05 April 2011

Growing Concerns as Food Imports Soar

Reposted in full from The Australian, 18 March 2011

'Australia now imports more than a third of its fruit supply and almost 20 per cent of its vegetables, amid warnings of increasing threats to future food supply from population and land-use pressures.

The proportion of imports has alarmed some Australian growers, who yesterday released a report into food security issues and called for a return to 1970s-level funding of agricultural research and development.

Growcom chief executive Alex Livingstone said Australians should snap out of their "complacency", warning that food imports could be threatened by the burgeoning world population - tipped to grow to nine billion by 2050.

He said although exports remained high - about 60 per cent of production - the figures were skewed by Australia's high exports of meats and grains.

"There is also a need to look at how much of the food we eat is imported and consider whether in future imported products will continue to be cheap or even available in the face of forecast burgeoning world populations," Mr Livingstone said.The Gillard government was planning to release an issues paper on the development of the National Food Plan "in the near future", Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said recently.

Senator Ludwig said he was still assessing the call for increased research funds, given a Productivity Commission recommendation to halve funding over the coming decade, and emphasised imports were largely highly processed foods, beverages and processed fruit and vegetables.

The Food Security Report, released by Growcom in Brisbane yesterday, found increasing population, urbanisation, land and water degradation, speculative trading of commodities, the clash of resources and agriculture and the growing demand for high-protein foods in developing countries could all contribute to a reduction in future food security.

The report highlighted the anticipated squeeze on horticultural farming land close to Sydney, and Melbourne and in southeast Queensland.

Imports of fruit and vegetables, mostly processed, have steadily increased while the fresh-produce balance of trade is diminishing. Much of the imported produce is seasonal, but also includes cheaper tinned products from Asia or Italy.'

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