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TAS Country : November 18th 2010
14 Tasmanian Country Friday, November 19, 2010 Opinion INEQUITY: At least one supermarket will not accept Australian pork from sow stalls in the future, but the same rule does not apply to offshore processors. Uneven playing field fuels farmers' fears CHEWS THEFAT David Byard EVERY time I hear a state politician talk about Tasmanian being the food bowl of the nation, I shudder. Surely the time has come to take the rose-tinted glasses off and look at the issue warts and all. Firstly, the powers that be should take a good look at how much food Tasmania imports. For example, tonnes and tonnes of potatoes and meat -- produce we grow so well -- are coming in. My research suggests that we, or the Tasmanian Government, have a very good handle on what we export. But we have no figures on meat and other items that are imported. I suspect that the only reason that we import products we grow here is to dampen the prices for local products. The two large supermarkets are masters at shopping throughout the world for the cheapest products. What our society has to realise is that if farmers aren't growing and processing in this state, there will be an enormous impact on Tasmania's economy. In fact, 14 per cent of Tasmania's GDP comes directly from agriculture. This is a very high figure and many people who are employed in other sectors of the Tasmanian economy feel that if the farmers go to the wall it will not affect them. They are very misguided if they think that. While we talk about greenhouse emissions and food miles, we continue to bring fruit from the other side of the world. How many emissions do these food miles create? While some people might know how much a cow emits, most don't know how much a tonne of subsidised potatoes coming from Europe emits in greenhouse gas. There is also the quality of imports. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the quality of imports leaves a lot to be desired. Have they been treated with chemicals that are banned in Australia? Are these goods sprayed with insecticides when they get to Australia? Are they grown under the same environmental conditions that Australian farmers adhere to? Do the producers and processors pay their workers for holidays and long service leave? Do they use child labour? The list goes on. While all this is going on, the supermarkets make producers sign ethical supply agreements that will ensure that all chemicals are checked, the right wages are paid and so on. In the case of animals producers, they have to sign an agreement to make sure that all animal ethics are taken care of. Pigs are a good example. While at least one supermarket will not accept pork from sow stalls in the future, imported pork processors can quite happily use sow stalls. EU countries and the US pay their farmers huge subsidies, which Australian farmers are supposed to absorb when competing. And with the high Australian dollar, the pressure builds. If the Federal Government continues with its current policies, we won't have any need for any irrigation schemes. We already have farmers who have lost or are about to lose peas, beans and broccoli contracts. These farmers have paddocks and water set up, yet still can't find a viable contract. Potato growing looks wobbly, with prices going down and the people who have given growing potatoes away finding their contracts haven't been offered to other people. In 2004-05, Australia had a surplus of $4.5 billion in food imports compared with exports. In 2009-10, we find ourselves with a deficit of $1.8 billion. It is interesting to note that the timber industry has an export value of about $500 million. Now people are talking about government compensation to the tune of $1 billion. One agricultural sector, the potato industry, is worth more than $300 million, but there is never any suggestion of compensation to the farmers, with other crops like peas and beans disappearing off the radar. One potato grower suggests the industry will fall over in the next 12 months. Water is also interesting. If farmers want a dam, they will have to sign up for a water allocation. If the Government can only sell 400Ml and the dam is capable of being built to 1000Ml, then the dam will only be built to a 400Ml capacity. Will a farmer producing potatoes who loses his contract still have to honour his contract, or will the Government step in and compensate? I have no problem with free trade, it creates innovation and market stability. But I wonder how long agricultural production can continue in Tasmania while there is a push for a level playing field. This at a time when farmers are contending with the increased burden of being weighed down with regulations, rules and being screwed down by supermarket domination. A good example is Woolworths claiming at the TFGA conference that they were going to start labelling all Tasmanian meat. Three months later, where has this initiative and the labels gone? Coles tells the ACCC that 53 per cent of the checkout price goes to the producer, 14 per cent to kill and bone, 30 per cent in retail costs, leaving a 3 per cent profit. Now Coles and Woolworths are both claiming that they are slashing the price of meat by 20 per cent. Where is the ACCC? Is the chairman of the ACCC still saying that if you don't believe the 3 per cent figure then have a Bex and lay down? How long can Tasmanian agriculture fight on this very skewered pitch, where even the umpires are biased towards the other team?
November 11th 2010
November 25th 2010