Last week Chris Hartcher, with a straight face, announced that coal seam gas extraction (fracking) and food production can co-exist. Julia and Tony wrangled over how much of Australia’s farmland to sell to overseas interests and a NSW dairy farmer’s wife sent Coles into spin fever with a comment on their facebook page which garnered 75,000 ‘likes’. Forgive me for beating the same old drum, but where will Australian food come from when every farmer has left the land, we have mined and fracked the fertile food plains and sold the farm overseas?
It is becoming increasingly clear that both politicians and corporations are completely out of step not only with the farmers but with ordinary Australians who fully grasp the issue of food security and are glad to stand up and campaign about it.
No one who has watched the American amateur documentary ‘Gasland’ can believe that we are still having a discussion about fracking in this country. Australia is one of the driest continents on earth, we have almost constant water issues and the Great Artesian Basin below us provides the only reliable source of freshwater through much of inland Australia. In addition our network of rivers and creeks are our literal lifeblood. To even contemplate activities which we know from the US and Queensland experience poison groundwater is incomprehensible. Short term decisions will wreak havoc on our water, and therefore existence, for ever. Poison the well and the outcome is obvious. Water is too precious a resource for politicians funded by mining magnates to dice with. France has been the first country to ban coal seam gas extraction. We need to say no, too. Intelligent Australians don’t want cancer causing chemicals in their groundwater, and therefore food, when are the pollies going to catch up?
Meanwhile Julia and Tony wrangle over who gets to sell the farm. I am no xenophobe, overseas investment is to be welcomed as long as food produced in Australia feeds Australians as well as foreigners. The next big challenge for the world is feeding its ever expanding population. Futurists are predicting global food shortages as well as lack and scarcity on a par with WWII rationing. Australia escaped rationing then because it could feed itself and its friends in war torn Europe. But if Chinese and Indian interests are buying Australian farms and food production facilities, as their huge populations increase beyond their land’s ability to feed their own, surely Australia’s food potential will all be shipped offshore? And then where will the food for Australians come from?
In my local dairy based town, the co-operative have just sold their cheese making facility to an Indian conglomerate intent on continuing the current lines and installing apparatus for making milk powder for the Indian market. They say they are going to pay local farmers more per litre for their milk than the current market price for ready freeze dried milk from purpose built facilities in Victoria. Really? Or is that just spin the starving dairy farmers fell for because the alternative - slaughtering the stock and selling up the farm five generations have slaved over, is too awful to contemplate?
If the world commits to cutting CO2 emissions and pricing pollution, how can we afford to fly in all our food? And as populations increase and explode won’t current food source nations such as The Philippines, Vietnam, China, South Africa, Argentina and Japan lock down their resources to feed their own inhabitants? These may seem like scaremongering worst case scenarios but we don’t know what the future holds and therefore we must be cautious, careful, take the long term view, be protective of our resources and practice careful husbandry (just like a farmer!)
Out in the real world, a NSW Dairy Farmer’s wife took her frustrations out on Facebook as her family struggled to stay alive on the paltry price paid for milk by Coles. Over 75,000 people agreed with her plea for Wesfarmers to honour Aussie farmers with a fair price for providing the most basic of foodstuffs, full of goodness, which remains the staple table fair for healthy Australians. Coles complained of an ‘orchestrated campaign’, apparently deleting the post to the ire of an extraordinary number of ordinary Australians who care more about Australia’s farming future and food security than they do about another buck in their hip pocket.
If only the duopoly which dominates Australia’s food intake would listen to their customers and realise that there is a global revolution away from fast food in favour of slow food and a visible chain from farmer to plate. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Stephanie Alexander and Richard Cornish, among others, are as passionate about the origins of food as they are about the final plate on the table. Discerning customers are fed up with factory style farming and the tasteless pap it produces. They want real food that tastes good, is rich in nutrients and really fuels our bodies, as well as feeds us.
Sure, there will always be a percentage of the population for whom price really matters, who stretch a dollar further than most of us would believe possible. Those people also know how to make do and mend and would be the first to support farmers demanding a fair price for their produce. There will also always be people for whom liquor and cigarettes take priority over food and the supermarkets meet their needs too.
The increasing success of Farmer’s Markets are testimony to the fact that Australians are choosing healthier food options and want to be involved in the food chain from paddock to plate. They want to reconnect with the men, women and children working the land. They want their children to know where food comes from, to take responsibility for freshness, goodness and the life and health giving necessity of food. We all need it, we all eat it, we all need to get more involved in making sure that we have plenty of Australian grown, reared, raised and nurtured food for every generation to come.
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