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mouthing off

Virginia trioli \ FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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ust as Australians were about to start thinking about and more sustainable than food production based on their Christmas menu, one high-profile Australian vast economies of scale and large investor return. emerged as a candidate for turkey of the week. Many Australian growers already know this. The AWU union chief, Paul Howes, copped several We now have a fascinatingly diversified agricultural well-sauced serves for suggesting Australia had to sector that ranges from larger-scale production and move away from “ma and pa farming” and embrace long-term family businesses to niche growers and large-scale diversified companies: “What we need distributors. The sector’s arguments for more is not too dissimilar to what exists in the US taxation, environmental and investment farming sector, where you have large-scale support are convincingly made, particularly we need conglomerates that can diversify across when you look at the advantages Australia has to care different states and different feed stocks and in food production. about how take advantage of those different elements It’s hard to find anybody, apart from the food is to be able to have sustainable long-term conglomerates themselves, who is arguing for grown investment into the sector.” more machine production of food. Instead, the Howes appears on his own here. From growing interest is in healthy, flavoursome food high-profile Nationals such as Barnaby Joyce to grown and reared well, with the value-added export well-loved cooks such as Maggie Beer, Howes was cachet of being produced with care and individuality. howled down as being out of step, not only with the We need to care about how our food is grown. We family tradition of farming, but with the international keep banging on about food security, about the need direction of smaller-scale, sustainable farm production. to produce plentiful, healthy, sustainable food; and we Indeed, the UN has declared 2014 the International also keep on about the rising cost of healthcare and the Year of Family Farming, backing up its landmark 2010 need for preventative healthcare and self-care, but rarely report that argued small-scale farming would double do we ever join the dots. As any doctor will tell you, food production in places where most hungry people diseases linked with lifestyle choices – including type 2 live within five to 10 years. diabetes – are the fastest growing ones in the country, The surprise in the report was that it found that and the role played by the food we choose to eat is now traditional farming methods are fundamentally correct unavoidably crucial. Good food can make us healthy,

but discussions about agriculture and health take place in separate hemispheres of the national brain. Good food and the part it plays in good health is disconnected, to the point where a social divide may be opening up along food production lines. A well-reared chook is a delicious thing – but it costs $25, and the factory-line supermarket one is $10. My fear is that good food – and therefore good health – will only be possible for those who can afford it, unless the smaller farmers that both the UN and Australian authorities champion can come up with economies of scale. I was struck last week, during the last episode of Kerry O’Brien’s interview series with Paul Keating, by the former prime minister’s observation of the incomparable advantage of living on a continent: there just aren’t that many handed out, he said. This continent, Australia, has always presented the possibility of us becoming a healthy independent food bowl for the region and the world, one of diversified farms and ownership, of production both niche and large but always committed to value-adding. It’s hard to see how Big Food, as it’s known, would provide that future. Think about that as you’re about to buy your celebratory turkey. A happy and safe Christmas to you all. \

Virginia Trioli is co-host of ABC News Breakfast on ABC1 and ABC News 24, 6-9am weekdays.

Follow Virginia on Twitter @ latrioli

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