OPINION: Loving leftovers may be foodprint epitaph

WE are very lucky in Newcastle to be able to pop down to the Broadmeadow Showground most Sundays and stock up for the week at the Newcastle City Farmers Market.

GULP: Australians waste 7.5 million tonnes of food each year.

Recognised in the SMH Good Food Guide 2013, the Farmers Market has been going for more than eight years and provides a great space for local farmers and producers.

World Environment Day is a good day to pause and think about our farmers.

The United Nations has declared the theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Think Eat Save’, and launched a campaign against food waste that encourages you to reduce your ‘foodprint’.

The campaign promotes individual responsibility to better care for our natural resources, to achieve sustainable consumption levels, and to recognise the implications of our actions in the ‘paddock to fork’ food chain.

We all know that you need good land and water, as well as some fertilisers and fuel to get the produce from paddock to market.

Many wouldn’t know that about one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year is wasted. That’s about 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year.

All the inputs used to produce food are lost when food is wasted.

They say about 16,000 litres of water goes into a cow’s food to make a hamburger.

The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from the cows themselves, and throughout the food chain, all end up in vain when we waste food.

According to the latest national water accounts, the agriculture industry consumed 54 per cent of Australia’s total water consumption; and according to the latest national greenhouse accounts, the sector (not including transport to market) accounted for 16 per cent of our annual emissions. In March this year the world’s population surpassed 7 billion people, and in April Australia’s population clicked over the 23 million mark. It is predicted that by 2050, the world’s population will be 9 billion.

With the pressures from a growing population and a changing climate, the only way for our food systems to be sustainable is to protect our farming land and water, cut the waste and get smarter with our non-renewable resources.

In Australia we waste about 7.5 million tonnes of food every year, or enough to feed the entire nation for three weeks. A lot of the waste ends up in landfills, producing methane, fuelling climate change and putting more pressure on our farmers. And at the same time, 2 million Australians go hungry.

We have got to stop the waste. In Newcastle, the volunteer group Oz Harvest are doing their bit. Oz Harvest is an ‘excess food rescue’ charity distributing food to support the vulnerable in our community. Since they began in Newcastle in February 2010, they’ve rescued more than 440 tonnes of food and have helped 55 groups in the region, effectively rescuing one and a half million meals.

But we need to reduce the amount to start with.

We need to plan better and buy only as much as we need, choose seasonal and local food, eat organic and love our leftovers.

This will help us reduce our food waste, reduce our foodprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Governments need to take action as well. Our farming land and water needs to be protected and a plan to become sustainable in agriculture needs to be developed in collaboration with our farmers.

This is clearly an issue in our region where the multinational coal companies for decades have been turning what was good farming land into moonscapes to send their profits overseas to their foreign owners.

Now coal seam gas companies want to follow suit.

This is not a plan for sustainable agriculture in our region.

Ag Institute Australia, the peak industry body, wants the development of a sustainable agriculture plan to be one of the nation’s top priorities.

This makes good, long term, economic and ecological sense. But recent federal government budget priorities show scant regard for planning for the future and the intergenerational equity consequences of policy inaction.

The federal government should not ignore the pressures future generations will face from climate change, diminishing natural resources and the safety of food supply.

It’s obvious that if we don’t come up with better ways to consume in a sustainable way, this planet of ours will reach breaking point.

World Environment Day 2013 is not just about reducing food waste so we can save money and resources; it’s about food security for all of us.

Michael Osborne is a Newcastle City Councillor and is the federal Greens Party candidate for Newcastle.

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