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35 responses to “Food security: a discussion”

  1. Hoa minh Truong

    Food is very important for health, in the old day, the most medicine came from the food as vegetable, herb….the western states check the food carefully from their product and import. However, in the most communist countries as China, Vietnam, the foods are not quarantine and guaranteed safe, indeed, government control the productive company and the corrupted regime waved the bad, poisoned food, then the dangerous food being sold in market. in Australia, the meat to be checked by D.P.I before the abattoir distributes to shopping, but China, Vietnam are not.
    As example, in Vietnam, the economical modern called:” Uncle Ho Fish Pond” uses the human excrement to feed a kind of fish names Vo, after them, they process into the fillet, that called Basa and export to the western states by the low price.
    We couldn’t trust any product from the communist states by the reasons:
    -Food produces by the government company.
    -They use the banned chemicals.
    -The product is not match with hygiene condition.
    I came from Vietnam, a communist country, I knew as well as the product come from the communist regime, so everyone have to be careful about the food, even import ( although the government quarantined, but not 00 %). The tourists have to be cautioned while eating the food.
    My mother in law who came back Vietnam and returned to Australia, about 3 weeks after, she got sick by poisoned food and passed away within 3 days at Joondalup hospital on April 2011.
    The most fish, prawn produce by Vietnam has using the Formaldehyde, that uses in the funeral company to keep the death body being longer. Even the rice paper, rice noodle, they use that dangerous chemical. So the tourists have to avoid eating these foods above, if you don’t want to be a victim of cancerous patient.
    Hoa Minh Truong.
    ( author of The Dark Journey & Good Evening Vietnam)

  2. BigBob

    1) At the heights of the Great Depression would be my best guess for the last 100 years.
    2) Only those caused by the world wars
    3) See 2
    4) The UK possibly could be self sufficient – although when imports were restricted during WWII, they had chronic shortages and the population is larger now. Japan has no chance. Japanese civilians before WWII were on short rations and there is far less arable land available now due to urban expansion – they no longer have the option of Imperialist expansion to shore up their own supplies as well.
    5) Foreign ownership will not cause any problems with our own food security, urban sprawl, soil degradation and water issues will be far more important factors – however, it may cause issues with world food security if the foreign owners preference their own markets for our surpluses.
    6) Probably not. It might hurt the national character but probably wouldn’t do any harm to the national waistline.
    7) Apart from the food preference bit, it’s ok – however, it fails to add that this has to be achieved sustainably.

  3. BigBob

    I might say in relation to my 6, that Australian companies will sell to the place of highest return, so, whether they are foreign owned or not, the absence of purchasing power from developing coutries will always place them at a disadvantage to the richest one.

  4. wilful

    For those too lazy to click through, here’s the current Vue de Monde degustation menu:


    Oysters & lime
    Crispy venison sandwich
    Smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar

    Spanner crab, broccoli, beetroot, crustacean dressing

    Pine mushrooms, walnuts, bird’s cress, cona infusion

    Marron, beef tongue, brown butter emulsion

    Fried duck egg, lamb sweetbreads, pickled onion, truffle


    Cucumber sorbet, crushed herbs

    Southern blue fin tuna, fennel, wasabi, beach herbs, caviar

    Kangaroo, radish, swede, turnip, lemon

    Blackmore wagyu beef, chestnut, wild garlic, cherries

    Assortment of cheeses, bread, condiments

    House made lemonade, frozen toffee apple, popping candy

    Lemon meringue ice cream, white chocolate, lemon curd, parsley

    Apple, Jerusalem artichoke, fragrant caramel

    But seriously, all that we really mean by “food security” is a dogwhistle nationalist hatred of the chinese buying up our farms. And yes the Greens are as guilty of this as the Nationals.

  5. wilful

    According to Monbiot’s last post, which references a recent Oxfam report that I haven’t bothered to dig into, the 13% of the world that suffers from hunger could be assuaged by a 1% increase in world food supplies.

