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Food advocate launches volley on Oz produce plan

By RJ Whitehead , 01-Oct-2012

An Australian food policy unit yesterday branded the country’s food system as “broken”, and blamed it for contributing to a raft of issues currently affecting society.

The Food Alliance, an organisation funded by VicHealth and based at Deakin University, claimed that Australia requires transformational change beyond what is proposed in the government's National Food Plan green paper.

It asserted that the current system “contributes to significant public health, social, economic and environmental problems.” Moreover, it added that climate change and increasing stresses on environmental resources are threatening the viability of the food system to meet the food and nutrition requirements of future generations.

Calls for a plan

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig had released the paper in mid-July and called for public feedback to help shape food policy.

The National Food Plan set out to ensure that Australia "has a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply supporting access to nutritious and affordable food.”

But the Food Alliance replied by saying that it failed to adequately assess the risks to Australian food security from climate change and constraints on the availability of natural resources.

"It fails to reflect the numerous community voices and extensive expert evidence... and focuses inordinately on the interests of the food industry and short-term economic drivers," Food Alliance coordinator Kathy McConell said in a statement.

The paper carried an assumption that technological advances would overcome any future limits on food production caused by climate change, the Alliance said. This has led to unrealistic targets being set within the plan, such as the doubling of Australia's food exports by 2030.

Australian newspapers quoted a spokesperson for Minister Ludwig as saying the Food Alliance’s comments would be considered along with all the other 115 submissions received so far from a range of participants.

Not all against

A number of vested groups, including the Australian Greens and the Cancer Council, have criticised the green paper, although others welcomed it, among them the National Farmers Federation (NFF).

Speaking at the launch of the National Food Plan, the NFF president, Jock Laurie, said that it had the potential to address many of the farming sector’s concerns over future food production and availability.

“With a growing population at home and abroad, and only limited resources from which our farmers have to grow an ever-increasing amount of food, the issues of food availability and our future food supply are very real,” he said.

“We are pleased to see that the green paper identifies the importance of research, development and innovation to sustainable food production in Australia, along with the need to seize new market opportunities and contribute to the economic prosperity of rural and regional Australia.”

Submissions of feedback on the green paper ended yesterday, and responses will be considered for the government's final food policy vision white paper, which is expected for release early in 2013.

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