Nestle Australia calls for shot to save food exports

EMPLOYMENT HISTORY: Gympie’s Nestle plant has been an important part of the Gympie region’s economy for many years.
EMPLOYMENT HISTORY: Gympie’s Nestle plant has been an important part of the Gympie region’s economy for many years. Contributed

GYMPIE's own big Australian, Nestle Australia, has called for a double shot of investment and effort to save the nation's food export future.

Company chairman Elizabeth Proust says action is needed now to save Australia's regions from a ghost town future of unsold produce.

The decline of dairy and pineapple industries in the Gympie region reflects her concerns that Australia is experiencing "almost no new investment in food production (or) in food manufacture".

She warned of the Goulburn Valley's experience of "fruit rotting on the ground because of closures of factories there".

In Gympie, Nestle's Jane St factory is a significant and long- term employer, now making a range of export instant coffee products after starting out in value-adding for the dairy industry.

Ms Proust called for agriculture to avoid the mining industry syndrome of exporting raw products without generating jobs and increased profits through value-adding.

The Gympie Times sought comment on Ms Proust's views from all Wide Bay election candidates yesterday and received responses from Labor's Lucy Stanton and the LNP's sitting MP Warren Truss.

Ms Stanton said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had flagged the agribusiness opportunity of supplying the Asian region with good-quality freshly grown foods.

"We in Wide Bay are well placed to seize these opportunities, particularly in the Mary Valley.

"We have some of the most prized farming land in Australia, with clean air and water and the ability to produce high-quality foods, we can add value by producing more prepared foods, utilising unique Australian flavours and promotional branding of the region."

Mr Truss said the food industry was the nation's largest manufacturing sector and employed more than 200,000 Australians, half of them in regional areas.

"Australian farmers export around 60 per cent of what they grow and produce.

"The overwhelming majority of food sold in Australia is grown by Australian farmers (including) around 98 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, milk and eggs."

He called for investment support for research and modernisation of equipment.