July 5, 2021

Co-ordinated national policies on food supply are needed in Australia to ensure the country can cope with future upheaval like that caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, academics have said.

The researchers say that while the pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in the country’s food system, which sometimes left supermarket shelves bare, it has also provided an opportunity to make improvements.

Writing in The Conversation, an online magazine that publishes articles from academics, the University of Sydney and Deakin University researchers said the pandemic highlighted Australia’s dependence on foreign labour, which made it difficult to maintain steady supplies.

“In particular, agricultural workforce shortages resulting from international border closures continue to threaten supply of fruit and vegetables, and may also affect price stability,” they wrote.

While the pandemic led to “many examples of agility and resilience across the food system”, such as food businesses moving online, they said it also increased food poverty and highlighted the lack of a national food policy, which they said left the country vulnerable to future shocks.

“We need to encourage innovation and coordination between national, state, and local government levels to support food supply systems that deliver healthy food across the population,” they said.

Temporary relaxations on anti-collusion rules for large supermarkets showed, they said, that it was possible to make policy changes that strengthened food supplies during emergencies.

“The pandemic has highlighted how easily our food supply can be disrupted by crisis. Now, it’s up to us to lean into that disruption and find ways to build resilience into the food system,” the researchers wrote.

The calls for a more integrated food policy came from Dr Penny Farrell, Dr Anne Marie Thow, Dr Helen Trevena and Dr Sinead Boylan at the University of Sydney, and Dr Tara Boelsen-Robinson at Deakin University.

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