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National Food Plan lacks urgency, says AFGC

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Released over the weekend by the Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig, the National Food Plan contains worthy goals for boosting food exports and production but lacks urgency, says the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said the Council has long advocated for a National Food Plan which provides policy on ensuring that Australia has a safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food supply and can capitalise on export opportunities.

"The National Food Plan released today [Saturday, 25 May] takes a number of steps towards this by establishing the Australian Council on Food to bring the challenges of food production and manufacturing ‘front of mind’ to the nation's most senior policy makers, while the five yearly reviews of the National Food Plan will enable governments to track the progress of meeting long term sectoral objectives, critical to the success of the industry," he said.

Dawson also praised the $28.5m Asian Food Markets Research Fund which is expected to provide insights into Asian consumer buying preferences and build on Australian products' 'clean and green image' and maximise our competitive advantage.

Where the Plan falls short, according to Dawson, is that it lacks urgency in addressing the immediate challenges affecting the competitiveness of the food manufacturing sector, and will require much bolder policies in order to be effective.

"Given the scale and importance of food production and processing to the Australian economy the initiatives outlined today are very modest. There is little to build confidence to invest and no immediate action to tackle regulatory reform," said Dawson.

"While long term aspirations are important, industry needs the government to act urgently because without a competitive domestic industry these opportunities will never be realised."

The Greens have also come out criticising the National Food Plan, saying it fails to address issues surrounding the supermarket duopoly and lax food labelling laws, the Australian reports.

The National Farmers' Federation is happy with the Plan, with president Duncan Fraser saying it's a sign that the government has been listening to Australia's farmers.

"We asked the government to include collaboration between the agricultural sector and the Government on the creation of brands to promote Australian production. Today, the Minister has announced $2m as part of the Food Plan to develop a brand identity for Australian food and related technology," he said.

"We asked the government to ensure that work is done beyond the farm gate to improve opportunities for farmers to sell their produce, including a greater investment in understanding international markets. The Minister has today announced $28.5 million for research to tackle roadblocks to export, including a study into food needs and preferences, helping businesses increase their exports."

The NFF also praised the $5.6m allocated to building relationships with trading partners, including expanding the network of specialists that support agricultural trade in Asia, as well as the launch of a Productivity Commission review to identify priority areas of reform of food supply regulations.

"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we asked the government to play a role in working with the agricultural sector to improve consumers’ understanding and perception of agriculture. We welcome the inclusion of $1.5 million to develop resources and provide professional development to support teaching about food and agriculture through the Australian curriculum – this is a starting point for what must be a greater long-term investment from government and industry," said Fraser.

The National Food Plan will also see the creation of a new Food and Beverage Supplier Advocate who will work with small- to medium-sized Australian businesses to help build new opportunities both within Australia and globally.

Image credit: Sarah Han via flickr

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