Food fear beats climate change

A WORSENING global food shortage is a problem far more urgent than climate change, top Australian scientists have warned.
The Australian Science Media Centre briefing heard why prices for some staple foods had risen by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, and how dramatic price rises are expected to sweep across all staples in the near future.

Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh said dairy products, grain and poultry had seen the strongest price rises in recent months.

Beef and lamb were forecast to follow, with nationwide livestock shortages taking the average price for a cow from $700 a head 12 months ago to $1400 a head going into autumn.

Key speaker at the national science briefing Professor Julian Cribb said the security of our food supply is “the global scientific challenge of our time”.

The problem was more urgent even than climate change, said Professor Cribb, from the University of Technology in Sydney, because it will get us first . . . through famine and war. “By 2050 we will have to feed the equivalent of 13 billion people at today’s levels of nutrition,” he said.

“This situation brings with it the very real possibility of regional and global instability. Investment in global food stability is now defence spending and requires proportionate priority.”

A “knowledge drought” – the lack of innovation to address farm productivity challenges – had added to the crisis, Professor Cribb said.

He called for a massive increase in public investment in agricultural research and development.

Farmers face challenges posed by drought, climate change, rising oil prices, erosion and nutrient loss combined with more demand for food stocks and biofuels.

Global grain stocks have fallen to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, while Australia’s sheep flock is at its lowest since the mid-1920s, with about 86 million.

In September last year 2007 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found consumers were paying 11.9 per cent more for basic food items than they were two years before. That is almost double the Consumer Price Index rise of 5.9 per cent during the period.

CLARE PEDDIE, SCIENCE REPORTER
January 17, 2008 09:30pmFrom: AdelaideNow

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