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The Australian food, planet, health challenge

The Australian food, planet, health challenge

Food is the single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability.

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Georgie Aley

Director, Food & Agribusiness

KPMG Australia

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Fruit and vegetables on a wooden table

An immense challenge facing humanity is to provide a growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. While global food production of calories has generally kept pace with population growth, globally more than 820 million people lack sufficient food, and many more consume either low quality diets or too much food.

Unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drugs and tobacco use combined.

These statistics demonstrate the scale of the global challenge:

  • 2 billion people lack key micronutrients like iron and vitamin A
  • 155 million children have stunted growth as a result of lack of nutrients in early stages of life
  • 52 million children are malnourished 
  • 2 billion adults are overweight or obese
  • 41 million children are overweight 
  • 885 countries face the serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition
  • The world is off track to meet all global nutrition targets.

(Source: Food Planet Health, 2019, EAT)

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health report, authored by more than 30 scientists, calls for transformation in the global food system to drive both improved human and planetary health. 

Consistent with global and national dietary guidelines, it proposes a doubling in the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, balanced with a reduction in the consumption of red meat, sugar and saturated fat.

Challenges and opportunities for Australian agriculture

On 26 June 2019, KPMG hosted an event in Melbourne with Dr Sandro Demaio, Chief Executive Officer, EAT, and a panel of nutrition, production and food processing experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities of this predicament for the Australian agricultural and food sectors.

Some key discussion topics are outlined below.

The changes required are immense, but are gaining momentum

Policy response: In January 2019, Canada’s Food Guide was launched, with guidelines not just on what to eat, but also on how to eat. The recommendations on healthy eating were to have plenty of vegetables and fruits (visually: half your plate); eat protein foods (visually: a quarter of your plate); choose whole grain foods (visually: a quarter of your plate); and make water your drink of choice.

The guide reminds Canadians to cook more often, eat meals with others, be mindful of eating habits, and enjoy food. It also advises them to read food labels, and limit foods that are high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

Innovation response: New food systems are rapidly emerging utilising high-tech, indoor farming systems. These allow growers to increase yields, reduce the use of pesticides, and significantly improve the efficient use of resources such as energy and water through circular economy principles.

Companies such as AeroFarms in Newark, USA, are choosing to locate food production close to major consumer populations, significantly reducing the impact of transportation, and extending the shelf-life of food and reducing food waste through dramatically reducing the supply lead time from farm to consumer.

Innovative investors such as Mike Cannon Brookes (Founder of Atlassian) are exploring opportunities to farm seaweed on the Australian continental shelf to act as a carbon sink, and also to respond to the increasing consumer demand for plant-based protein alternatives.

Industry response: “CEOs must be activists” said Paul Polman on February 5, 2019. Polman is calling on business leaders to take the lead in the climate change battle, and to focus on sustainable transformation. According to the former Unilever CEO, business leaders also have to become activists because their customers expect it. This is supported by research that shows that despite low trust in executives, millennials believe CEOs have a responsibility to take a stand on sustainability issues. A majority would pay more for ethical brands. (Global Opportunity Explorer, 2019 Insights).

Australia is uniquely positioned to respond to unmet food requirements in South East Asia

Humans live in one global food system. It is becoming increasingly apparent that global trade in food will need to continue to increase. The key is producing food where it is most efficiently produced, and selling it in locations where it is in most demand. Australia has the opportunity to meet the demand from across Asia for fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and animal proteins.

Australia’s native food industry is growing, with trail blazers such as Chef Jock Zonfrillo, who has created the Orana Foundation with a mission to turn the native food industry into a $1 billion industry, with profits going to indigenous populations. The foundation has profiled 1,500 ingredients for their nutritional properties, studied their toxicity, and identified potential uses. Jilungin was tested by RMIT and was found to have 100 times the amount of antioxidants of green tea. In May 2019, the foundation began the construction of a packing shed in Kimberley, WA, in collaboration with the local Indigenous land owners.

Farmers must be included in this conversation

Australian farmers are recognised as some of the most innovative, environmentally responsive and adaptive farmers in the world. With a history of responding to changing consumer demands and eating behaviours, it is crucial they are not only involved in the evolving food systems discussion, but rather are at the centre of transitioning to adequately respond to changing diets.
 
 
Contact us to further explore the opportunities presented from changing consumer preferences, evolving food production systems and supply chains.

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