A call to transform our food systems for climate resilience and Australia’s prosperity

Australia must transform its systems of food production, consumption and distribution if it is to remain a global...
March 4, 2024 Commentary
A call to transform our food systems for climate resilience and Australia’s prosperity

Australia must transform its systems of food production, consumption and distribution if it is to remain a global food leader and achieve its climate change targets. 

Current global food systems—encompassing the production, processing, packaging, distribution, consumption and disposal of food and beverages—contribute between one-quarter and one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions and trillions of dollars annually in hidden health, social and environmental costs.  

And food systems are at the forefront of climate change. They face more frequent and severe natural disasters and weather events, localised changes to growing regions, and heightened biosecurity risks, all at the expense of productivity and farmers’ livelihoods.  

Given demand for nutritious foods, in particular protein which is expected to significantly increase to match the growing global population, it is more critical than ever that the world urgently tackles a food systems transformation to sustainably feed everyone.  

For Australia, a world leading food and protein producer and exporter, transforming our food system to be more sustainable, resilient, and prosperous presents domestic challenges and global opportunities.  

Substantial action is already being taken by Australian governments, and agriculture and food industries, to reduce sector emissions and environmental impact. However, when you consider the combination of climate change, growing global food security and nutrition-related public health concerns, and ongoing disruptions to global supply chains, the problems facing Australia’s food system will not be solved only by reducing emissions.  

No one protein, existing or emerging; or agrifood tech innovation is a silver bullet solution to Australia’s complex food systems challenges. Vulnerability points across the entire system—from production through to disposal—must be addressed.  

Most important, the approach across sectors and governments must be coordinated through a considered, holistic systems transformation policy that recognises food as a climate change imperative.  

International governments that are focused on improving their food systems such as Singapore, China and Israel who have already embarked on this work are also engaging heavily with new and innovative agrifood and tech industries, including alternative proteins. Alternative proteins can and should play a critical role in Australia’s transformation.  

Australia is already reaping economic and employment benefits because of the domestic sector, and investment in its continued growth will support Australia to address many of the challenges its food system faces.  

Alongside market diversification, increased productivity and supporting equitable access to nutritious and sustainable diets here and abroad, alternative proteins (such as plant-based and precision fermented proteins) can offer value-adding and waste reduction opportunities to Australia’s existing agrifood industries. There is a lucrative export opportunity for Australia, especially to Asia, to meet demand for alternative protein products and ingredients (for example isolates and concentrates), IP, and skills.  

Regional Australia stands to be a major benefactor of the development of the alternative proteins sector, centring around advanced food manufacturing industries in Australia’s major growing regions. Co-investment from Australian governments in infrastructure, research and development, and workforce is critically needed. As is a comprehensive policy to send clear direction to companies and private investors.  

Fortuitously timed, international and domestic policy stars have aligned and can act as a catalyst for Australia to take action.  

In December 2023 Australia signed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate action at COP28, committing us to integrate food into our climate plans by 2025. This came just one week before the release of the Federal Agriculture House Committee’s food security report recommending the development of a National Food Plan encompassing the entire food system from ‘paddock to plate and beyond.’    

We urge the Australian Government to adopt and action this recommendation in coordination with the states and territories as a priority, as well as the recommendation to pursue a dedicated strategy to grow domestic food innovation and value-adding industries like alternative proteins. Doing so will ensure Australia can deliver on its international climate commitments in partnership with the entire domestic food system.  

Australia has before it an immense opportunity to become a world leader in sustainable protein production and supply, but it must begin transforming its food system now to capture it.  

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