VICTORIAN farmers are calling for food supply chain representation on the State Government’s proposed Independent Pandemic Management Advisory Committee.
The Victorian Government announced on 26 October that the committee made up of experts and community representatives will be established to advise on the pandemic response and management powers.
The committee is part of a suite of legislative changes the government has proposed “that provide a clear and streamlined framework for managing volatile and long pandemics.”
The proposed changes and the Victorian Government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a large protest by thousands of people in Melbourne over the weekend.
VFF president Emma Germano said he COVID-19 pandemic displayed the vulnerability of the food production supply chain to health orders and pandemic-induced market failure.
“We saw the hysteria that was created when people wrongly thought toilet paper was going to run out, imagine if fresh fruit and vegetables disappeared off shelves,” Ms Germano said.
Ms Germano said the agricultural sector experienced restrictions to meat processing facilities and severe shortages of inputs and supplies such as labour, pallets and machinery parts.
“We escaped without significant food shortages this time round, but our vulnerabilities were exposed.
“The food production supply chain needs a seat at the table, recognising that without food, the health, wellbeing and security of Victorians is put at risk,” she said.
“What we are saying may seem unlikely, but we are talking about legislation designed for operation in the most unlikely of circumstances.”
Ms Germano said if food production was left out of the conversation, the consequences could be disastrous.
“We are talking crops not being planted or harvested, abattoirs and distribution centres shutting down and fresh food disappearing from supermarket shelves.
“For the past two years food production has not been taken seriously by the Health Department and the highest levels of government,” she said.
“We need that to change.”
The Victorian Government said the membership of the advisory committee is yet to be announced and this would depend on whether the legislation was passed.
“We will consider all relevant parties and will have more to say once legislation has been passed,” a Victorian Government spokesperson said.
The government said Agriculture Victoria has provided ongoing support and engagement to the agriculture sector as it has navigated and implemented COVID-19 safe practice while ensuring supply chains continue to provide food for Victorian, national and international consumers.
The Victorian Government said it will continue to work with the farmers, agribusinesses and supermarkets to support continuity of food and grocery supply for Victorians. The government has engaged and supported the sector on public health directions, COVIDsafe practices, interstate border movements, seasonal workers and export recovery, it said.