    Food security is so much less of an issue than unsustainable farming practices including excessive grain-fed meat consumption.

  6. Chris

    wilful @ 4 – I agree, its mostly a term trotted out disguising xenophobia. Though in the Green’s case its probably comes more from an anti-corporate and globalisation ideology. After all if things really went pear shaped (people starving in the streets due to world wide food shortages) the government could legislate to renationalise farming land or restrict what could exported.

    Re: 6) I love a big slab of red meat. But I hardly think its requirement. Plenty of reasonable alternatives if it ends up being uneconomic or too environmentally damaging.

    I think the FAO definition is too broad to be useful (unless there is some interpretive document which explains what they really mean). Perhaps like poverty definitions we need an “absolute food security” definition which relates to people having sufficient food/nutrients to lead a healthy life (and for children to develop normally). This would allow worldwide bodies to make sensible decisions about the food requirements of countries.

    And then perhaps for developed countries they can have an aspirational food security definition which may include Robert’s desire for degustation menus.

  7. faustusnotes

    I don’t think the UK has “food security” if we think of it in terms of the ability to grow your own stuff if international trade collapses. So too Japan. But recently, for example, when people in Fukushima had sudden fears about the safety of food from their own immediate environment, they found it (almost) trivially easy to replace that food with imported food (from overseas or other parts of japan), despite being in a disaster zone with damaged infrastructure. That seems like a fairly good example of having food security. So I think both the UK and Japan are only at risk of food insecurity if there is a major catastrophe – war, or significant environmental troubles.

    Of course, the UK with its inequality has a problem of food insecurity internally, and we’ll see how that plays out later this year if they experience the drought they’re fearing. Apparently in the 1976 drought food prices rose by 13% – will this happen this time around, or will a more diversified and liberalized food market mean food prices are more stable? Or will food prices rise even more for the poorest, while the rich just buy the same (imported) food they’ve always bought?

    For most countries, food insecurity is a sign of inter- or intra-national inequality. It’s not a technical, agricultural or scientific problem but a political one.

  8. wilful

    In Roman times it was the construction of roman roads that allowed the relative ease of passage of grain throughout the empire that did much to alleviate famine.

    Are people (not on this thread, but in politics) really advocating autarky? Maybe that the reductio ad absurdo of their argument, but how’s Juche gone in North Korea?

  9. Mort

    Livestock can be grazed on about 56% of Australia, which explains why cheap red meat is so easily available.

    Grains & oil seeds for breads, for margarines, biscuits, cakes, etc can be grown on about 5% of Australian soil – provided there isn’t a drought / flood/ mining companies/ coal seam gas.

    Plants that need access to water for irrigation like fruit, vegetables, nuts can be grown on only about 0.3% of suitable Australian soil and climate zones – provided urban development hasn’t got there first.

    People look at a map of Australia and think there is great swathes of land ‘’out there” that can just be converted to food production instead of what we are already using. There may a small bit of leverage in some areas but it will not be without pain and we are at our limits now with area that can be utilised.

    Problem is with the duopoly of Coles & Woolworths pushing down returns to growers, replacing local for cheap imports there is no one entering the industry to keep the knowledge & skills of producing successfully in the Australia climate (which is Very different to OS). The average age of a fruit & veg grower is 63. The industry is dying or selling out to developer so they can retire while they can still walk. Broadacre producers (grains/meat) are not far behind.

    Adding to Hoa minh Truong excellent points on basic food safety.
    Food security is also about the availability of infrastructure like electricity, refrigerated storage, secure, useable roads or railways for distributions, bulk storage facilities at end points, stable governments, etc

    The world already produces every year a great excess of food, enough to feed everybody on the planet very well. But is bloody minded politics, war, corruption, poverty that cause starvation in other countries.
    There is a gross amount of food wastage in wealthier nations every day.

  10. habby

    The 2001 FAO seems like a beautifully wordsmithed statement coming out of a 2 day facilitated workshop! I’ve been involved in workshops to develop organizational vision and mission statements where everyone’s interest has to be incorporated into the statement or else it’s vetoed.

