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Why Australia Needs a “Peoples Food Plan”

by Richard Widows

We are in the early stages of a global food crisis, the likes of which has never previously been seen. Nearly 1 billion people (or 1 in 7) experience chronic hunger and another 1 billion are faced with serious nutritional deficiencies. Meanwhile, reports suggest that nearly 2 billion people are overweight. Combine these figures and you realise that approximately 4 billion people suffer from food related health issues — more than half of the world’s population. This statistic alone is evidence enough of the need for urgent discussion about our food system.

But couple it with the fact that the climate is rapidly changing, making it more and more difficult to produce food in many areas of the globe, and one can be left in no doubt as to the need for a thorough and detailed analysis of our current food system and the policies that guide it. After all, the industrial food system is the single biggest contributor to global climate change, with estimates that it accounts for up to 57% of total greenhouse gas emissions (PDF). A staggering figure when you consider that carbon is actually a core requirement of these systems.

So, with this context in mind, it’s easy to understand how many people might be excited by the prospect of the Federal Governments National Food Plan process. Surely, it’s about time we gave a higher priority to our food system and the social, health, educational and environmental outcomes we want from it. Right?

Wrong. The Federal Government’s National Food Plan Green Paper was released a couple of weeks ago on 17 July 2012. Unfortunately, the Federal Government seems to think that the only thing that should really be prioritised in this process is achieving increased efficiencies in the food system. As this great opinion piece on the National Food Plan pointed out, the Green Paper is based on a number of flawed assumptions including:

  1. Food insecurity will primarily be met through increased food production;
  2. The future will look much the same as the past;
  3. Farm incomes will be higher when more is produced;
  4. Food prices adequately embody environmental, health, and social costs;
  5. Food corporations and markets will solve the problems of inequity and social justice; and
  6. The free market-based food system is efficient.

As it stands, the Federal Government’s National Green Paper process is little more than a case for business as usual — ‘efficiency’ based food production, where the interests of big business are valued above all else. It simply isn’t good enough.

Luckily, I’m not the only person to think this and after reading the opinion piece I referred to above, I got in contact with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) to find out more about their “peoples food plan” initiative. During these discussions I was introduced to the Canadian People’s Food Policy Project and the Scottish Food Manifesto as examples of what is possible when people and communities come together to discuss the broader, holistic food system and the sort of outcomes that national food policy should be designed to achieve.

It was upon reading about these initiatives that I began to get genuinely excited about the “peoples food plan”. The blueprint has been laid out — all we need is to facilitate participation in the process and get people excited about it. That shouldn’t be hard because there’s a lot to be excited about and we can learn a lot from both the Canadian and Scottish examples.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that this process will be easy. Nor am I naive enough to believe that change will happen overnight. But I do believe that the time is right to put this issue on the political map and get the discussion moving, we simply don’t have time to waste.

As Vandana Shiva once said:

Nature shrinks as capital grows. The growth of the market cannot solve the very crisis it creates.

The Federal Government is holding a series of consultations on the National Food Plan Green paper throughout August and September. For more details check their website here. Get in quickly as some sessions are already booked out.

The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (in collaboration with other groups including the Youth Food Movement) will be developing a position paper on the People’s Food Plan for release in September 2012. Following this they will look to hold a series of meetings across the country to get feedback and input from the community. Stay tuned.

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