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Sustain submission to the Environment & Planning Committee Inquiry

Nick Rose, Executive Director

Sustain calls for the Victorian government to 'govern the food system as a system' to tackle critical challenges

In its submission to the Environment and Planning Committee's Inquiry into Securing Victoria's Food Supply, Sustain has called on the Victorian government to take a number of key actions to tackle the serious issues facing our food system. 

Executive Summary

The medium and long-term security of Victoria’s food supply is at great risk due to a lack of resilience caused by:

• Concentrated, just-in-time and long-distance supply chains that are inflexible and vulnerable to shocks and disruptions (e.g. extreme weather, geopolitical instability).

• Lack of comprehensive, whole-of-government, whole-of-system and whole-of-state food system and food security policy and governance.

• Lack of government action and clear policy directions to protect and facilitate the sustainable and productive use of green wedge and peri urban agricultural land.

• Lack of funding for, and recognition of, the importance of urban agriculture which is an essential part of ensuring a diverse, resilient metropolitan food system.

Key actions required from the State government

The Victorian food system represents vital urban and public health infrastructure. Victorian farmers should be regarded as the foundation of a healthy diet, sustainable ecosystems and lively food culture. Our health depends on their viability.

Peri-urban and urban food production are vital components of Victoria’s food system. Strengthening and protecting these sectors is critical to securing Victoria’s food supply for current and future generations.

Strong, evidence-based planning policy with a focus on localisation can protect against supply threats from pandemics, extreme weather, geopolitical upheaval, and fuel spikes.

Facilitating and supporting more direct and local market access (e.g. municipal markets - established and pop-up, greengrocers, farmers markets, food hubs etc.) can ensure economic viability for producers and lower-cost access to local and fresh food for consumers. A strategic focus on economic diversification is essential to mitigating the imbalance of power between the supermarket duopoly and smaller players within the food system.

Promoting more regenerative and agroecological models of farming ensures that farmers’ costs are lowered, and the health, integrity and productive capacity of Victoria’s soils are guaranteed for generations to come.

Govern the food system as a system

The food system heavily impacts human and ecological health and government policy. 37% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the food system (IPCC 2018) and industrialised monocultural agriculture is a leading cause of species extinction and soil degradation (Brondizo et al, 2019). Over 40% of Australian dietary intake now is now comprised of ultra-processed foods meaning that diet is now one of the leading risk factors for disease and early death (Machado et al. 2019). Food insecurity is increasingly affecting Victorian households (Kelly 2023). Most farmers feel their work is not valued and as many as a third have attempted suicide or self-harm, with extreme weather and financial pressures leading causes (NFF 2023).
These and related matters are not random, disconnected statistics. They are all linked and they all stem from the same basic problem: that we have taken our food and agricultural system for granted and effectively out-sourced its governance to powerful corporate actors who make the key decisions – how farmers and suppliers are treated and what prices they are paid; what food is available for consumers, how it is priced and what is most heavily marketed – in the interests of shareholders and with the single goal of profit maximisation.
If we as Victorians want a resilient food system that optimises human and ecological health, then we must develop and implement policy and governance frameworks accordingly. This means that the Victorian government must recognise and govern the food system in a comprehensive, integrated manner as a system and do so in a manner that prioritises not the interests of the most powerful corporate actors, but the health and wellbeing of all Victorians, including farmers. This is the challenge before this Committee and the government.


This submission has been supported by feedback and input received from leading experts on the matters under consideration as well as over 100 stakeholders who participated in an important event held at the Angliss Conference Centre on 9th April, Shaping Victoria’s Food Future: A Symposium for Collective Action. We would like to thank the contributions made by Emeritus Professor Michael Buxton (RMIT University), Professor Kathryn Backholer (Deakin University) and Dr Rebecca Lindberg (Deakin University) who participated in that event as well as Dr Sarah Mansfield MP who provided practical advice to attendees about the process and the format for making submissions.

We would like to especially thank William Angliss Institute for their generosity in hosting the event, partnering with us in its design and delivery and providing catering for attendees.

