Australia’s food security vulnerability

Peak horticulture organisation Growcom today congratulated the Australian government on initiating the development of a national food plan.

Commenting on the Government’s issues paper Growcom said the development of a national food plan had been a high priority for the organisation for some time.

However, in a submission Growcom disagreed with the Government that Australia did not have a food security problem.

“Casual statements about Australia producing more food than we consume do not reflect the full food security picture,” said CEO Alex Livingstone.

“There is a bias in this debate towards abundant exports of meat and grain. However, for their nutritional health Australians must have access to the recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake.

“We contend that there are a number of risks to the security of horticultural products in Australia both in the short and longer term.”

Mr Livingstone said it was worrying that currently, Australia is a net importer of fruit and vegetable products, according to the Government’s own data.

“With respect to vegetables, we export about 9 per cent of what we produce, but import about 19 per cent of what we actually consume (primarily as canned or frozen products). We import just over twice as much as we export.

“In terms of fruit, we export about 13 per cent of production, but import about 34 per cent of what we consume. We import about 2.6 times as much as we export.”

Mr Livingstone said the Government’s contention that Australia is “food secure” was based on an assumption of continued easy access to imports.

“Growcom does not consider this to be an acceptable strategic policy position as there are a number of threats to our capacity to access such imports,” he said.

“We accept that imports are necessary and support the current approach to free trade but we do not see it as a replacement for actually dealing with the issue of domestic food security. Imports are not a secure source of food and are vulnerable to a number of foreseeable risks, including production failures, trade restrictions, conflict and reduced affordability.

“Import dependencies across the food supply chain may give rise to vulnerabilities or disruptions in the event of a national or offshore emergency.

“Food self sufficiency is a worthwhile objective that is not contradictory to the concept of free trade and market liberalisation.

“We should work to avoid a situation where, in the event of a crisis, we can no longer produce or access adequate food for our population.”

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