Minister too complacent about growing food imports

Peak Queensland horticulture body Growcom disputes comments by Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joe Ludwig, that Australia continues to produce far more food than can be consumed and called for a more robust national debate on food security.

Commenting on the release of the Australian Food Statistics 2009-10, Chief Executive Officer Alex Livingstone said that the Federal Government displayed a level of complacency in trumpeting that Australia’s overall food surplus value was $14.2 billion in 2009/10.

“Senator Ludwig announced the latest figures yesterday but he was only echoing what we have heard before from previous agriculture ministers such as Tony Burke. To have a robust debate about food security in this country we need ministers to subject available statistical figures to more rigorous analysis and in-depth investigation than this,” said Mr Livingstone.

Mr Livingstone referred to figures within the Australian Food Statistics 2009-10 report which, show that 19% of vegetables consumed in Australia are now being imported as well as 34% of fruit and 17% for potatoes.

“At the same time, horticultural producers are struggling to remain viable in the face of increasing pressures from input costs, cheap imports, retailer squeeze and conflicting demand for arable land from mining and urban development,” he said.

“The situation is likely to get worse in the future given our growing population, the mounting pressures on our most productive land for growing fruit and vegetables, reduced research and development spending in agriculture, climate change pressures and water restrictions.

“While the overall dollar values for food exports are dramatic they hide the truth of what is really happening in Australia, which a comparison of volumes for different agricultural crops would clearly demonstrate.

“Perhaps departments should get together to discuss the bigger picture of food security – that of the future nutritional health of the Australian population and the cost of failure in that area.”

Mr Livingstone also called for horticulture to be directly represented on the National Food Policy Working Group, which was announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Referring to the membership of the working group Mr Livingstone said that horticultural producers were not adequately represented by the National Farmers Federation whose membership consisted chiefly of broadacre interests such as cattle, sheep and grains.

“The Australian Food and Grocery Council represents manufacturers who are happy to source their fruit and vegetable inputs from the cheapest sources. The other members of the Working Group represent significant retailing interests such as Woolworths, Simplot, Boost Juice and Elders. Their interests are also not those of the farm producer.

“Horticultural producers do not have a voice at this table and clearly their interests are being overlooked if statements by the Federal Minister are anything to go by.”

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