Members of the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance attended the 14 August 2012 public meeting organised by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries (DAFF) and held in Sydney CBD to discuss the recent publication of the National Food Plan green paper.
This public meeting, part of the ‘public consultation’ process, was chaired by Mr Paul Morris, Executive Director of ABARES. AS a ABARES employee, there is no doubt that Mr Morris would be very familiar with statistical data and current trends of our food economy.
Surprisingly, he opened the meeting with slides quoting totally incorrect data on very important aspects of the debate: for instance, the claim that food prices have gone down over the last 10 years whilst the food price inflation rate in Australia has been one of highest in the OECD countries. The picture on food insecurity in Australia was also totally incorrect. The welfare sector and in particular Food Bank tell us that up to 2 million Australian have had access to food relief last year alone. Mr Morris told us that only 2% of the Australian population was food insecure.
Why would a very senior public servant be so inaccurate about such important aspects of our social life? Are they trying to shape our perception (us the public) that all is well in the world of agriculture, food supply and consumption?
Is it possible that our senior bureaucracy understanding of the food system be just limited to an economic exercise totally concentrating mainly on production and prospective exports and by the same tocken being disconnected from its social context? Most likely. Why was the CEO of ABARES chairing a meeting about policy anyway? Strange choice of MC!
The Department of Agriculture had a very contained set agenda for discussion at the meeting; only food security, competitive food industry, and health/nutrition were to be discussed. Views on the sustainability of coal seam gas mining or biotechnology were not to be debated or even discussed. The position of DAFF on these matters has been clearly articulated in the green paper: mining can co-exist with agriculture; biotechnology (GM or any other experimental manipulation on living organisms has been implicitely accepted by our government) is the way of the future.
This is a very disappointing progress for the consumer, but the Australian government may be proud of themselves for being so skillful at avoiding the real issues and framing the national food plan as an economic exercise.
We are currently preparing our written submission to the green paper just in hope that perhaps, one day, the future of food will be considered as important as the fight against cigarette smoking. Only time will tell.