: impacts on availability of a nutritious diet, written by researchers from the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, University of Melbourne, CSIRO and Deakin University which concludes  that Australia is not producing enough healthy food to meet the nutritional requirements of the population – and that in a future constrained by high population growth, peak oil and fierce competition for land and water resources, there’s an urgent need to make smarter decisions to assure a nutritious food supply.”

Livingstone said that an important concept underpinning this work was that an overall surplus of food production – i.e. in wheat and beef – does not necessarily ensure there is adequate production of a nutritionally-balanced food supply.

“The researchers identified how many grams per day of food from each food group is recommended by health authorities for people across four categories of the population:– children 4 to 11 years old; adolescents 12-18 years old; men over 18 years; and women over 18 years old there is immediate evidence of shortages of some foods required. In particular, Australia’s current horticultural production is already inadequate to provide sufficient serves of fruit and vegetables to meet the recommendations of health experts.

“Ironically, there has been strong political support for the need to address the increasingly poor health of many Australians and the rise in obesity and lifestyle-related diseases. The release of the report Weighing it up: an inquiry into obesity in Australia in 2009 showed that 68 per cent of Australian men are now overweight or obese while 55 per cent of adult women are overweight or obese and 17 per cent of children fit this category. Meanwhile, there has been a dramatic increase in serious diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, various types of cancer and osteoarthritis with an estimated cost to the health care system of $58.2 billion (2008) annually.

“Yet politicians seem unable to join the dots and link the issues of food security and health through some long term planning.

“It is time for governments to look beyond the next election, to direct departments and agencies to look outside their individual silos and pet biases, to set up a national food agency which integrates the planning and policies required to ensure Australian food security in the future.”

Growcom calls for a national approach to food which coordinates food policy and programs, integrates the food regulatory system, employs a national data collection system, coordinates land use planning and gives Australia a significant role in global food security.

The organisation released a report on Food Security from a horticultural perspective in March.