You are here

Food Amendment Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Tags: Legislation, Food Security

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens are happy to support this bill. The Food Act is a very important mechanism to ensure the food we eat in Tasmania is safe. The aim of the act, as the minister stated, is that it is not only safe but is suitable for human consumption. That is one of the incongruities that we are faced with in this bill. We support the bill. It is important that we remove the regulatory burden that all small businesses suffer under, just as we all suffer under in the modern economy.

As a society, we are increasingly concerned with managing risk in all areas and, because of our litigious system, we end up being in a situation where governments increasingly outsource the management of risk to the private sector. That comes at a cost to us as individual citizens in an enormous amount of form filling, and a burden of work where we are constantly filling in forms to prevent any type of risk occurring and the possibility of any type of litigation.

In saying that, I am not in any way trying to trivialise the real requirement to have very good food security, and to ensure that the food that is sold in mobile food premises and businesses is safe to eat. The last thing we want is to have a system in Tasmania that does not ensure that when we are buying a coffee or a hamburger or any other beautiful piece of Tasmanian produce, that the food that we eat is not contaminated with any toxins and does not have any pathogens that are going to make us sick. It is very important that we have good regulations. We want to make sure, wherever we can, that the regulatory burden on people to demonstrate that their food business is safe, is as small as possible. We support the fact that the database would be established. That is certainly a good idea.

The incongruity I referred to before is, that although the Food Act says that the aim is to ensure that food for human consumption is safe and suitable, what we really have is a focus on safety with effectively no focus on suitability. We do not have any good food labelling in Australia. There is a long history of that as Ms O'Byrne, the member for Bass, mentioned. Anyone who has been involved in the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), which is been going on for decades - there have been lively and continuous debates about the failure in Australia at the federal level and the failure of FSANZ to implement anything approaching good food labelling. The sort of labelling that should be provided to us as citizens when we go into a shop and buy a product, or when we go to a take away in their fixed premises, or to a mobile food business. The sort of security that we ought to have, that the food that we are purchasing is actually healthy for us, is going to make us well if we continue to eat it - not just that day, but if we repeatedly eat it over a lifetime.

I believe everybody understands the way things are - that the food industry has enormous corporate power worldwide. Some of the largest corporations on the planet are food industry related, and they totally control the way labelling occurs in Australia, as in most other nations. We do not have clear, simple, evidence-based labelling on a product that will tell us the real risks of consuming a particular food.

We have a whole lot of risk management around drugs and, yet, as a society we allow our supermarket shelves to be overwhelmingly stacked with sugar, saturated fats, and refined grains. These are all the sorts of things which epidemiologists and nutritionists are showing very clearly will give us a far shorter life than if we ate something without those things in them. It is left up to the consumer. Typically, women are the principal purchaser of food for a family home, or a couple. In a couple, the woman would still do the majority of shopping. Women have the responsibility of trying to wade through the social media conversation about what food makes you fat, what food makes you sick, what food makes you generally feel appalling, and what food shortens your life.

Shoppers are left to wade through the contents - usually in 7 point or 6 point font, so tiny they can barely read them - trying to understand whether the food they are buying is actually going to make them sick. Trying to understand if they just have been diagnosed with a stroke, or another life-shortening illness, how they can keep themselves from dying early. If we want to lengthen our lives, and not just lengthen them, but have healthy lives, then we need information to tell us what we can put in our mouths, and what is going to make us well, and what is going to make us sick.

There is no doubt there is a difference between having something once a year, once a month, once a week and having something every single day three times a day. This is basic information, but I can be quite sure that the food database this amendment bill enables means they will not be providing that genuinely helpful information. Instead it will be looking at the other part of food management which is required by the government. That is to make sure that what is sold over the counter, whether it is mobile or fixed, does not have contaminants that are toxic and does not have pathogens. This ticks that box, but there is a huge deficit.

I am sure all members make donations to health charities such as the Heart Foundation or other chronic disease alliances. All of these bodies, these good people, spend their lives desperately trying to look after and support people who are dying an early death, living in pain, living without the capacity to exercise or to just enjoy life. The largest part of that, the largest component, is related to the food we eat.

The difference we have in our diet in Australia is driven in greatest part by the open-door policy we have given to predatory food industries, which make a motza out of us. That is why Tony Abbott and John Howard - Liberal prime ministers - refused to put any bans on advertising of junk food in children's television time. They would never go there. As John Howard told us, it is the responsibility of parents to make decisions about what their children watch. Parents should educate their children. Parents should turn off the television.

Yet a decade later, we have an incredible obesity level in Australia and enormous chronic diseases resulting from that, terrible rates of diabetes, a huge number of people who will have arms and legs amputated because of diabetes, related to the food they eat. These are all solvable problems. If we take predatory food organisations and their bottom dollar, their return to their shareholder, out of the equation and look at what we ought to be able to do as a society, we ought to be able to ban junk food advertising everywhere because it is toxic. It is dangerous food. It is dangerous to have that on a regular basis all the time.

Almost nothing is a problem if you have it occasionally, but we have no information about how often we should have food and what is too much. We do not go there. We leave it up to individuals to make up their own mind and be responsible for educating their children, pretending that the influence of the environment we live in has no effect. Clearly it does. Other cultures have a completely different approach. It is no surprise that all the indicators of health in those societies are far better. Their obesity levels are down, chronic disease rates are down, and life expectancy is up, especially for poorer people.

It is the poorer people in Australia, Aboriginal people, people who are severely disadvantaged, who bear the greatest burden of our appalling food labelling. These are the people who have the least capacity to choose food which is healthy and to be educated about food that is healthy. We have labels which are written in tiny font. I have plenty of degrees and I have spent a lot of time - and I see other women in the supermarkets doing this too - with my iPhone turning the torch on and shining it on the back of a label trying to understand what is in there, let alone if you have a child who has a food allergy. Good luck to you trying to wade through what is on the back of a label to make sure you are not literally killing your child by putting something on the table that is going to make them sick.

We have a long way to go. We support this. It is important that we have safe food that is sold and that small businesses do not have that regulatory burden, but let us not kid ourselves. This is not going to produce food that is suitable for human consumption, it is only going to provide us information about what is safe.