An 18-month collaboration between CSIRO and nine partners from government and industry, including the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), has culminated in the roadmap Reshaping Australian Food Systems. The role of packaging in preventing food waste was one topic under the spotlight in the report.
Lead economist and agriculture and food lead, CSIRO Futures, and one of the report’s lead authors, Dr Katherine Wynn told PKN the thinking around reshaping food systems is driven by a number of challenges including disruption to supply chains, increasing input costs, and labour shortages.
AIP executive director Nerida Kelton said roadmaps such as this are important to the industry, and as a stakeholder in food and beverage manufacturing, the AIP could contribute.
“Because it was themed around sustainability and productivity, we wanted to ensure there was a balanced approach to the food waste and packaging targets. If we’re looking to the future, we need to have balanced discussions about the impacts of both. The roadmap takes them into account and how they should be embedded in the business of all food businesses,” Kelton told PKN.
CSIRO executive director, Future Industries, Kirsten Rose added, “Australia’s food systems currently support an estimated 70 million people across the nation and through our export markets, so it’s critical those systems are robust enough to meet future needs.
“This roadmap represents a collective approach to tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the security and health of our food.”
“There were also statistics, particularly around food security, that we all found shocking. In the last 12 months, 33 per cent of Australian households have experienced food insecurity,” she said.
Foodbank Australia general manager Sarah Pennell told PKN being one of the nine partners was fascinating and a privilege.
“Being in the food relief sector our view can be quite focused and specific, so to be in a room with a lot of very smart people taking a really broad picture of an issue, and then getting a picture of the interconnectedness, meant it was a real privilege to be involved,” Pennell said.
Pennell said her role was to be the “voice of the vulnerable”.
“We have an enviable food system but there are lots of challenges, which are only likely to increase. We have to make sure that when looking at food system resilience, both those that can pay for their food and those that can’t are taken into account.
“We currently have half a million households going without enough food on any given day, that’s a significant portion of the population that needs consideration. Solutions can’t make their lives harder or push more people into insecurity and vulnerability,” Pennell said.
In his keynote at The Australian’s Global Food Forum earlier this month, federal industry minister Ed Husic said, “Researchers are developing new products and processes, tackling this huge issue of food waste. Foodbank estimates we probably waste eight million tonnes of food in this country, a year, of which 70 per cent is still edible. Finding new ways to work together on that is hugely important. We’ve got smart people in this country, great businesses who are open to new opportunities, big problem solvers.
Kelton said that because the roadmap was exploring innovations and new technologies, the AIP wanted to make sure packaging, sustainable packaging, and the ability to incorporate intelligent packaging into the food system were discussed.
Wynn said, and Kelton concurred, that one of the interesting research projects in the roadmap looked at improving smart intelligent packaging design, to help control food waste by being able to monitor food quality, managing food to have a good shelf life, and the right physical environment to store food in terms of temperature and humidity to reduce emissions, improve shelf life and storage.
“In addressing the challenges around the amount of food waste, stakeholders made specific note that we need more investment in production and manufacturing capabilities, and then coordination across the supply chain to identify and redistribute those by-products effectively,” Wynn said.
Pennell said, “More Aussies are becoming insecure, so when the cost-of-living gets a shock, it is the people already under stress who suffer first, suffer then most, and take the longest to recover. We need a better system and that is going to cost money and resources, and it’s a question of who can afford it and who can’t.
“This isn’t just a burden for the food system either, it’s about the economy, the welfare system, social supports and more. In this case, I was making sure the future of our food system doesn’t throw even more people into insecurity.”
“Working with CSIRO, the government and other agencies involved made me realise the interdependencies and moving parts on this issue. We will only find solutions if there is more communication and more collaborative efforts.”
Wynn said the roadmap looks at opportunities, research priorities, and policy, infrastructure, and investment actions but does not assign responsibility for their delivery.
“We want to see the report motivate discussion and consensus around broad objectives for our food system. To date, there has been a lack of a whole of system response and the roadmap has gone some way to address that,” she said.
Husic said, “No country has got a greater reputation for producing premium, safe, sustainable food than our country, and we need to build on that. We can’t sit on our hands or rest on laurels. We have to keep investing in innovation and building resilient food systems well into the future.”
Download the roadmap, Reshaping Australian Food Systems.