    Surely a key test is whether the statement is useful as a starting point to develop a food security policy for a country or region, and my initial response, not really.

    What is food preference? Is it access to year round fresh strawberries, or bananas in southern Australia or maybe fresh free range organic eggs.

    Does food security = self sufficiency? But what is the geographic and political context?

    Food preference and lifestyle are influenced by income and food price so how would you frame a sensible food security policy in the context of fluctuating food prices and incomes and levels of income distribution in a community/economy.

    The more I think about it this it really is a bit of nonsense!

    Maybe a better starting point would with some political/economic/environmental scenarios, for example moving towards significant climate change or China as a malevolent world power. This then starts to give some context to food security rather than “I have a right to eat what I like”.

  11. John D

    The print version of Scientific American (Nov 2011 pp44) commented that

    about one billion people suffer from chronic hunger. The world’s farmers grow enough food to feed them, but it is not properly distributed and, even if it were , many can not afford it, because prices are escalating.

    If you look around Australia there are plenty of opportunities to boost food consumption. We could harvest the feral animals that are damaging large swags of Australia. We could farm patches of good land that are too small for modern farming methods. We could farm areas that don’t produce a crop often enough to give a good economic return. We could harvest locusts and mice plagues instead of trying to kill them and leaving them to rot…..

    What is stopping us is money. Many of the things we could do cost more than the way we are doing them now. Which brings you back to

    many can not afford it,

    There are lots of things the world could do to improve food security for all of us. One of the starting points is to start challenging the idea that it is OK for people to starve if they can’t afford to buy food.

  12. Tim Macknay

    Vue De Monde is serving southern bluefin tuna? Disgraceful!

    One of the starting points is to start challenging the idea that it is OK for people to starve if they can’t afford to buy food.

    Er, does anyone seriously advocate this idea?

  13. Salient Green

    Glad to see some good sensible comments at last starting with Mort and Habby.
    Some ways of describing food security are availability, access, affordibility, nutrition, quality, safety and resilence.

    There are so many threats to the above in our overpopulated, overexploited world that it’s hard to know where to start. I guess a good place would be the necessity to produce our food sustainably. 20 years ago we had plenty of oil, plenty of phosphate and plenty of potassium. Now we are bumping against peak oil, peak phosphate, increasing levels of heavy metals in phosphate, and an awareness of finite potassium.

    Our present method of supplying nutrients is unsustainable.

    Our present method of obtaining energy to make food is unsustainable (fossil fuels).
    Climate change and the consequences of mitigating climate change are both threats to food security. Massive floods and drought can both threaten food security and you will not be able to rely on global trade when countries ban exports and transport is limited by high fuel prices.

    On Chinese buying up Australian food producers. Australians are justifiably suspicious of foreign investment from any country which is not historically allied to us.
    Do we really think that food production around the world is just a convenient place for Chinese (and other) investors to park their money?
    So many Australian food producers are on the bones of their arse thanks to both major parties’ free trade policies yet foreign investors are happy to step in and buy them. Why?

  14. Brian

    About 7 or 8 years ago I read about a concept of ‘food insecurity’ in relation to the USA. From memory, if at the end of each day you were not sure you would get enough to eat on the following day you were defined as ‘food insecure’. It was said that over 40 million Americans fitted this definition.

    On your Q1, Rob, my father was born in 1898. When he was very young his mother died, his father married again and the second wife refused to look after the three existing kids. They were taken in by another family who had 9 kids of their own and lived on 20 acres in the Barossa Valley. I heard stories of being fed on bread and dripping.

  15. Salient Green

    Robert, you haven’t even bothered to answer my question. However, it’s your blog so in answer to your extra questions, NO, the food production being bought up by Chinese investors is not by any means all destined for export. Rather than waste my precious time composing another long response I suggest you google “chinese farm purchase in australia”.

    Here’s a free one to get you started.

