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MacLoran Farm

Carbon myopia now looking to dictate Australian diets

[as published in the Stock Journal]

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the statutory agency within the Department of Health and Aged Care that is responsible for developing the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADGs), has advised it is making ‘sustainable diets’ a priority as part of its review of the 2013 Guidelines.

The ADGs provide up-to-date advice about the amount and kinds of foods that we need to eat for health and wellbeing. They provide simple, science based nutritional advice and encourage people to follow the recommended dietary patterns essential for good health and in doing so, help reduce chronic health and disease problems. It is an unassuming but powerful public document.

A general section on environmental sustainability is currently included as an appendix in the 2013 Guidelines. Through this review process, the NHMRC intends to incorporate ‘sustainability messaging’ within the revised ADGs.

This will change the intent and impact of our national dietary guidelines.

The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler recently commented that “Dietary guidelines are best designed by expert clinicians and scientists, through open consultation with industry groups and stakeholders.” Totally agree, but expert dietary clinicians and scientists are not experts in the sustainability of livestock production systems and their supply chains.

The issue we have in Australia is that there are too many ‘experts’ when it comes to the sustainability of the red meat industry. And too often those ‘experts’ have a narrow understanding of what is a complex issue, and are captivated by northern hemisphere, particularly the EU, ideologies and production systems that are not necessarily suitable here.

Australia is suited to grazing livestock – only 3% of the nation’s agricultural land is suited to cropping. This means that in many areas, livestock production is the only way we can produce food on that land while managing the landscape. With best practice management, livestock production assists landscape restoration by improving soil health, biodiversity and depleted natural capital.

The red meat and livestock industry has been at the forefront of becoming more sustainable. The ambitious CN30 (Carbon Neutral by 2030) target set in 2017 put it ahead of most other industries in Australia and around the world. The transparent Australian Beef Sustainability Framework and Sheep Sustainability Framework demonstrate and measure our industry’s commitment to a sustainable future.

There are several other government agencies, at national and state levels, that have the responsibility for determining environmental sustainability and setting the policies and regulatory frameworks for delivering desired societal change. The NHMRC is not one of them.

The ADGs determine what is eaten in schools, hospitals, childcare and aged care facilities, and informs health care professionals, health educators, government policy makers and the food industry.

They must remain focussed on the important role they play in society and not morph into some sort of ‘Australian Sustainable Food System Guidelines’. We do not need another government guideline that doesn’t understand or keep pace with the sustainability progress of our industry.

By Travis Tobin

Published: 29 February 2024