Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

Kieran Gilbert
Food insecurity; the National Reconstruction Fund; Productive food growing.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let's turn our attention back to news here in Canberra. Big development in terms of the nation's food security today. With me is the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic. Ed Husic, thanks for your time. The CSIRO releasing this blueprint today. Talk us through why this is important, not just for our country, but in terms of our food supply to the region.

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Well, food manufacturing factoring is a big deal for the country. About 16,000 businesses, it creates over 200,000 jobs in different parts of the country, particularly in our regions. We've got clearly, the challenge of climate change, supply chain issues as well. 

We have to think about the fact that the world population will hit about 10 billion people in the coming decades. Demand for food will jump between now and 2050, 60 per cent. We got billions of people who are either food insecure or can't get healthy diets. And the other thing is, too, we waste a hell of a lot of food - about close to actually 8 million tonnes, 70 per cent of which can still be consumed. 

So, we've got to think about how we produce food not only to meet our own needs, but the rest of the world. How we do that is really important. And that's why we're talking business with industry, and also working with things like the National Reconstruction Fund to go, okay, what are we going to do to build sustainable, resilient food systems, particularly here, but to also provide food to the rest of the world?

KIERAN GILBERT: Doesn't it also mean protecting productive land, land that is able to produce food? Because during our lifetimes, we've seen swathes of productive food growing near our cities and now they're developed. So, is that part of the story?

ED HUSIC: Well, you and I, we grew up in Western Sydney where there are a lot of market gardens and a lot of people love the idea of being able to get produce very close, that was grown close to them. They could get it and buy it and really support local growers as well. But clearly there's a competition between housing people and feeding people in our major cities. 

So, that will continue. But we've got to be able to find a way for that productive land to remain, but also for land that is being affected by climate change. What do we do differently. So, there are some really good people in this country that are working in agricultural technology. And the Australian AG Tech or Agritech Association has got some great firms that are working with major growers on how to in terms of maximising the use of the way in which you use fertilisers or pesticides, being able to map the way in which or be able to use satellite imagery around crops and the best way in which you manage your large properties. A lot of that smart work is being done here. We got to be able to scale that up for the land that we do have, and use it more productively.

KIERAN GILBERT: But also, you spoke to me off air about this company that this technology sounds incredible, but Australians again at the forefront of it, which is impressive because it provides another opportunity for exports. One of the things you were telling me about was a company that's got a meat like substitute that can basically be used by countries right around the world. It's cheaper, but it also has the nutrients. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, and it's a great Western Sydney firm, by the way, Harvest B. I was at the opening of their facilities in Penrith last year and I sort of describe it as turning wheat into meat. That is, that they value add, they transform it and create the texture of a meat while still using wheat as the base and adding a bit of soy in it as well. 

It's complementary protein. Like, it creates a huge source of protein that you can get a big sack of this stuff that is dried, can store well, durable, can be exported to countries where they do want to get access to protein, where they may not necessarily be able to get access to meat. So, it's complementary protein, but it's stuff that's been developed here in this country with some really good know-how, getting some great investment, and we want to see more of that through the National Reconstruction Fund, being able to grow those type of opportunities, create export markets, feed the world and create great jobs in the process.

KIERAN GILBERT: So, there's a few different ways to - I guess we look at it through that sort of the natural disaster lens to try and make industries more solid and resilient. But then the other thing, just to wrap up, it's things like waste, and you think of Ronni Khan at Oz Harvest and the job they do. They do a great job, but we've got to do more of it, don't we? Because we throw out a lot of food that can be used. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, and there are a lot of parts of the world, the US now is trying to work out its whole food labelling regime. And they've got multiple ways in which you can describe best before used by a lot of people scared off using food that they could quite safely eat. Waste Food Bank estimates nearly 8 million tonnes a year. 70 per cent is a lot. And when you think about how much goes in to basically the production of that food, the processing of it going in landfill, we've got Australians thinking about how we can do better. 

My colleague, Ministerial colleague and friend, Tanya Plibersek, is looking at the whole circular economy. Got a Ministerial advisory group set up. I'm doing stuff in my portfolio in that and it's great to see the food manufacturing sector here, thinking about that issue and trying to work out ways to reduce waste, too. So, we've got a lot of great minds that want to work together on this. We just got to see those outcomes.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, indeed. And it's also quite exciting. So, let's hope there's growth. Excuse the pun. It is great to see you. Appreciate it.