Download and read our submission here

Evidence presented to the Inquiry on 3rd May 2024

On 3rd May Sustain Executive Director, Nick Rose, attended the Inquiry hearing together with Dr Kelly Donati, Sustain Vice-Chair and co-founder.

Nick's opening remarks are reported below: 

Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the Committee. It’s an honour to attend the hearing this morning to speak to our submission and we very much hope that our contributions will aid in your deliberations on matters of vital importance to the people and ecosystems of Victoria, now and in the future. 
I want to start by stating that we are speaking to you as experts in sustainable food systems, food security, food policy and governance frameworks, urban agriculture and gastronomy. In the decade since Sustain’s establishment we have built a reputation for thought and practice leadership in these fields. Our expertise has been recognised through the provision of research, community engagement and strategy development services to more than 20 local and state government institutions as well as not for profit and private sector clients, with most of this work taking place in the last two years. 
We are not experts in planning legislation and policy, on which we defer to the leading professionals who will give evidence after us, Michael Buxton, Andrew Butt and Linda Martin-Chew. We have collaborated with all three and we endorse their views and recommendations regarding the changes required in planning frameworks to achieve the shared goal of a healthy, sustainable, resilient, equitable and secure food system for Victoria. 
I now wish to make three high-level points before passing to my colleague Dr Kelly Donati. 
The first is the need for the Committee to ask itself: what kind of food supply do we as Victorians want and need? In our view it’s vital for the Commitee to recognise and acknowledge that Victoria’s food supply is not value neutral. We don’t want just any food: we need food that’s healthy and good for Victorians, and that also means food produced in ways that are good for our soils, waterways and ecosystems. 
Secondly, the Committee needs to define with clarity and precision what is meant by ‘resilience’, in the context of Victoria’s food system. In systems theory, a resilient system can withstand shocks and stresses, maintain its essential characteristics, and continue to perform its critical functions even during times of great stress. The basic function of a food system is to provide food security for all; that is, to generate and make available to all adequate amounts of healthy, affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food
A resilient food system has two basic and related characteristics: it is diverse in all its elements, and it is designed for redundancy. Diversity across the system means diverse forms and scales of production, processing, distribution and retail. A resilient food system includes diversity of species, from microbial diversity in living and healthy soils to animal breeds and plant varieties. It includes diversity amongst producers so that they reflect the broader Victorian community, which means creating pathways into agriculture for young people and women as well as those from First Nations and CALD communities. A resilient food system includes diverse market channels for farmers, such as municipal markets and greengrocers, and diversity of infrastructure, such as food hubs and small-scale abattoirs. 
My third point is that monocultures, whether in agriculture or retail, are not resilient. Concentrated supermarket power is a threat to diversity, as these corporate actors shape the system from field to fork and have become the default model for food provisioning in precinct and urban planning.

To conclude, our central recommendation is that Victoria needs an overarching framework to tackle the food security challenges we face. Effective food system governance requires an integrated, whole-of-government and whole-of-system approach. It is premised on the recognition that the food system impacts, and is impacted by, so many areas of government policy, including agriculture, health, planning, sustainability and environment, climate change, education and finance. As we stated in our submission, the food system needs to be understood and governed as a system, which means overcoming the fragmented and siloed approach that has characterised policy in this field up till now. The need for such an integrated and comprehensive approach has been recognised both at the Federal level in the Australian Food Story report of the House Standing Committee on Agriculture, and by the NSW Environment and Planning Committee in their 2022 report into food production and supply in NSW. We urge this Committee to follow their lead and take the same approach. 
And as recognised by both those Committees as well as many of the submissions made to this Committee, we need to accept that business as usual in the food system is failing Victorians and is not an option. To achieve a truly food secure Victoria requires a bold and visionary approach. This requires leadership, political will, a willingness to do things differently and to take risks. It will mean having the courage to take on powerful private sector actors in the interests of all Victorians, particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. Fundamentally this is a moral and ethical challenge and not primarily a technical or technological one.