The Need for Strategic Food Policy in Australia

Summary

Food is the most interconnected policy issue any government faces. In Australia, governing the food system cuts across many policy areas, including agriculture, fisheries, rural infrastructure, indigenous affairs, water, environment, drought, emergency management, animal welfare, waste, health, poverty, education, immigration, defence, industry, transport and cost of living.

Although we are endowed with plentiful natural resources, advanced markets and a highly skilled workforce, Australia’s food system faces a set of intersecting environmental, economic and structural challenges. The quality and the quantity of both our water and land resources is declining. Major barriers remain to urban food production, while much of the food value chain is concentrated among a few corporations, to the detriment of small businesses and farmers. Resilience and redundancy are not systemically built into the food supply chain, which is vulnerable to disruption. Poor nutrition and ultra-processed foods are driving major health issues. And the scope and quality of agricultural research, development and innovation has been declining for decades.

A new policy approach to food policy would allow Australia to better manage these interconnected, and often conflicting, interests while safeguarding the country’s most valuable assets – its people, environment and economy. It would protect the security of over one million jobs and grow the value of our $330bn food value chain, including the $69bn 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. At the same time, it would help reduce the economic burden – at least $87bn a year – in health and environmental harm from food production and consumption. And it would ensure that, in times of emergency or crisis, Australian food supplies are secure and resilient.

The Commission for the Human Future recommends that the Government develop a strategic approach to food policy, built on four key pillars: health, sustainability, economic viability and resilience. Although the Federal Government is not responsible for policy development and implementation across the entire food system, its role is to set the policy and governance frameworks so that all participants in the food supply chain – states and territories, farmers, producers, processors, retailers, employees, communities and individuals – can maximise the security and benefits of the food system. Under this strategic approach, the Government could take the following reform efforts:

  1. Establish fit-for-purpose food policy governance to drive national food reforms, policies and programs, with a view to assigning ministerial and senior official responsibility for a national food policy framework or strategy.
  2. Implement a new national program which, recognising soil as a national asset, promotes and supports activities that increases soil health, land management and conservation, climate-proofing and anti-desertification.
  3. Incentivise and enable urban and peri-urban food production through financial support and revised regulatory structures that improves national and local food security.
  4. Support, encourage and protect small and family-owned food producers, processors and suppliers through regulatory reforms, industry protections and support to innovative business models and solutions in the food system.
  5. Enable efficient, transparent and equitable water utilisation, including through improved measurement and metering of water resources, better data collection and dissemination, and modified regulations and other financial incentives that cause mispricing of water.
  6. Drive nation-wide transition towards increased availability, accessibility and affordability of nutritious, safe, whole foods and healthy-eating practices, through financial incentives, education and messaging.
  7. Establish a national food, fisheries and agriculture ‘knowledge’ program, which includes strategic vision and central coordination of the domestic research agenda, funding support to research efforts, and upscaled international engagement and export of research and technology.

About this report

This report, written and researched by the Commission for the Human Future, is for Australian policy-makers. It is primarily based on the contributions of 45 experts and stakeholders in the Australian and global food system. These individuals provided written perspectives on the Australian food system, and participated through a virtual roundtable on 30 May 2020. The full list of contributors is provided in the Commission’s report on the global food system.

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