Mixed reaction to Australian Government’s National Food Plan

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 27th May 2013

The Australian Government has released its National Food Plan, which it says will provide “a roadmap for the future” for governments, businesses and individuals to work together. But the plan has been met with mixed reactions by industry and health organisations.

Launched on Saturday 25 May 2013 by Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig at Rocklea Markets in Brisbane, the plan outlines a number of new initiatives. The Government said “these measures aim to increase Australian children’s connection with food, build our food trade ties with Asia, build recognition of the Australian brand in international markets and boost investment in research and development for Australian agriculture”.

“Australia’s food is the envy of the world, as we produce more than twice the food we consume, we need to remain focused on finding new markets for our high quality exports,” Senator Ludwig said.

“Our food supply chain has a strong foundation, with high levels of food security and hard working producers. Like other around the world, there are challenges including climate changes, population growth, diet-related health issues, and competition for resources. There are also enormous opportunities, including the rise of Asia,” he said.

Plan welcomed by farmers, country of origin campaign

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has welcomed the National Food Plan, saying it responds to many of the challenges set for the Government by the NFF.

“The Food Plan, at its highest level, is designed to help Australian food businesses overcome their diverse challenges, and benefit from emerging markets in Asia,” said Duncan Fraser, NFF President.

“It’s an ambitious goal, and to ensure it remains relevant – and beneficial – to farmers at the forefront of producing our food, the NFF set a series of direct challenges to Government: things we wanted to see included in the Food Plan. We are pleased to see that the Government has listened,” Mr Fraser said.

The Plan has also been welcomed by country of origin campaign, the ‘Australian Made Campaign’.

“We welcome the National Food Plan’s focus on exporting into Asia, and in particular the importance of branding Australian products in those marketplaces,” said Ian Harrison, Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive.

“It is very pleasing to see Ministers Ludwig and Emerson recognise the important role that the Australian made, Australian Grown logo can play in building the Australian brand in Asia,” Mr Harrision said.

Plan criticised by Federal Opposition and health organisations

But the Federal Opposition has responded to the National Food Plan by saying it is too little, too late.

“After a six-year anti-farm agenda, Labor has belatedly acknowledged agriculture’s role in food production,” said John Cobb, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security. “But the glaring omission in this Food Plan is the key driver for food security, sustainability and the future of agriculture: profit,” he said.

Mr Cobb said both the Carbon Tax and the ban of live exports to Indonesia in 2011 “undermined the profitability of the farm sector”.

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has also criticised the National Food Plan, saying it “fails Australian communities” by favouring industry.

“This National Food Plan could have been visionary,” said Michael Moore, PHAA CEO. “We also know that Australia will be facing real challenges from climate change, limited water and other resources in our agricultural sectors. We know that over 1 million Australians are food insecure and this is associated with poorer quality of life. A national food plan and the investments should have tackled these critical issues full on,” he said.

Plan at a glance

The National Food Plan is underpinned by four key themes: growing exports, a thriving industry, people, and sustainability.

Growing exports

The Australian Government said that growth in Australia’s food industry is likely to come largely from increased exports, given the small domestic market. The Government said it plans to market both Australian produce and expertise as a “brand identity”.

The National Food Plan outlines the following investments to encourage the growth of export markets.

  • $28.5 million in the ‘Asian Food Markets Research Fund’ for research that addresses obstacles to export, in order to help businesses increase exports of food products and services to Asian markets. This will include a ‘What Asia Wants’ study to identify food needs and preferences in the region.
  • $5.6 million to build on relationships with trading partners in key and emerging markets by expanding the network of specialists that support agricultural trade in Asia, and having market liaison officers for key food sectors.
  • $2 million to develop a brand identity for Australian food and related technology.

Developing a thriving industry

The Australian Government said it wants the food industry to “seize the opportunities of the Asian century” and become a larger part of the national economy.

According to the Australian Government, investment is needed to ensure Australian food businesses have the skills and capital to adopt new technologies, adapt quickly to changing market and environmental conditions and capitalise on opportunities. The Government said it must also ensure that “markets are competitive and regulations benefit Australians without holding businesses back”.

In order to help Australian agricultural output increase by 30 per cent by 2050, the National Food Plan outlines the both continuing and planned investment.

Continuing investment includes “support for innovation along the food supply chain” through financial support for food-related research, investment in infrastructure and biosecurity that supports Australia’s food supply chain, and investment in Australia’s rural research and development system.

Future investments outlined by the National Food Plan include:

  • $2.2 million for research and analysis of food industry trends to help business and Governments plan infrastructure to support a growing industry to 2025. This research will be funded through the Asian Food Markets Research Fund.
  • The appointment of experienced business leader as the Food and Beverage Supplier Advocate to encourage business–to–business links between food suppliers and their customers
  • The creation of a Productivity Commission review to identify priority areas for reform of food supply chain regulations looking from the paddock to the plate
  • $1.5 million to develop resources and provide professional development to support teaching about food and agriculture though the Australian Curriculum.

People and health

The Australian Government says it plans to improve food security in Australia and that measures outlined in the National Food Plan will help maintain food supply during emergencies such as natural disasters. It also said that all Australians need an understanding of food production, distribution and preparation “because our food choices affect our health and our food system”.

The National Food Plan outlines initiatives to improve food labelling, including country of origin labelling, to promote healthy behaviours and address lifestyle-related diseases through initiatives such as the development of a National Nutrition Policy and further investment in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program.

The Plan also outlines financial investment in community grants to help support the establishment of initiatives like community gardens and farmers’ markets, and the development of a food and agriculture education program through the Australian Curriculum.

‘Sustainable’ food

The Australian Government said it is committed to supporting farmers to continue to adopt more sustainable and innovative farming practices to increase productivity, prepare for a changing climate, and protect Australia’s “environmental assets”.

The National Food Plan outlines initiatives in this area, including a scheme to reduce national food waste, various initiatives to encourage the development and adoption of more sustainable farming practices, and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.