Higher grocery prices forecast as industry alliance calls for Australian food security plan

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Grocery prices in Australia could jump another 8 per cent by this time next year, according to an alliance of food producers and distributors.

The National Food Supply Chain Alliance said extreme weather events, COVID, industrial action, animal disease and geopolitical tensions have exposed vulnerabilities in Australia’s food system, leading to an increase in retail food prices.

The alliance represents 165,000 businesses including convenience store operators, farmers, meatworkers, independent retailers, hospitality workers and warehouse and transport operators.

Its members argue a national food security plan could help mitigate rising food prices and further disruptions to the food system.

“There have been rises of around 8 per cent (over the past year) we believe it could be as high as that again in 2023 and possibly into 2024, unless we have a plan to stabilise food prices,” alliance spokesman Richard Forbes said.

“These issues that we’ve been talking about aren’t going anywhere.

“Unless we have a national food supply chain strategy, food prices will continue to increase … putting more pressure on Australian families.”

Mr Forbes, who is also the chief executive of Independent Food Distributors Australia, described food prices as the most important issue facing Australians.

Referring to the State of the Climate report, Mr Forbes said more extreme weather events would contribute to further price hikes.

“We’ve never seen 11 catastrophic weather events in three years … [more extreme weather] means the supply chain will be disrupted further. And when you have a disrupted supply chain, you’ll see rising food prices”

He expected all foods could be affected.

A ‘moral obligation’ to help feed the world

Australia exports about 70 per cent of the food it produces.

The federal government recently called an inquiry into food security that must consider Australia’s production, consumption and export of food, as well as access to major inputs including fuel and fertiliser.

It must also consider the impact of climate change on Australia’s ability to produce food and access to workers across the industry.

Charlie Thomas from the National Farmers Federation, a member of the alliance, said a national food security plan would help address hunger.

“We know from the Foodbank Hunger Report released recently that , and that’s a picture that we’re seeing globally as well,” Mr Thomas said.

“We know that since just 2019, the number of people facing acute hunger globally has doubled, which again, is an increase that we haven’t seen for a very long time.

“We do feel that we have a moral obligation to help feed and clothe the world … [that’s something] farmers take seriously as a responsibility. And it’s something that we think a food supply chain strategy can help solve here in Australia”

Using chemicals as an example, Mr Thomas said almost all of the active ingredients in pesticides and herbicides used on Australian farms were from China.

“That’s a single market providing almost 90 per cent of that critical input,” he said.

“I think we’ve really got to do a comprehensive job of mapping some of these vulnerabilities, mapping some of these critical inputs that are required to put food and fibre in the Australian supply chain, and work out ways to mitigate some of those potential disruptors.”

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said Australia produced a lot more food than it consumed.

“Unlike many other countries, Australia does not face food shortages,” Senator Watt said.

“But I am well aware that natural disasters and other factors — including supply chain interruptions, input costs and labour shortages — can impact on food supply chains.

“we are taking action with targeted measures to deal with these issues, by getting more skilled people into the workforce and mitigating the impacts of natural disasters.”

Earlier this year the National Food Supply Chain Alliance estimated the food sector was short 170,000 workers across Australia.

By national rural reporter Kath Sullivan (Original ABC Article)