Pandemic planning for a global food crisis

26 Sep, 2012 02:00 AM
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HAS anybody ever considered a food shortage pandemic?

Former Metcash general manager of risk Steve Newton has.

In fact, as delegates at last week's Global Agribusiness Conference learnt, he has developed the world's first pandemic plan to deal with food shortages.

Currently he is chairman of Australia's food industry Retailers Action Working Group (RAWG) that he helped establish six years ago to design and co-ordinate Australia's national and pandemic crisis plans.

According to Mr Newton, 95 per cent of Australian homes have less than two to four days of food and there is a maximum of 30 days of dry food in the supply chain.

"The risk we face is a current lack of food storage and a current lack of preparation capacity," he said.

"The governments have a two to three day command and control process in their heads when it really needs to be six weeks.

"Last year when I was at Metcash, we had to deal with earthquakes in New Zealand, Queensland floods, bushfires in many States and a tsunami in Japan.

"It affected our retail stores and within 48 hours we had problems in some areas supplying food.

"If you consider the global risks, we have shocks in finance, health, social and climate yet there is a complete lack of respect about food.

"Global forces are at work on many climatic levels at the supply side and with the serious global population demand growth factors, the food community must increase their efforts for food security at a local, national and global level.

"Societies at all levels must become more aware of the overall current lack of food storage and preparation capacity.

"They must be more in tune with their reliance on dwindling and longer supply chains.

"Dependence at community levels on external supply of food and sources of relief in crisis events means a new paradigm shift has to be created that moves those populations that can afford it to first help their own societies but also to recognise that all societies rely on each other."

Mr Newton said better education was also needed to alert people to diet intake and health obesity risks.

"Major risks are apparent that can tie up food production in the future," he said.

"Volatile currencies, colossal public debts, severe budget deficits, political instability along with natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic activity can mitigate food production.

"Finding the best practice methods and community resilience strategies and adaptable and flexible business cultures, are urgently needed to ensure success against food shortages."

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