Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment and Planning

Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment and Planning

(Committees - Reports, 16 November, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

As Chair: I take note of the Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment and Planning's report No. 3/57 entitledFood production and supply in New South Wales, tabled 1 November 2022. The committee began the inquiry in November of last year. The inquiry looked at how we can improve our food system, including by improving food security and equitable access to food and reducing food waste. We considered ways to bring food production into cities, preserve productive land and water resources, as well as sustainable food production measures and managing the impacts of a changing environment on our food system. Our terms of reference also covered Indigenous food and land management practices, workforce challenges and skills development, and implications for food labelling.

We received 77 submissions from stakeholders, including the New South Wales Government, industry representatives, academics and research bodies, health bodies, advocacy groups, community groups, food relief organisations and local councils. We held three public hearings, with 44 witnesses giving evidence. We also conducted a site visit to the headquarters of OzHarvest in Alexandria. I note that the deputy chair, and member for Hawkesbury, enjoyed that visit.

Our report made 36 recommendations and eight findings addressing a broad range of matters relevant to our food system. The inquiry found that food insecurity and a lack of equal access to nutritious food were made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters. Food insecurity is a complex issue that particularly affects disadvantaged people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, regional communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It means not having reliable access to enough nutritious, affordable food. We heard that some people in New South Wales struggle to access enough nutritious food while perfectly edible food is going to landfill and causing emissions.

Our inquiry found that we need a more cohesive approach to address issues in our food system. We recommended that the Government implements an overarching food system plan and creates a food system council to oversee that plan and coordinate responses to problems in the food system. We heard that local government could play a bigger role in food system planning. We recommended that the Government works with local councils to develop and implement strategies to improve local food systems. We also found that planning laws could be changed to allow councils to consider community health and wellbeing when making decisions about development applications.

Another lesson from the pandemic was the importance of food relief. We found that food insecurity and growing demand for food relief means that more ongoing funding is needed for food relief programs. Food relief responses should also be integrated into our State's crisis preparation frameworks. We also found that Aboriginal community representation on local emergency management committees could improve responses to food supply issues, especially in remote communities.

The report highlighted the alarming amount of edible food that is wasted in New South Wales. We recommended a stronger food waste strategy that addresses all parts of our food system. We also found that wideranging consumer education campaigns, school-based education and more funding for local councils to implement food and garden organics collection could help drive down food wasted by households, which makes up one‑third of all food waste. We heard that food rescue models are a cost-effective way to redirect surplus food. Increasing the amount of surplus food we rescue could also reduce food insecurity and food waste and deliver social and environmental benefits.

The committee has made recommendations which seek to address barriers that limit how much food is rescued by food relief organisations, particularly high transport costs and gaps in the cold chain. Community gardens and urban agriculture are vital ways for local communities to access fresh produce, particularly for culturally and linguistically diverse, Aboriginal and regional and remote communities. They can provide food security and health and wellbeing improvements and educate communities about food production. Support for these projects should be encouraged and continued. We also heard about the importance of improving student awareness of food production and sustainability through school education and hands-on learning, such as school gardens.

This inquiry considered how we can futureproof our food production and supply chain to strengthen food security in New South Wales. A changing environment will significantly disrupt our food production and supply systems, contributing to greater food insecurity. We need to support and encourage the ongoing shift to sustainable food production practices and support consumers to make more sustainable choices through a sustainability food labelling scheme. We also found that there is a need to support farmers to adapt to the renewable energy transition and to diversify their use of farmland through agritourism. Consumer trends indicate that plant-based proteins and traditional bush food markets are expected to grow. We have made recommendations for Government to support the growth of these industries in New South Wales, particularly the traditional foods industry led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Finally, we heard that our food production and supply systems face serious workforce challenges. We have recommended a broad, long-term workforce strategy coupled with more immediate action to address current worker shortages. In closing, I thank my fellow committee members—the deputy chair, member for Hawkesbury; the member for Mulgoa; the member for Northern Tablelands; the member for Macquarie Fields; and the member for Wollondilly, who was a former member of the committee—for their valuable and cooperative contributions to the inquiry. Particularly I pay tribute to our amazing committee staff, who have worked across three very robust inquiries held by the Committee on Environment and Planning. I commend the report to the House.

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