Thursday, August 30, 2012

National Food Plan

Vanguard September 2012 p. 12
Duncan B.

On July 17, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry released a Draft National Food Plan Green Paper for public discussion.

The Green Paper runs to nearly 300 pages, but a shorter summary is also available on the DAFF website. It is worth studying by Vanguard readers interested in this question.

The National Food Plan seeks to integrate all aspects of food policy in the whole food chain from paddock to plate, addressing issues such as food security, food quality, affordability and sustainability. Twenty-four public hearings are to be held around Australia in capital cities and regional areas to hear submissions from interested organisations and individuals.

The National Food Plan has already come under criticism from a wide variety of people and organisations. Criticisms centre on the issues of competition in food retailing (the Coles-Woolworths duopoly), foreign investment and GM technology.

The Government claims in the Green Paper that the ACCC as the independent regulator can enforce competition, consumer and fair trading laws with appropriate sanctions and that consumers, through their purchasing decisions, can play a key role in driving the products found on shelves.

The reality is that the Government has never done anything to challenge the domination by Coles and Woolworths over Australia’s food retailing industry.

The reality also is that the Big Two continue to dominate Australia’s food retailing, controlling over 70% of the market. They also control the price of petrol in many country towns through their ownership of petrol stations and the aggressive use of “shopper dockets.”  Coles and Woolworths also exercise domination over their suppliers, forcing them to supply products at the price the Big Two demand, or lose their place on the supermarket shelves.

The Green Paper also welcomes foreign investment in Australian agriculture, saying “foreign investment in agriculture supports production, creates jobs and contributes to the prosperity of rural communities and the broader Australian economy.”

The proposals in the Green Paper for surveys by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the development of a Commonwealth foreign ownership register for agricultural land will do little to stop the take-over of Australian farm land by foreign interests.

This flies in the face of concerns expressed by Australians from all walks of life and political persuasions about the purchase of vast tracts of Australian farm land by foreign interests.

The Green Paper states that the Government is proposing to work with the state and territory governments to develop a national strategy on the consistent application of modern biotechnology in agriculture, including genetically modified crops.

Again, this flies in the face of concerns held by many people in Australia and world-wide about GM crops. Obviously the Government places the interests of companies such as Monsanto ahead of the interests of the Australian people.

The Green Paper is based on the continuation of the existing system in Australian agriculture; a steadily decreasing number of family farmers on the one hand, matched by an increasing number of corporate farms.

Food retailing; largely controlled by Coles and Woolworths. Massive agribusiness corporations; controlling the supply of fertiliser, machinery etc., and controlling the sale of the crops and other produce.

We need to look beyond all this to agriculture in an independent Australia where the interests of farmers and consumers will come first.

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