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Reliance on transported foods could leave entire towns starving: govt report

A new report from the federal government has found that Australia’s growing reliance on foods transported long distances could be deadly in the case of natural disasters or other crises.

The Resilience in the Australian Food Supply Chain report, by the Department of Agriculture, found that the increasing dependence on perishables including milk and produce being transported thousands of kilometres would spell disaster, particularly for smaller towns, if a disaster occurred.

''The key question is whether, following a natural disaster or other major disruptive event, Australians in affected regions would go hungry,” the report says.

“The risk that this could happen is growing, especially if separate events in Australia's eastern states were to coincide.”

Over 75,000 truck trips are conducted each week across Australia to deliver more than 40 million cases of food, which is then sold from about 80,000 retail outlets including supermarkets, shops and restaurants.

Late last month the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused Coles and Woolworths of contributing to road deaths by placing unrealistic demands on truck drivers, and the DAFF report also pointed to the increasingly complicated distribution networks created by the supermarkets as a contributing factor in the potentially dangerous situation.

''Longer supply chains expose transport routes to more points of potential vulnerability from such events as flood, fire and earthquake,'' the report states.

The Queensland floods in late 2010 and early 2011 highlighted some of the major issues with the current supply chain, with Rockhampton cut off by road, rail and air for more than two weeks and Brisbane coming within one day of running out of bread completely.

While nobody starved during the floods, it did highlight the potential risk of larger disasters, or more than one occurring at the same time.

If the Queensland floods had occurred at the same time as the bushfires of 2009, it would have been impossible for food to be delivered to far north Queensland, the report found.

As global warming increases, weather extremities increase and it becomes almost impossible to predict seasons, the possibility of two such disasters occurring simultaneously, or close enough to, is not unrealistic.

''If we had multiple emergency experiences happening around the same time – flood in Queensland, fire events in Victoria and another event in, say, South Australia – then the national system would struggle.,” Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Allen Grant told the current Senate inquiry into food processing.

Last week it was revealed the one in four products currently sold in Australia’s major supermarkets is private label and of those, one in two is imported.

The reliance on imports and lower quality foods to reduce costs in the cut-throat supermarket price war has led to countless Australian farmers, growers, processors and manufacturers being pushed out of work, but the current Senate Inquiry is struggling to get anyone to publically criticise the big two, for fear of punishment.

The departing chief executive of the Winemakers Federation of Australia, who would only speak out because he was leaving the representative body, came out swinging over the weekend, saying the supermarkets are also bullying winemakers, as well as food producers.

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