As the previous post records, the Public Health Association of Australia has called on the Federal Government to include broader representation on a group that has been appointed to advise on the development of a national food policy.
Others are also concerned that the group is dominated by industry interests.
In one of two commentaries below, Associate Professor Mark Lawrence, from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, says Australia urgently needs a food policy that integrates heath, social, economic and environmental considerations.
And Franca Marine, executive officer of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, warns that we risk ending up with a plan that looks after the food industry rather than the greater public good.
How government silos are scrambling food policy
Associate Professor Mark Lawrence writes:
An extraordinary disconnect in Australian food policy development occurred yesterday.
First, the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) released its Report, ‘Australia and Food Security in a Changing World’, highlighting among other issues the need for an integrated health, social, economic and environmental response to our food and nutrition challenges.
Second, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) hosted the first meeting of a food policy committee that will lack the capacity to address three of these four critical policy considerations identified in the PMSEIC report.
This missed opportunity for a meaningful food policy approach comes on top of last week’s question time in the Senate. Hansard records that the Minister responsible for the Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Portfolio was questioned about his portfolio’s plans to develop a food manufacturing strategy separate to the DAFF food policy plan. The Minister was further questioned whether there exists a ‘silo’ mentality to how food issues are addressed among government departments.
Australia urgently needs a high level government commitment to a coherent food and nutrition policy and not the current approach that results in the most pressing food and nutrition challenges falling between the cracks.
What is needed is a policy that integrates health, social, economic and environmental considerations and is overseen at the highest level within government to enable it to coordinate the roles and responsibilities of those government departments that influence components of the food system (health, agriculture, transport, education, industry, finance, environment, etc).
Public health and the environment deserve a bigger priority in policy
Franca Marine, of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, writes:
The development of Australia’s first national food plan seems to have been hijacked by industry judging by the membership of the National Food Policy Working Group just announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Although nutrition is the primary purpose of food and the nutritional value and safety of the food supply are critical for public health, the Working Group includes only one representative with any nutrition or public health expertise. Industry on the other hand has ten representatives.
With obesity one of the greatest public health challenges facing Australia today to which food is a critical contributing factor, it is vital that the public health perspective is brought to the table in any discussions on national food policy. The potential population health gains from improving the nutritional profile of our food supply are enormous. Just reducing salt intake by 25-30% could see a 20% drop in heart attacks and strokes, two of Australia’s biggest killers.
In fact the development of a national food plan was recommended by the National Preventative Health Taskforce within the public health context of obesity prevention, so the paucity of public health representation on the Working Group is particularly frustrating. Sustainability expertise also seems to be lacking.
The objectives of a national food policy must be to create a safe, sustainable, accessible and affordable food supply that meets the nutritional and health needs of our population well into the future.
Yes, the interests of those who produce, process, transport and sell food are important. But so is our health and well being and that of the planet.
If the government is serious about developing a National Food Plan that addresses these issues, then it needs to make sure public health and environment are better represented. Otherwise we will just get a plan that looks after the food industry.