Bob Katter’s criticism of the National Food Plan (NFP) has been slammed by Coles, but many of his suggestions would drastically improve the current food industry if they were implemented.
The government released the discussion paper on the NFP, which examines consumer concerns regarding food safety, land use and foreign ownership, last week for public consultation.
One of the key recommendations of the paper was implementing steps to improve relationship between suppliers and supermarkets, and the Queensland MP has declared his support for the move.
In a statement to media last week that discussed foreign investment in Australia and the supermarket domination, Katter predicted that within three years Australia would be a net importer of food and “unable to feed ourselves”.
His comments are not at all outlandish, considering other industry experts, including union members, food companies and produce growers have all said the same thing in the last year.
If elected, Katter’s Party would create legislation that would impose labels on imported produce with potential health hazard warnings (as chemicals used in foreign farms have often been banned in Australia for decades) reduce the duopoly’s supermarket share to no more than 22 per cent and return arbitrated prices for milk.
Katter says that reducing Coles and Woolworths’ market share would drastically improve the rights of farmers and small business “against the might of a supermarket share concentration, unseen anywhere else in the world”.
“The Americans are screaming blue murder because WalMart and their competitor have now reached 23pc market share,” he said.
“Here we have two supermarkets with 92pc; so if they decide to cut down the amount of money they are going to pay farmers, they can, because there is no competition.
“On top of this, they are bringing in product from overseas, yet it has been revealed that the Chinese are putting formaldehyde into cabbages.
“And we all know that the antibiotic streptomycin is being used on foreign-grown apples to fight fire blight; and that water contaminated with raw sewage is being put in overseas prawn farms.”
Katter called on all Australian farmers to appeal to their local MP’s to vote for the measures his party is putting forward.
“It’s fighting time,” he said.
“This country will no longer accept a pell-mell rush into not being able to feed itself.
“And this country will not accept a continuation where two giant supermarket chains are able to cut the price to the supplier and increase the price to the consumer, because there is no free market where there is a duopoly.”
Coles Corporate Affairs general manager Rob Hadler said Katter's criticism of the NFP should be ignored, saying it is “xenophobic fearmongering, old-fashioned jingoism, protectionism and false claims about our national food situation”.
While he argued that Australia has been a net food exporter for well over 100 years, he admitted that ensuring we maintain that position for coming decades would only happen “if we get the right policy settings in place”.
“Our strong belief is that a strong and competitive domestic food production system is required to support export growth in the longer term,” he said.
“Coles has an ‘Australian first’ sourcing policy that gives preference to Australian grown and made products where they are available.”
But as food manufacturers, producers and farmers will tell you (off the record), while the supermarkets pledge to source food locally, the prices they pay are not sustainable for the future, although Hadler denies this.
“Coles has funded lower prices from being more efficient, not by squeezing farmers and food manufacturers,” he said.
Katter also slammed the increase in foreign investment, saying it is tragic that the government will sit down and talk with Chinese interests but won’t do the same with Australian farmers.
“It is a great tragedy indeed that we have to sell our own country out to get any investment in food production.
“The average Australian may well shake their head – we’ll sell our country off to the Chinese but not develop it ourselves.”