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Tackling food security and healthy food in Western Australia

Media release

Minister for Agriculture and Food, the Hon Terry Redman MLA, attended a Curtin University workshop yesterday to discuss some of the biggest food security issues facing Western Australians.

Hosted by Curtin’s newly established International Institute of Agri-Food Security (IIAFS), sponsored by the WA Department of Health, Fruit West, and the University, the Food Security and Healthy Food in Western Australia Workshop invited participants from industry, government and social organisations to discuss accessible and healthy food strategy in WA, with a particular focus on remote and Indigenous communities.

In her opening address, Curtin’s IIAFS Director, Professor Janet Bornman, said major challenges in food security included the creation of effective strategies to increase local food sustainability and increasing community awareness of the health benefits of quality food.

“Another challenge is to maintain a reliable and secure supply chain from farm to consumer at local levels that can snowball into an efficient supply chain network,” Professor Bornman said.

“Climate variability, global economics and trade markets are removing many of the differences in food security issues that once separated developing and developed countries and we are all moving towards similar sustainability risks.”

Professor Bornman said further issues facing WA food security included transport logistics, lower food quality in remote areas, price discrepancies between nutritious food and junk food and high levels of food wastage.

“An estimated four million tonnes of food is wasted or thrown away by Australians annually, equivalent to roughly 178 kg per person per year. In financial terms, Australians are throwing away $7.8 billion each year,” she said.

“Also, food costs more in the areas of greatest geographic and socio-economic disadvantage in WA.  The mean cost of a healthy food basket in very remote areas is 23 to 29 per cent more than in metropolitan areas.

“To address these issues, we need to make people aware of the problems and risks, as well as providing information about the opportunities and solutions to overcome food insecurity.”

Professor Bornman said an important challenge was to develop a niche market for nutritious food production, processing, and appropriate technology instead of the current increasingly economic reliance on the export of raw, unprocessed foods and import of the processed foods.

“To begin that process, our perception of food needs to change so we can truly appreciate the value of food as a precious, life-sustaining commodity that can run out. An emphasis resting solely on production runs the risk of ignoring the need to produce quality, nutritious food,” she said.

“Increasing producer and consumer awareness, and collaborative efforts across key sectors are essential to meeting these challenges.

“By working together to identify the common elements between agriculture and healthy outcomes for a healthy population and agreeing to exchange knowledge and ideas to solve food security issues across our sectors, we will find unique opportunities to tackle these issues head on.”

Healthway Food Law Chief Investigator and Curtin Research Fellow, Dr Christina Pollard, said a major challenge in terms of food security from a health perspective was to ensure physical and economic access to nutritious food for all Western Australians.

“In 2009, about five per cent of Western Australian adults said that someone in their household had run out of food because they did not have enough money in the last year.

“This is relatively unchanged since 2005 when five per cent of Western Australians over 15 years of age said they had run out of food in the last year. Alarmingly the figure was 26 per cent for Indigenous Western Australians.

“Yesterday’s workshop provided the opportunity for dialogue and the development of collaborative partnerships that will be used for maintaining a viable, action-oriented working group.

“This networking group will have the capability to advise policymakers, local authorities and communities on these issues.”

Contact:

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mobile: 0401 103 755, Email: andrea.barnard@curtin.edu.au