Australian meat body points to danger of self sufficiency

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

"We should be trying to change the Western world's diet"
"We should be trying to change the Western world's diet"

Related tags Food security Agriculture Beef Lamb Livestock

Governments need to stop confusing self sufficiency with food security if they want to ensure there is enough food to feed the growing global population, the global meat industry was told.

Speaking at the World Meat Congress in Beijing, Peter Barnard, general manager with Meat and Livestock Australia, said governments needed to move away from a policy of self-sufficiency.

"Let’s not confuse self-suffiency with food security, it’s a policy that doesn’t make sense. Agricultural products are inherently variable, so given that, to rely on one region for all your supply, even if it is within your own country, does not make sense."

He cited Indonesia as an example, which, following a move to become self-sufficient in beef, imposed quotas on imports and went from 50% self-sufficiency to 85%. "But it came at a tremendous cost. Beef prices skyrocketed, doubling and almost tripling for some cuts. Food security for a significant part of the population went down, thanks to that policy."

Farmers in the country also began to cash in on the price, selling cattle, ultimately leading to a fall in the national herd. "Due to that policy, by 2021 the herd would have entirely disappeared."

He said for the meat industry to feed everyone in the growing global market, livestock needed to be sited where it was best suited.

"It makes sense to site lamb production in New Zealand and Australia. Studies have shown there are clear economic and environmental benefits to growing it there and then shipping it to markets like the EU, rather than growing it in Europe."

The organic movement also came under fire. "In part, this movement is based on the belief that organic food is more nutritious, safe and healthy – there is absolutely no supporting evidence for that belief.

"It’s also driven by the belief that its better for the planet. Wrong again. They use 20% more resources than conventional and they’re more polluting."

He said a key message for the meat sector was to encourage improvements in the diet. "For a start, we should be trying to change the Western world’s diet, and I’m not talking about meatless Mondays.

"I’m talking about getting rid of junk food. If we followed nutritionists’ advice, keep the meat but get rid of the junk from the Australian diet alone, it would reduce greenhouse emissions by 25%.

"Meat has been subject to a lot of attention for its emissions, but there has been no attention on junk food, and that’s a total mystery."

He also urged a return to investment in agricultural research. He said the rate of growth in that sector was in decline: "If we are to sustainably feed the world, we need a renewed focus on agricultural research."

Related topics Meat

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