A National Food Plan, but not for us
A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 20th July, 2012
On 17th July, the Federal Government released its green paper for a National Food Plan. This is the next step in the development of Australia’s first-ever national food policy. The first was the release, in June 2011, of an Issues Paper, followed by a two-month period of consultation and invite-only roundtable discussions. The green paper will also be followed by a two-month period of public consultation, and I’ll provide the relevant link at the end of the article.
During the first phase of public consultation, 279 written submissions were received from Australians, many of them from ordinary members of the public, and from community groups and small farmers. One of them was Graham Brookman, CEO of a permaculture farm (foodforest.com.au) in Hillier, SA, which produces 160 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables.
The Food Forest is a family farm, run by Graham, his wife Annemarie, and their two children. The family’s aim is to ‘ demonstrate how an ordinary family, with a typical Australian income, can grow its own food and create a productive and diverse landscape’.
Graham took the trouble to write 13 pages in his submission to the National Food Plan consultation. He pointed out that ‘the dogma that internatioanl free trade will solve food insecurity has been proven to be faulty over centuries, billions continue to starve while others die of obesity in a world with relatively free movement of food’.
This would seem to be a simple statement of facts. Close to half the world’s population is malnourished in one form or another, either because they have inadequate intake of key micronutrients, or excessive intake of the wrong types of (highly processed) foods. Free trade, vigorously pursued by Australia and many other countries for the past few decades, has not resolved these issues; indeed there is a good argument that it has made them worse.
But in the green paper, the Federal Government has shown, to quote a(n) (in)famous lady, that ‘it’s not for turning’ when it comes to free trade. On the contrary, it’s full steam ahead on the trade liberalisation agenda, and we can expect increasing amounts of food imports. The Government wants your opinion on free trade – but only for suggestions on how Australia can export more, not whether the free trade agenda itself might require further thought.
Then Graham pointed out that the impacts of climate change, peak oil and geopolitical instability mean that ‘the whole food system needs rethinking and massive effort needs to go into rebuilding the skills of our agricultural producers such that the nation can remain domestically food-secure’. To the free trade dogma, Graham adds the ‘free market dogma [which] has given Australia the duopoly of Woolworths and Coles who have driven farmers from the land by reducing profit margins for producers to miniscule levels and requiring them to use every technical device available to maximise yields.’ Broccoli crops in the Adelaide Hills, he points out, are ‘sprayed with biocides approximately 30 times to meet the cosmetic standards of the supermarkets.’
But Graham and the Government are inhabiting parallel universes, it seems. According to the green paper, Australia ‘has a strong, safe and stable food system’ and ‘Australians enjoy high levels of food security’; our food industry is ‘resilient and flexible’ and we ‘have one of the best food systems in the world’. A key plank of our national food strategy should be about us becoming ‘the food bowl of Asia’, in the Prime Minister’s words. This is a frankly preposterous example of wishful thinking, given that even on the most optimistic scenarios, Australia would supply food for no more than 1% of Asia’s 3.5 billion people.
So it’s no surprise that Graham, on reading the green paper, wrote to tell me that, ‘in terms of a sustainable food future for Australia there is virtually nothing in the ‘national food plan’ or its structure that is acceptable’.
There’s a simple reason for this: the ‘National Food Plan’ is actually a Plan for corporate agri-business and retailers, not ordinary people. If we want a food plan that meets our needs, we’ll have to work on it ourselves.
If you want to read the green paper and tell the Government what you think about it, follow this link: http://www.daff.gov.au/nationalfoodplan/process-to-develop/green-paper.
Update: 8th November 2013
Following the election of the conservative Liberal-National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, there is considerable doubt about the future of the National Food Plan. Apparently the new administration is not that happy with it, and the proposed Australian Council on Food has already been abandoned. This is not to suggest that we are likely to see a change of tack on free trade or any other aspects of the big corporate agenda. On the contrary, we are likely to see an intensification of that agenda, via the so-called ‘Northern Foodbowl Plan’, of which more in a later post.
- The Free Trade Taliban (nickroseblog.wordpress.com)
- Conversations for transformation? (nickroseblog.wordpress.com)
- The National Food Plan – Take 1 (nickroseblog.wordpress.com)
- Govt divided over foreign investment-Bowen (news.smh.com.au)
- Australian Food Sovereignty (darlenewolnik.com)
- National Food Plan: most Australians are food secure, but can we do more? (theconversation.com)
- IN THE NEWS: What is the NATIONAL FOOD PLAN? (1millionwomenblog.com)
- National Food Plan launched (rss.feedsportal.com)
- Food plan ‘too late’ to save manufacturing (abc.net.au)