The rhetoric about food security - Australia's and its role in the food security of others - is overblown, Michael D'Occhio thinks.
For instance, the often-repeated statistic that Australia feeds 60 million people overplays the reality, which is that we "contribute to the diets" of another 40 million people beyond Australia's 22 million.
"We don't fully feed Australians, because we buy a lot of imported stuff," said Professor D'Occhio, food security expert with the University of Queensland.
Some of the imported food starts off in Australia, he added, "but it is exported, and gets sent back in a can".
"Australian food typically goes to markets where people are able to pay the price that Australian farmers justifiably expect for the quality of food they produce."
Exceptions occur with wheat and meat. When Australia releases wheat reserves in response to high prices, it means that wheat prices stablise and remain affordable for some of the world's poor.
Our live cattle exports from the North find their way into Indonesia's wet markets and help some poorer Indonesians access high-quality animal protein.
"The rest goes into markets that have nothing to do with global food security," said Prof. D'Occhio.
And with Australia producing a huge surplus of food relative to its population, "I think we're a little bit indulgent when we talk about food insecurity in Australia".
Where Australia is kicking some real goals, in Prof. D'Occhio's opinion, is in transferring its considerable agricultural knowledge to smallholder farmers in food-insecure countries.
"I haven't done the full calculation, but this probably means that while we're contributing to the diet of 40 million people, we're helping perhaps 200-300 million, maybe more, feed themselves through our development programs."
"That's really where Australia punches above its weight."
Prof. D'Occhio spent 15 years with the Tropical Beef Centre at Rockhampton before moving to the University of Queensland.
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