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Australia aims to become Asia's food bowl

Chinese shoppers pick through sides of beef in Beijing. (UPI File Photo/Stephen Shaver)
Chinese shoppers pick through sides of beef in Beijing. (UPI File Photo/Stephen Shaver) | License Photo

CANBERRA, Australia, July 18 (UPI) -- The Australian government has released the draft of its first food security plan aimed at positioning the country to become the "food bowl for Asia."

The plan focuses on increasing Australia's exports and capitalizing on the worldwide growing demand for food, which is expected to increase 77 percent by 2050.

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Aside from providing food for Australians, the country's food sector also provides for an additional 40 million people around the world, the report says.

"Australia produces enough food to feed a nation almost three times our size, our food system is safe and stable and there are many new opportunities to export more food to Asia," Australian Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said in a statement this week.

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Noting that there will be 3.2 billion affluent and middle-class people in the Asian region by 2030, mostly in China, India and Indonesia, Ludwig said "the opportunities will be there for Australian businesses."

Australia's rural productivity is increasing at more than twice the rate of other industries, so Australia can build on its strengths in key growth commodities such as beef, wheat, dairy, sheep and sugar, the minister said.

While the food plan implies that it will be difficult to produce more food without adopting the latest agricultural innovations and technologies, such as genetically modified crops, it says the Australian government "supports farmers' right to choose which crops they plant."

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Farmers' decisions, the document adds, will be determined by factors such as market acceptance and the costs of production.

"But food produced by new and alternative technologies (such as GM crops) can bring benefits such as improved human and animal health and nutrition, greater affordability, better tasting food, a more sustainable food supply, reduced chemical use and increased productivity," it says.

The document also says the government is open to foreign investment in Australia's food sector.

"Australian investment alone is not enough for our food industry to continue to grow, so foreign investment remains critical to the ongoing success of our agriculture and food sectors," the document says.

Last month Australia's Trade and Competitiveness Minister Craig Emerson confirmed that Canberra is undertaking a joint study with China to examine policy changes needed to facilitate a massive investment by Chinese agricultural interests, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Australia's National Farmers' Federation welcomed the draft food plan, saying that it identifies the importance of research, development and innovation to sustainable food production in Australia as well as the need "to seize new market opportunities and contribute to the economic prosperity of rural and regional Australia."

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