National Association Reports
    Australian dietitians tackling food sustainability
    Vol. 17 Issue 2
    Country: Australia
    There is growing interest in the environmental impact of the production, distribution and consumption of food. Climate change, competition for use of water, pollution, land degradation and anticipated rising cost of oil or “inputs” into the food system are issues that are expected to impact on the food system. The implications for global food security are immense, making the quest for a sustainable, healthy and equitable food supply one of the most significant issues facing our profession and indeed the world.

    The Food and Environment Interest Group (FEIG) was established in January 2009 with the following objectives:
    • To provide a forum to discuss food and environment issues, such as food sustainability and climate change
    • To share research, evidence-based information, publications and opinions in the area of food and the environment
    • To provide education and networking opportunities for members
    • To work towards the development of a DAA position on food and the environment

    One of our first tasks was to survey the membership in order to gauge their concerns and needs.

    Respondents believed food and environment issues were important for their professional practice but only a small proportion acted on this at least some of the time. Most respondents were only ‘somewhat’ confident in their knowledge of food and the environment advice. They also identified a significant number of barriers to practising “enviro-dietetics”. However, respondents clearly wanted evidence based information and education on this topic. There was a high level of support for DAA to develop a position statement and engage in broader advocacy strategies in relation to this issue.

    Our first CPD event in February 2010 was titled ‘Is our food costing the earth- balancing the social, economic and environmental aspects of our food system?’ It provided the 87 delegates with foundation knowledge and a broad overview of the ‘triple bottom line’ approach to sustainability. Topics included: the major environmental problems around food; sustainable agriculture; local vs global food; the social aspects of our food system; sustainable manufacturing; food waste; and the place of nutrition in the sustainability debate. This event evaluated very well and can be viewed at by anyone who is an overseas affiliate of DAA.

    Another engaging and entertaining event was conducted at the DAA National Conference in May 2010: a futuristic hypothetical panel discussion ‘What are we eating in 2050?’ In a first for DAA, the hypothetical was moderated by a TV science presenter and will be broadcast free-to-air on one of Australia’s national TV channels. This was an excellent way to promote the profile of dietitians on a topic of high public interest. You can view the program online at the following link http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2010/06/15/2927258.htm

    A key issue that the FEIG has taken on for 2010 is food waste. Australian consumers threw away $5.3 billion worth of food in 2004 - the equivalent of one in every five bags of groceries - over half of which was fresh food such as fruit and vegetables. We are not alone. Wasting food diverts nutrition from the mouths of the hungry but is also a waste of the resources, water, and energy used in the production, transport and supply of food. Food waste also contributes to climate change from the greenhouse gas emissions of food waste decomposition in landfills.

    The FEIG worked with DAA staff to raise awareness of food waste through a media release, which was distributed at the time of Clean Up Australia Day (March 2010). The group also developed a ‘Stop food waste’ fact sheet. A working group is currently developing a DAA Position on food waste to assist DAA in awareness and advocacy activities. An educational event is planned in early 2011 to inform dietitians about how they can take action on reducing food waste in a variety of ways in a range of settings.

    The Dietary Guidelines for Australians are currently being reviewed. The National Health & Medical Research Council aims to include food sustainability as one of many factors in the development of an updated national healthy eating guide. The draft discussion paper has already drawn criticism for its suggested limit on fish and meat intake for sustainability reasons: an obvious point of conflict between eating for optimal nutrition and environmental sustainability. Australian dietitians will seek to be part of the solution both locally and globally and invite dietitians all over the world to do the same.

    Nicole Senior AN APD
    Convenor, Food and Environment Interest Group
    Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA)