How nutritionally sufficient is Australia’s food production system?

The Australian food system is complex and dynamic and change can have important ramifications for regional development, employment, trade, food security and public health nutrition. A recently completed study conducted by CSIRO and funded by RIRDC assessed the Australian food production system in its potential to meet future domestic nutritional requirements.

The report’s focus was on nutritional sufficiency, not food self sufficiency—it is recognised that Australia is a food trading nation, that domestic food supplies are a balance of domestically produced and imported food products, and that self sufficiency is not a requirement of food security.

The study looked at Australian food intake scenarios to 2050 compared to projections for Australian agricultural production and took a systems perspective, considering the transformation of farm-gate commodities into food products as well as supply chain and kitchen losses.

Nutritional Production Sufficiency Index (NPSI): Australia 1995 – 2050.

Nutritional Production Sufficiency Index (NPSI): Australia 1995 – 2050.

The study also took a nutritional perspective, being structured around the major dietary food groups and is comprehensive in terms of its coverage of all types of foods reported to be eaten in Australia.
As part of the study a simple metric was constructed—the Nutritional Production Sufficiency Index (NPSI)—which gives equal weighting to the six essential food groups (vegetables, fruits, dairy products, protein, grains and oils). The results are added across the six food groups resulting in an index that can range from 0 (no domestic production of any food group) to 6 (domestic production meets or exceeds domestic demand for all six food groups).
From 1995 to 2001 Australia’s NPSI increased from 5.65 to 5.89, indicating an increasing level of nutritional sufficiency of the domestic food production system. In 2006, the NPSI peaked at 5.90 and since that time has been in a trend of modest decline which is projected to continue and reach 5.11 in 2050.

With Australia’s population projected to increase to around 37.5 million in 2050 substantial increases in food supply will be required. Although the situation and outlook differs for each food group, in most respects demand is projected to increase at a greater rate than local production. This suggests that the Australian food system is currently on a trajectory toward reduced net food exports and increased dependence on food imports.

The study offers a comprehensive assessment of food losses and suggests that reducing food waste should be given high priority as a strategy to improve the sustainability of the food system.
The results are expected to be valuable for informing Australian agricultural and food policies and of interest to a broad range of stakeholders concerned about Australia’s food future.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Posted 3  February 2015