As if it is not hard enough for Australian families to eat well – long working hours, high living costs and the well-known monopoly our 2 major supermarkets operate in mean that eating well in Australia is already challenging. While per kg prices of fresh produce may appear inexpensive, compared to meal deals at major fast foods chains that mean a family of four can eat for less than $20, the harsh reality is that it is challenging to leave a supermarket with the fresh ingredients to make a meal for 4 for less than $30. And even that will require much menu planning and cooking skill to make a meal of any complexity in terms of ingredients, nutritional profile and flavour.
So the recent news headline that reported that the Australian government is considering removing the GST exemption from fresh food in Australia will do nothing to help Australian families to eat better and improve their health. And with more than 60% of Australian adults and 25% of our children with significant weight issues, improvements in health are what we need, now.
Obesity, while an insidious problem, is also an incredibly expensive one and eventually someone is going to have to pay for its impact, both from a health and productivity perspective. Heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and a number of types of cancer are all closely linked to weight status, and as the size of us grows, so too does the incidence of these disease states and the costs they infer on the public health purse. Economic forecaster’s will be well aware that Australia’s health costs are growing at an exponential rate and yes, much money will be required to fund them at any level. Adding GST to the very foods that will help to prevent obesity is simply shooting the army who will prevent the war.
Moving away from the pure nutritional consequences of such a move is to consider what will really happen should we be paying an extra 10% on our weekly food staples. Aussie farmers will inevitably suffer at the hands of the big supermarket chains. Not only will demand for their produce reduce, even slightly as the poorer members of the community cut back, but our supermarket chains will be in an stronger position to buffer the price increases, selling inferior products nutritionally such as white bread or unfortified milk at ridiculously cheap prices that no one else can match. Not only do our small boutique fresh food industries suffer again at the hands of the bug supermarkets but ultimately nutritional intake suffers long term.
Short term thinking never solves big issues and the health of Aussie families long term is a big issue. While a 10, 20 or 50c increase on the price of a serve of broccoli, cauliflower, milk or eggs may not seem significant, it is not a few cents we are talking about; rather it is an extra $20-$30, or a couple of thousand dollars each year.. Such increases may not change eating behaviour significantly in a single shopping trip, but it will ultimately change the food purchasing behaviour and health of the nation. Surely our government owes us, our farmers and our small food manufacturers that 10%?