Reposted in full from The Australian, 2 December 2010
'Australia faces a future of food insecurity unless urgent action is taken to transform the nation's production and processing systems, according to an expert review.
"If our population grows to 35-40 million and climate change constrains food production, we can expect to see years where we will import more food than we export," warned the group of industry and scientific experts, chaired by Peter Langridge, CEO of the Adelaide University's Australain Centre for Plant Functional Genomics.
In its report to the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering & Innovation Council, the working group's top priority is establishment of a national food security agency to implement a nationally-coordinated approach to food production and policy.
The food sector is overly complex, with over 15 federal, state and territory agencies involved in policy and regulation. Dozens of research, investor and industry bodies are also involved.
The PMSEIC group's call came yesterday as the National Food Policy Working Group had its inaugural meeting in Sydney. Established by Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, the group will advise the government on a National Food Plan.
"We support the need for a coordinated national strategy," said Ben Fargher, CEO of the National Farmer's Federation which is represented on both the PMSEIC and NFP working groups.
According to Mr Fargher, national food shortages are unlikely in the short term, but it's essential to prepare now for future food stress by building on existing expertise on food and fibre production.
"We can't take our food production system for granted," he said.
The nation's Chief Scientist and PMSEIC Executive Officer Penny Sackett agreed: "Australia is currently a net exporter of food, with considerable expertise in food production under resource constraints".
"However, the PMSEIC report suggest increased challenges to this important Australian industry including land degradation, population growth, long-term climate change, competition for arable land, scarcity of water, and nutrient and energy availability," Professor Sackett added.
The PMSEIC report recommended that the national food security agency be set up within a year's time and that it would implement the recommendations over the next five years.
Among those are an immediate increase in support for agricultural research & development, along with incentives to recruit and train a new generation of farmers, researchers and food production and processing professionals.