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Daily and weekly access to nutritious food is a challenge for many individuals, households and communities across Australia as last night’s SBS Insights episode makes clear.
Estimates vary, but approximately 5-6% of Australians report that they sometimes run out of food and are unable to buy more – that’s 1.5 million people.
“It comes as a shock to many people, that in a rich nation where food can seem so plentiful, there are families who you wouldn’t expect to be struggling, who suffer stress and anxiety in order to put food on the table,” Australian Right to Food Coalition and UNSW Canberra researcher Dr Luke Craven said.
Faced with hungry kids, parents may have no option but to choose filling and less healthy foods, and will often skip meals or eat less themselves. Many people report that the stress of not knowing where the next meal will come from can be even worse than feeling hungry.
And critically, as the SBS Insight program shows, if kids go to school without breakfast, it can affect their concentration and learning, leading to long-term effects on their life outcomes, and contributing to an increasingly unequal society.
This isn’t acceptable in Australia today. Australia currently has no mechanism for ensuring the human right to adequate food for all Australians. This country has no national food and nutrition policy to protect food security.
"We are failing our moral and legal obligations to respect the fundamental and inalienable human right to adequate food for many of our citizens," Dr Craven said.
Australia’s Right to Food Coalition advocates that access to nutritious food be viewed as an essential human right, and that decision-makers need to prioritise action to ensure that those who most need access to healthy food are able to get it.
The coalition is calling on all Australian governments to work to make the right to food a reality.
“Firstly, we need to ensure welfare benefits and wages are at a level sufficient to purchase healthy foods and ensure an adequate standard of living,” Dr Craven said.
But effective solutions must be multi-pronged and will take time and a coordinated approach. Subsidies for fresh and nutritious foods in rural and remote areas, where food prices are much higher, are also necessary.
“Finally, we need regular monitoring of food insecurity – current data is underestimating the magnitude of this problem and its economic burden on our Government,” Dr Craven said.
Australia is lagging behind more progressive countries on this issue. Others are seeing food insecurity as a symptom of food and social system failure and are discussing all aspects of food, food systems, food production and food access and cost of living across the whole community.
It is time for Australia to step up to the mark and honour the human right to adequate food for all Australians.