Australian and international farm policy news

Italy sees red over UK ‘traffic light’ labelling system

Italian producers recently raised concerns over the United Kingdom’s (UK) ‘traffic light’ food labelling system, which the UK recently proposed to be implemented across a 25 country-bloc in Europe. Across Europe producers fear that the scheme could cost them as much as 200 million euros a year.

The traffic light system is a system by which foods are either awarded a red, amber or a green light depending on the amount of calories, sugar and salt that are in foods per 100 grams. This system is used in combination with guideline daily amounts (GDAs) and was introduced in the UK in June 2013 to help consumers make healthier meal choices, in an attempt to reduce obesity rates. If the traffic light system were to be introduced across Mediterranean nations (such as Italy) traditional foods such as cheese, cured meats and olive oil, which are protected and promoted under European Union (EU) quality schemes, will be labelled with a red light. This would create a situation whereby some foods would be both promoted and discouraged by European regulation.

The quality and reputation of traditional Mediterranean foods may also be affected, with the potential for producers to alter fat and sugar content levels so as to obtain a green label. Competition and market distortion may also occur, as the UK proposal contains no requirements for harmonisation across EU states.

McDonald’s has no beef with sustainability

McDonald’s recently announced plans to begin purchasing verified sustainable beef by the year 2016.

The burger chain in 2011 collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund, Cargill, JBS, and others to develop the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). The role of the GRSB has been to draft guidelines for the best practices for sustainable beef in the hope of promoting improved sustainability in global beef production. McDonald’s found that 70% of their greenhouse gas emission impacts came from the supply chain, and 40% of those were related to beef production. 

Ord Irrigation Scheme to double in size

The Western Australian (WA) Government recently signed a new development agreement with Kimberley Agricultural Investments (KAI), wholly owned by Shanghi Zhongfu (group), which aims to double the size of the Ord Irrigation Scheme.

Staged investments from KAI, as part of this scheme, are worth an approximate $200 million. KAI is dedicated to achieving significant milestones over the next four years and has agreed to construct on-farm infrastructure, and develop and crop farm land to secure a 50 year lease over 7400 hectares of Goomig land.

Investments made by KAI in the scheme will create new agricultural land in the Goomig and Knox Plain areas of the Ord Valley. The state’s own investment, as well, will support sustainable economic growth in the East Kimberley through additional irrigation channels and the development of new farm land for crops.

Low price era for crops on the US horizon

Agricultural economists in the United States (US) have advised crop farmers to prepare for lower crop prices over the next couple of years. US crop farms have experienced six extraordinary years, coupled with strong demand from China and the ethanol industry which has altered US corn and soybean production. Economists have predicted a four to five year period of lower prices and profitability. Some farmers who have expanded corn production could potentially struggle as a result of larger harvests, which oversupply the market and lower prices.

From 2001 to 2011, China’s demand for soybeans grew by the equivalent of 30 million extra crop acres and over the same period, US ethanol usage increased by the equivalent of 20 million acres. The result was approximately 50 million more acres were needed just to meet these demands, and as a result global corn, soybean and wheat production all increased substantially. The demand for corn from the ethanol industry has recently flatlined and in 2013, corn yields were decent, meaning prices will are likely to be lower over the coming years.

United Nations International Year of Family Farming

The World Rural Forum supported by the United Nations has launched the International Year of Family Farming in 2014 (IYFF). The IYFF aims to fight hunger and poverty with official events being held in developing countries such as Port au Prince, South Africa, India and Thailand. The Master Plan for the initiative was created by family farmers’ organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The fundamental objective of IYFF is for people all over the world to acknowledge the challenges that smallholders in these developing regions face, and to establish an agenda that supports the future development of sustainable and efficient family farming practices in these regions.

In Australia, the IYFF campaign should highlight how farmers’ knowledge and skills have largely turned Australian family smallholdings into sustainable businesses that are competitive on the world stage. This could be done by focusing on investments and collaborations initiated by Australian farming industries to promote efficient farming methods in developing countries. Notable examples of this under-appreciated work by Australian farming industries include investment in Indonesia’s beef cattle sector and inter-country industry collaboration with dairy businesses in the Philippines.

Keep up-to-date with discussion on current issues in Australian and international agriculture policy via the Ag Forum on the Institute website.

Images:  IJ Clarke, CSIRO, SJ Howard

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