In October, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and KPMG got easy and cheap publicity for claims that we were now importing more food than we were exporting.

Naturally the gullible hacks were taken in, such as the ABC or The Australian. They were not alone. The claims got considerable play for a week or more in October.

Only the likes of Crikey’s Bernard Keane saw through the claims. Ross Gittins, the SMH’s economics editor did a statuesque demolition of the report in this column in early November.

Now the Australian Bureau of Agriculture Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has nailed the claims by the Food Council for what they are: rubbish.

We have a clear surplus of exports over imports.

On pages page 647 and 648 of the December edition of Australian Commodities, the bureau wrote a small report on Australia’s food exports and imports over the past two years, with some helpful background on how export values are worked out.

It didn’t mention the Food and Grocery Council report at all, but said:

“Australia’s food exports were valued at $28.1 billion on board ship in 2008–09, while the value of food imports was around $10.4 billion in the same year.

“Recent data show that exports and imports declined to $24.3 billion and $10.1 billion, respectively, in 2009–10. (My emphasis).

“These values do not reflect the actual physical quantities or the nutrient content of food in the trade.

“A significant proportion of Australia’s food exports consists of unprocessed or minimally transformed food products, such as wheat, coarse grains, oilseeds, live animals and fish and shell fish, that have relatively low unit values.

“In contrast to Australia’s food exports, the substantially and elaborately transformed products with much higher unit values comprise most of food imports.

“These substantially and elaborately transformed products accounted for around 93 per cent of the value of imports in 2009–10.”

Now the ABARES is an impeccable source, not paid to produce a report that the buyer of that report wants to hear (such as a consultant might).

The information it collects, analyses, and the reports it produces are for the benefit of Australia generally, not a sectional interest, such as an industry council or companies looking for handouts, or politicians trying to spin the situation their way.

So will the lazy media, especially the likes of the ABC and its rural reporters, or the cheap and nasty current affairs programs on TV, pick up this small, corrective article from the best commodity forecaster and analysts in the country?

What do you think?

Peter Fray

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