Small players want say in big food policy

… by Matt Cawood, 31 Aug, 2010 09:06 AM

Agribusiness may be expecting to shape the National Food Policy announced as a second-term Labor promise by Agriculture Minister Tony Burke, but a group of small food-related organisations has asked for a say as well.

The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) of small businesses, family farmers, social enterprises, community organisations, and individuals has sent a letter to Mr Burke pointing out that not all food goes through mainstream channels.

“Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Australians are directly involved in building a sustainable, resilient, health-promoting and socially just food system, said Robert Pekin, founder of Brisbane-based farm-to-plate distributor Food Connect and co-founder of AFSA. They include small food retailers, restaurants, small and medium-sized farmers, suppliers and patrons of farmers’ markets, backyard, school and community gardeners and the emerging community-shared agriculture sector.To date, their voices have been ignored in discussions about a national food plan.”

Experience in the United States and elsewhere is demonstrating that strong, local food economies are “powerhouses of creativity, innovation and employment”, Mr Pekin said.

The letter to Mr Burke, signed by about 80 organisations and individuals, argued that the resilience of local and regional food systems would help counter some of the rising uncertainties emerging around climate, resources and economies.

Some of the issues AFSA felt could be addressed by these food system include equitable access to fresh food regardless of income, food safety and quality, the loss of agricultural skills and knowledge as the age of the average Australian farmer passes 60, and the protection of agricultural land from urban sprawl and extractive industries.

We believe that a national policy on food must address these topics as matters of equal priority to the macroeconomic considerations you have already indicated,” the letter said. The enterprises and community food initiatives we represent are themselves responses to some of these issues. They are a growing presence in the national food system.

Signatories to the letter included the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network, Community Harvest, Victoria; Healthy Soils Australia, Tasmanian Community Gardens Network and Sustain QLD Inc.