19 July 2012
When I was a lad, a few years ago now, meat and three veg was the staple dinner I, like countless other Australians, was raised on. These days, food is less about staples and more about preferences. We're lucky enough to live in a country that gives us access to an abundant choice of food.
The quality and quantity of food on offer here is second to none, and the skill of those who produce and supply it mean things are set to stay that way. Why, then, do we hear from some people that our food supply will come to a grinding halt?
Hardly a day goes by where you don't pick up a newspaper and read a doom-and-gloom prediction about Australia's food supply. It's not safe. It's not secure. It's being stolen by foreigners investing in our farmland.
Those who push these myths and those who believe them should take a minute to stop and consider the fact Australians are actually living in the most food-secure time in our history.
Yes, demand for Australian-produced food here and around the world will continue to climb. But we produce twice as much food as we consume, which means we feed our own population as well as reap the rewards of a strong agricultural export trade.
...Yes, there are calls for us to double our food production during the next 20 years. Australian farmers can do this through innovation and the right investments and it can be done with less water and lower carbon emissions.
Yes, about 10 per cent of farmland in Australia is partly or fully foreign owned. But about 99 per cent of farm businesses are Australian owned. This has hardly changed in decades, and our agricultural industries are the success they are today because of the financial contribution and innovative farming practices of overseas investors. And, yes, there are calls for Australia to be the food bowl of Asia. That doesn't mean we'll be responsible for feeding the entire Asian population -- it means we have a real opportunity to cater to the needs and preferences of their growing middle class, which will swell to more than three billion people in 2030.
Australia can become a food bowl for Asia. A quality, niche food bowl. Here in Australia we have the opportunity to produce more of the food we're good at growing, such as meat, wheat and dairy, and use it to benefit Asia's population as well as our own. These are commodities that we produce in spades and that will be in increasing demand by Asia's middle class. That represents a real opportunity for our farmers and our economy.
Australia is a strong trading nation and our farmers are some of the best in the world. The possibilities for our agricultural trade and relationship with Asia are a reflection of just how good we are in both these respects. We produce enough food here in Australia to feed 60 million people. It's time we acknowledged our farmers' capacity to produce that food, and our capacity as a nation to manage our food supply and make the most of the opportunities it can provide us into the future.
It is in this frame of mind that the government is developing Australia's first national food plan. The plan canvasses our food industry in general -- from the paddock through to the plate. The food plan will help make sure Australians continue to have access to quality food and maintain a secure food supply while also making the most of opportunities in the growing global food market.
Amid all the myths and scaremongering surrounding our food supply, Australians can be proud that we as a nation are already taking action to make sure the food security we enjoy today will continue into the future. If you want to have your say, visit daff.gov.au/nationalfoodplan.
Joe Ludwig is Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister. The national food plan green paper was released this week and the final plan will follow.