    A Chinese buyer has recently purchased Angus Park to whom I supply dried fruit. Angus Park has to import fruit to supply the local market let alone export. Major Chinese investment in Australia means major influence on government.

  16. Salient Green

    A quick google of “UK food security” should reveal that they are way ahead of the game here in Australia. I would think that the rest of Europe would be thinking along the same vein. Just shows once again that the Greens are thinking for the future.

  17. John D

    Tim @12: If people didn’t feel it was OK to have people starving because they don’t have enough money ask yourself how come one billion people suffer from chronic hunger world wide when this problem is solvable if expense is not an issue.

  18. Brian

    Paul Barratt has an opinion piece at The Drum that addresses issues of foreign investment, sovereignty and food security.

    I have read articles about the impact in Africa which are not so benign, but I can’t readily locate any of them.

  19. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    We couldn’t trust any product from the communist states by the reasons…

    With respect, Hòa, I don’t see how products are any less safe in modern Vi?t Nam than when South Vi?t Nam was an independent state, and some things are a lot safer now than before 1975. I can’t remember any formaldehyde in my beer when I was over there. On the other hand, some of the soya sauces are carcinogenic, I gather. Using industrial strength lye and hydrochloric acid on soy beans is a bad idea. But it’s not as bad as China, where they get their sauce from human hair. Communist states are not the same.

    Robert: with your indulgence, I’d like to apply your food security questions to Vi?t Nam. A comparison with a real developing country may be an antidote to any Australians on this thread who feel hard done by.

    1. Has a significant fraction of Vietnamese not had food security since 1790? Fuck yeah. See below.
    2 When were the last major episodes of Vi?t Nam suffering mass food insecurity? I would say the big one would be the Vietnamese famine of 1945: 400,000 to 2 million dead. The next 30 years would have been pretty appalling as well for food security: farmers being driven off their lands for various reasons, from B-52s to napalm to VC. But more people would have died from the USAF than from starvation.

    3. Excluding food insecurity caused directly by war?

    1975-1986 was a disastrous time for the country. Lê Du?n (General Secretary of the Communist Party) decided to collectivize the South. A fucking disaster, as you can imagine. His actions created what 30 years of war didn’t: an actual Vietnamese diaspora around the world. The country was a bloody rice importer. Now it is an exporter. Just to give you a heads up how bad it was: people born during that period are shorter than people born older or younger.

    4. Do countries like Japan and the United Kingdom have food security?

    Probably not. The UK would have been in better shape if they had invested their North Sea oil wisely like the Norwegians. Japan subsidise their rice fields, and wisely so,

    5. How will foreign-owned farms in Vi?t Nam affect local or global food security?

    Unlikely. Large farms are state run, small farms are family run, and I have not heard of much foreign agribusiness in the country. I would be more worried about rising sea levels caused by global warming. The best grain growing area in the country is the Mekong delta: 25% of the nation’s population lives there. That’s about 22 million people – the same as Australia. Most of it is 1m or 2m above sea level.

    6. Is access to cheap red meat a key element of Vietnamese food security?

    No. The main staple is rice: that’s the key element. Vegetables are also important; fortunately, the country is fairly flexible with its diet, and incorporate such things as cactus. Meats feature in the diet as well, but beef can be substituted for by pork, duck, chicken, eel, fish, crab, and shrimp.

    I should add that the coast off the country is far more productive than Australia’s marine desert, but it is also more polluted by sewerage.

    7. Is the 2001 FAO definition of food security a satisfactory one, and if not, why not, and what would you prefer?

    I don’t know.

  20. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    I should add one more thing: my “analysis” (adulterated as it is with too much beer from the Matisse exhibit at GOMA) applies to Kinh: Vietnamese-speakers in Vi?t Nam, who have a relative measure of food security on average, with Southerners being more secure than Northerners.

    The 40 or so “minorities” up and down the country are far poorer and are far more food insecure than the mainstream. They often get forgotten about, in the same way that foreign discussions about Australia forget about the Tiwi or the Yolngu.

