Governments have many arms and often they are working at cross-purposes. Food policy has a long history of arm-wrestling between not only the various sectors but also the government agencies involved.

Should policies around food be working to advance the health of the public, of agriculture or of the food industry in general or some sections in particular?

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, today announced the membership of a National Food Policy Working Group to advise government on the development of a National Food Plan.

The group, which met today for the first time, includes:

  • Michael Luscombe – Managing Director and CEO Woolworths
  • Michael Byrne – CEO Linfox Logistics
  • Dr Alastair Robertson – Deputy Chief Executive of CSIRO
  • Terry O’Brien – Managing Director Simplot Australia
  • Simone Tully – CEO of OBE Organics
  • Jock Laurie – President National Farmers’ Federation
  • Janine Allis – CEO Boost Juice
  • Kate Carnell – CEO Australian Food and Grocery Council
  • Malcolm Jackman – CEO Elders Ltd
  • Nick Stace – CEO Choice (Australian Consumers Association)
  • Alison Watkins – Managing Director and CEO Graincorp
  • Jeff Lawrence – ACTU Secretary
  • Dr Peter Williams – Associate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Wollongong

The balance looks firmly tipped towards industry interests. That mantra we hear so often, of “health in all policies”, is ringing a little hollow.

The Public Health Association of Australia is up in arms at lack of public health representation. At face value, the group also seems lacking in climate change expertise, surely a major food futures issue.

Below is the PHAA statement.
Government’s Food Policy Working Group Stacked with Industry

The Food Policy Working Group that is meeting to begin work on Australia’s National Food Plan is stacked with industry, manufacturing and sales.  The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) calls on Hon Senator Ludwig, the Minister for Agriculture, to redress the imbalance and recognise the importance of food to public health.

“The growing obesity epidemic provides just one example of why public health must play a key health, financial and practical role in any National Food Policy,” said Michael Moore, the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia.

“The PHAA calls on Senator Ludwig to immediately redress this imbalance and take an holistic view of food as was done in the United Kingdom when they released their national food policy, Food Matters.  Food has such a significant impact on the health of all Australians that the food policy working group must include the public health perspective.”

“There is no voice from public health and only one person with any involvement in nutrition leaving working group as simply unbalanced,” said Dr Rosemary Stanton.

The PHAA has been reminding government about the importance of including health since the National Food Policy announcement was first made just prior to the election by the former Minister for Agriculture, Hon Tony Burke.  At the time Mr Moore held discussions with the then Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for food, Hon Mark Butler and has reiterated the PHAA position with his successor, Hon Catherine King emphasising the importance of having strong nutrition and public health representation.

Public health groups have been advocating for a National Food Policy for years and have always sought to include industry and agriculture.  This was demonstrated most clearly at the Food Futures Conference held in Canberra in April of this year.  The conference included speakers in agriculture, environment and manufacturing as well as public health.  “It was addressed, for example by Kate Carnell, the CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council,” said Michael Moore, “as I have addressed her organisation.”

The PHAA is represented on the Food and Health Dialogue which is chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for food, the Hon Catherine King.

The Dialogue has industry and health organisations working together for healthier food and better health outcomes by reducing salt, fat and sugar in manufactured foods.

The PHAA does have a sound record of working with others towards the most effective policy as is illustrated by its publication, A Future for Food www.phaa.net.au/futureforfood.php

It is appropriate for public health to be a key element of the myriad aspects of planning for sustainable food supplies, agriculture, environmental issues, food security, manufacturing and export – to name just a few.

“It is not too late for Senator Ludwig to recognise the omission in the working group and invite those representing the health of all Australians to the table and we call on him to do so,” added Mr Moore.

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Peter Fray
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