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Towards a Healthy, Regenerative and Equitable Food System in Victoria: A Consensus Statement

Dr. Nick Rose, Executive Director, Sustain

Click here to read the Consensus Statement here.

Shortly after the first lockdown of 2020 commenced, VicHealth convened a Food Security and Food Systems Working Group, with diverse representation from local and state government, community food organisations, academia, philanthropy and the large foodbanks.

We all remember the unprecedented social and economic impacts of the public health response to COVID-19. We saw business closures, job losses, reduced hours and reduced income for huge numbers of people, notwithstanding the temporary ameliorating effects of the JobSeeker uplift and JobKeeper payments. This led to a huge spike in demand for the services of emergency food relief agencies, with some organisations reporting a doubling or even tripling of demand by mid-2020. So the main focus of this Working Group in 2020 was, appropriately, on the emergency food relief situation. 

Towards the end of 2020 and as we entered 2021, the unique nature of the Working Group led to a discussion amongst its members about the need, and the opportunity, to collaborate on a broader vision for food system reform in Victoria. Drawing on the model for the development of the HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) Consensus Statement on obesity prevention in Victoria - “A Healthier Start for Victorians” (launched in July 2019), the group agreed to work together on a Consensus Statement for food system reform in Victoria. Given the scope and complexity of the food system, this was no small undertaking; yet the Working Group members all participated in a collective drafting process, facilitated by senior VicHealth managers and staff. 

The drafting process, which lasted the better part of 12 months, was supported by regular meetings to work through the key issues and details.

Critical to the success of the process was a shared agreement on that the current food system is unsustainable and unfair, and that a transition towards an equitable and sustainable food system is urgently necessary. This agreement underpinned both the vision articulated in the Consensus Statement, as well as the design of the reforms (a series of 10 “Leverage Points” which take the form of policy proposals).

A second critical success factor was the agreement that the Statement and the reform agenda should be underpinned by a commitment to the human right to adequate food, as a matter of principle and law. Hence the first Leverage Point is the call for the legislation of the universal human right to adequate food in Victoria, to be embedded in all relevant State and Local Government policies, budgeting processes and activities. 

The third critical success factor was the commitment made by VicHealth to see the process through to its conclusion. In particular, the engagement of Vanessa Clarkson in an editorial capacity towards the end of the process was vital to ensuring the coherence and accessibility of the final document. Vanessa engaged in detailed conversations with several members of the Working Group to refine particular chapters, as well as extensive research in order to produce high-quality exemplar case studies of the key policies and actions laid out in the Statement. 

The end result is an outstanding document that synthesizes leading thinking and practice in Victoria, across Australia and internationally, with a policy roadmap for the Victorian state government, all Victorian local governments and all actors across the food system. The ten leverage points are:

  • Right to Food Law,
  • Food Systems Governance,
  • Food Systems Monitoring,
  • Agroecological Food Production,
  • Local Food Infrastructure,
  • Public Sector Food Procurement and Retail,
  • School Food Systems,
  • Community Food Systems Strategies,
  • Community Food Systems Planning, and
  • New Food Relief Models.

If we fully implement the proposals, we can transform the lives of Victorians.

Importantly, it would bring us much closer to the day when no-one in this state experiences the pain and indignity of being food insecure or hungry. It would also rapidly accelerate the embrace of agroecological and regenerative farming and land management practices, healing and restoring soils, water catchments, and ecosystems. 

The challenges that face us require nothing less. I am proud to have been a member of this Working Group and played a role in the drafting of this Statement. I urge all readers and supporters of Sustain to join with us in embracing the transformative agenda that it sets out, and work with us and other members of the Working Group for its full realisation.