  21. GregM

    A quick google of “UK food security” should reveal that they are way ahead of the game here in Australia. I would think that the rest of Europe would be thinking along the same vein. Just shows once again that the Greens are thinking for the future.

    Can you point us to the articles you refer to which show us that the UK is way ahead of us in the food security game, sg?

    I hope you can show us one that demonstrates that a country that imports two thirds of its food, which the UK does, has greater food security than Australia, which exports two thirds of its food production (without even trying).

    There has got to be one such article.

  22. Salient Green

    @22 I didn’t say anything to suggest that the UK has greater food security. They are ahead of the game in their thinking, their awareness of the problems and threats now and down the track. They are taking steps to deal become more food secure.

  23. Rob W

    An excellent animated documentary that covers the links between food security, resource depletion and exponential growth


  24. Salient Green

    Rob W, great video. I think we’re screwed, or should I say, we’ve screwed our descendents.

  25. GregM

    I didn’t say anything to suggest that the UK has greater food security. They are ahead of the game in their thinking, their awareness of the problems and threats now and down the track. They are taking steps to deal become more food secure.

    Obviously because they need to. Whereas we don’t.

    If I was living in a country that imported two thirds of its food I’d be a great deal more concerned about food security than if I was living in a country that exported two thirds of its food production.

    Now tell us about how they are handling their lack of sunshine problem that so worries them and what we can learn from them so that we can get ahead of them in that game.

  26. Salient Green

    @26, Britain is 60% self sufficient in all food and 74% self sufficient in foods which can be produced there. Credibility fail.
    See video @24 for threats to Australia’s food security.

  27. akn

    OK Rob W. Pretty much what I thought. I’d better fit in that jet powered international fishing trip while the fuel and fish allow for it. Before it becomes the preserve of the rich.

  28. Salient Green

    The rich will be rendered down for oil and fertiliser.

  29. GregM

    The best grain growing area in the country is the Mekong delta: 25% of the nation’s population lives there. That’s about 22 million people – the same as Australia. Most of it is 1m or 2m above sea level.

    Kampuchea Krom.

    Stolen from the Khmers.

    Who want it back.

  30. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    They’re not getting it back, GregM. Kampuchea Krom was grabbed from them in 1757 – older than European settlement in Australia. Pol Pot “tried” to get it back, if you count massacring a few Vietnamese villages on the border as a “try”. Cambodia is not going to ensure its food security by pining after long sundered lands.

  31. faustusnotes

    I’m continually surprised that leftists still exist who think food security is about over-population and resources. It’s a distribution issue, a political problem. If it were simply a resource issue, why are the same countries suffering from food security now as were suffering when the world population was a billion fewer?

  32. faustusnotes

    ooh, moderated! The spaminator obviously doesn’t like big numbers!

  33. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    But food security is about resources when you don’t have the political climate to trade with the neighbours. Australia has a lot of redundancy: if the Darling Downs gets CSGed, there’s the wheatfields of WA; if cattle come down with BSE, there chicken and lamb and tofu and vegetables. Cambodia (as example) gets the majority of its fish from a single lake: Tonle Sap. Nice single point of failure they have there.

    Politics make things better: Cambodia is in ASEAN, along with its neighbours, and if something bad happens they can get supplies via trade. Politics make things worse: Tonle Sap gets its water from the Mekong – the same river being dammed upstream by the Chinese. But neither of these things remove the fact that the country has a certain precariousness about its food security.

  34. Tim Macknay

    Tim @12: If people didn’t feel it was OK to have people starving because they don’t have enough money ask yourself how come one billion people suffer from chronic hunger world wide when this problem is solvable if expense is not an issue.

    But (aside from the fact you moved the goalposts) that assumes the problem is “simply” one of price, and ignores all the other factors that contribute to the situation, i.e. climate variability, war political and social unrest, poor agricultural practices, perverse impacts of subsidy regimes etc etc. The problem doesn’t simply reduce down to an issue of greedy westerners/uncaring free market ideologues, IMHO.