Securing Australia’s reputation as a leading producer of “clean and green” food is getting a $150 million boost.
Meat producers and vegan food manufacturers will be among those to benefit from CSIRO's plan to reaffirm the future of the country’s agriculture sector.
The Commonwealth’s science agency made the announcement today with one aim being to increase the value of the nation's food exports by $10 billion.
The investment follows disruption to the farming sector from climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, which have impacted global food supply chains.
Key points you need to know about the future-proofing plan
Drought, exports and the future of protein are the focus of the investment
Government, industry and the CSIRO will partner to achieve their "ambitious and far-reaching goals".
Exports will increase by $10 billion under the plan.
An additional $10 billion in protein products will be created by 2030.
Missions to involve new technology including artificial intelligence
Broken up into three distinct “missions”, the plan will involve research into three key areas, exports, drought and the future of protein.
Futuristic technologies including isotopic fingerprinting tools will be used to help verify proof of origin of Australian grown food to avoid counterfeiting and grow trust internationally of the nation's food products.
CSIRO Executive Director Dr Larry Marshall said the investment will help build on Australia's "natural competitive advantage in ag-tech, the way Silicon Valley does in tech".
Improving farmers' ability to combat drought is also a key component of the plan, with Dr Marshall characterising it as Australia’s “oldest national challenge”.
Using artificial intelligence, genetics and better water usage they aim to reduce the impact of drought by 30 per cent by 2030.
Tackling climate change 'integral' to securing farmers' futures
Farmers for Climate Action chair Charlie Prell has welcomed the investment, adding that for many primary producers worsening impact of drought is the most "critical" issue.
Qualifying that support, he added the announcement as one of the "little things" that government is doing in the "right direction", but they must do more to tackle the causes of climate change not just its impacts.
"I think there's no doubt that the climate forecasts in relation to dire drought will become much more intense and much more frequent," he told Yahoo News Australia.
"Floods and drought, they're going to get worse as the climate warms and they already are.
"We've got to stop talking about the future."
More on the future of food
Vegan food producers to be included in research plan
An initial investment of $79 million will be made by the CSIRO, with industry and government making up the remaining $71 million.
Cattle farmers are set to be key beneficiaries from the funding announcement, with beef singled out along with horticulture to receive support.
Peak-body Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) which is partnering on the project, said they are focused on “building a new frontier for the Australian red meat sector”.
Researching the future of protein, MLA will work alongside traditional agriculture lobby groups to develop new strategies, but they will also be joined by meat-alternative manufactures including v2food, Clara Foods and animal-free dairy Eden Brew.
Animal Liberation welcomes inclusion of vegan proteins
Animal Libation executive director Chay Neal told Yahoo News Australia that scientifically and economically it made sense to include vegan foods as part of the plan.
"We certainly welcome any investment in plant-based foods," Mr Neal said.
"We think that's the future and there should be plenty more of it."
News of the investment comes amid regular criticism of the vegan food sector from the federal government, with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud writing to the CSIRO in September, arguing they should not be advocating for plant-based foods over “genuine meat products”.
Mr Littleproud went on to suggest that he has concern that plant-based manufacturers promote their products in a way that is “potentially misleading to consumers”.
His comments echo the concerns of Nationals senator and former butcher Susan McDonald who was instrumental in launching a senate inquiry into the labelling of vegan products, which began this week.
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