Australian food has been in the news recently – but, largely, for all the wrong reasons. First came the horrific story on the ABC’s Four Corners last week of the brutal, barbaric and sometimes sadistic treatment of exported Australian cattle at the hands of ill-trained, ill-equipped or just plain cruel slaughter-men in some overseas abattoirs. (Warning – this program contains extremely confronting and distressing footage.) That has been followed up today by bleak warnings from South Australia’s Horticultural Coalition and the Australian Food and Grocery Council that we could face some harsh food shortages here in Australia within 10 years if local producers are not protected by both state and national governments.
This is an extraordinary and shocking fact to be facing in Australia. The combined effects of urban sprawl over arable land, supermarket price wars, water uncertainty, rising imports and rising costs are all contributing to a decline in local food production – right at a time when it should be increasing to keep pace with population growth. Farmers are leaving the industry and less are entering, while at the same time foreign ownership of both large tracts of Australian farming land and food production companies is on the rise, with little or no government restrictions in place to limit that ownership. In the five years from a 2004-05 to 2009-10 the food and grocery manufacturing industry dropped from $4.5 billion surplus to a $1.8 billion deficit and currently almost half of our processed or packaged foods are imported. According to media reports today, the number of dairy farms in South Australia has dropped by 200 in the last 10 years and meat producers have also decreased in number.
If all of this sounds a little alarming, then all I can say is – good! If that is what it takes to get people motivated and concerned about food security then I’m all for it. We can’t just sit back and cross our fingers on this one folks, there is far too much at stake for us to assume that governments will act in our best interests. Big, foreign companies have big, fat cheque books that make them look very attractive. We need to keep our eye on the National Food Plan Working Group and make ourselves aware of both state and national plans for food security. We all need to be Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig‘s new best friend, sticking to him like glue and helping him out with our opinions and input whenever possible.
The other way we can make a difference is to do the one thing that this blog has been largely about – BUY LOCAL. Make each shopping trip an intellectual exercise as you scan fruit for stickers, shelves for origin labels and processed and packaged food labels for any and all information about their contents. Support local farmers markets or subscribe to non-profit, community supported agriculture schemes like Food Connect Adelaide for your fruit and vegetables and eat more seasonally to make the most of the fresh produce available. Buying locally produced food of any kind where possible supports the local producers and, by extension, all who do business with them, cuts down on food miles and builds a healthy local economy.
Oh, and it is an essential step towards ensuring local food security.