Our food system needs an overhaul

| September 8, 2020

The Australian government needs a strategic policy approach to food, according to a new report by the Commission for the Human Future.

The Commission released its policy report to encourage the Australian Government to consider how it should govern and reform food policy.

The findings and the recommendations are based on contributions by 45 experts and stakeholders in the global food system. This report is a sequel to the Commissions earlier report “Food is at the Heart of our Future” released recently.

Conservatively estimated, the negative impacts of our food system costs the Australian economy at least $87bn dollars a year – $62bn from obesity, around $21bn from food waste, and $4bn the loss in productivity from land degradation.

Yet, despite the importance, complexity and cost of food policy, the Federal Government does not have a strategic, coordinated or integrated approach. Australia lags behind its Western partners on food policy, such as Canada’s Food Policy for Canada or UK’s National Food Strategy.

A strategic approach would help protect the security of over one million jobs and grow the value of our $330 billion food value chain, including the $69 billion of agricultural and aquaculture products.

It would help find new opportunities to increase jobs and reduce the budget in a difficult economic and fiscal context. And it would ensure that, in times of emergency or crisis, Australian food supplies are secure and resilient.

The new report makes seven recommendations for reforming Australia’s food system, including across governance, urban food production, soil health, water management, industry policy, nutrition and research and education.

Commission Deputy Chair, and former senior public servant, Mr Paul Barratt AO, said “Food is the most interconnected policy issue any government faces. It touches on just about every major policy portfolio. But no one in government owns it.

Much of Australia’s food policy settings sits with states and territories. And at least 14 federal departments and agencies govern or influence the food system. Meanwhile, Australia and its people continue to suffer poor health, environmental and economic results.

Government must lead and drive national efforts towards a system that benefits all participants in the food supply chain.”

“We propose a strategic food policy based on four pillars. Health. Sustainability. Economic viability. Resilience. In the short run, there may need to be trade-offs between them. But in the long-run, they mutually reinforce to benefit all Australians – farmers, producers, processors, retailers, employees, communities and individuals.”

Commission Chair, Professor John Hewson AM said: “The COVID-19 crisis has tested and revealed shortcomings in our food system. It has reinforced the massive role food plays in our economy. It has highlighted how reduced health outcomes, driven heavily by poor diets, makes us even more vulnerable to diseases.

It has also shown the importance of resilience and redundancy in our supply chains. Times of crisis bring moments of opportunity. Reforming the food system won’t be easy. But it is necessary. Now is that moment.”