DIGESTING THE STATE GOVERNMENT'S FOOD POLICY

Written on the 18 July 2011

DIGESTING THE STATE GOVERNMENT'S FOOD POLICY

THE State Government’s Food Policy to further build Queensland’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry, will not be without challenges, according to the president of the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) Gary Sansom (pictured). The government has committed an initial $2 million to the initiative, but is it enough?

The State Government has announced its framework to develop a food policy for Queensland with the overarching objectives to ‘focus our efforts’ and ‘maximise economic growth’.

This is a policy direction that we at QFF have been advocating for years, both at a state and a national level. However, we do not underestimate the size of the task ahead of us and the even greater job that would come with integrating a state policy into a national model.

The Federal Government has already started down the track of investigating a National Food Plan – but at this stage it is stalled within talk-fests and committees. We therefore have a golden opportunity in Queensland to carve a path that sets the standard for the rest of the country to follow.

Firstly, it’s important to outline why QFF is such a strong advocate of this policy.

Queensland has Acts that cover many aspects of running a farm business and there are also policies and ‘blueprints’ for other major industries, such as minerals and gas extraction.

But to date, it has been a glaring omission that the government has not worked with the food industry and food, fibre and foliage producers to develop a policy such as this.

With this initiative, backed up by leadership and a strategy for implementation, hopefully that will change.

Despite cyclones, droughts, financial meltdowns and competition for resources, the agricultural sector continues to be a mainstay of the Queensland economy. Securing this and providing a plan for growth in our ability to grow food, fibre, foliage and to process these products ready for consumption is not only sensible, it is critical for our future.

I also deliberately use the words ‘food, fibre, and foliage’, even though the government scoping document has focused solely on food. We must remember that Queensland is also a major producer of cotton, wool, tree and nursery crops, and fodder for animals. These are integral parts of the agricultural landscape and any framework that does not encompass them is only fighting half the battle.

We also need to be wary of the debate being confused as an issue of food security, which is far more complex than generalisations that suggest we will run short of food to feed ourselves.

When it comes to exports such as beef and wheat, we export far more calories than we can consume. But for horticultural crops, there is a creeping increase in imports from other countries, which has serious considerations for limiting consumer choice and concerns about food safety.

This framework needs to focus beyond the agricultural supply chain, by looking at interactions between the sector and other areas of government policy.

Just a few examples include the rapid expansion of the resources industry, urban development, the supermarket duopoly and competition for labour.

The recent closure of the Golden Circle beetroot cannery at Northgate is an example of how the high Australian dollar and rising unskilled wages can create significant pressure in the supply chain that eventually impacts farmers and consumers.

A comprehensive and sound food, fibre, and foliage policy would place agriculture and food manufacturing in this context.

Ultimately, we see this framework as the right way to go and people should take the opportunity to have input by the August 15 deadline.

QFF will provide a comprehensive response and will work with the State Government to ensure this policy, as it is developed, delivers tangible and positive outcomes for farmers, food processors and regional communities.

The challenge will come with the implementation. That means not just developing a sound policy, but supporting it with adequate back-up in legislation that secures the fundamentals components to food, fibre, and foliage production, which includes access to appropriate land, soil and water as well as infrastructure to support sophisticated supply chains.

Unless government policy recognises that agriculture must be an integral part of the future of this country, then policy decisions will continue to erode the capacity to produce food, fibre
and foliage.


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