Food kept from shops

Millions of dollars worth of food languishes in stranded trucks at the height of Gympie’s flood emergency.
Millions of dollars worth of food languishes in stranded trucks at the height of Gympie’s flood emergency. Renee Pilcher

VITAL food supplies were withheld from increasingly hungry consumers at the height of Queensland’s flood disaster, it has been revealed.

The floods exposed the massive waste, in terms of money, resources, pollution and even human lives that has become a routine part of getting food from farm to supermarket.

Gympie road safety advocate Graham Smith and Queensland Greens Wide Bay spokesperson Jim McDonald separately expressed their outrage yesterday at a system which protects food distribution companies but endangers the rest of us and costs us millions.

The flood disrupted normal food transport systems, which result in food being transported vast distances from regions like ours for wholesaling at Brisbane’s Rocklea Markets, only to be then transported back to the regions for retail distribution in stores.

Normally, few notice the enormous cost of unnecessary food transport in truck wear and tear, fuel, air pollution, road maintenance, driver wages and contracts, cool storage at Rocklea and the dangers to other road users of an increasingly overcrowded and inadequate Bruce Highway.

But during the floods, with the highway cut, it became glaringly and scandalously obvious that food, millions of dollars worth of it, was being withheld from increasingly hungry consumers, even though it was right here in the Gympie, Maryborough and Bundaberg regions.

In Maryborough, increasingly desperate consumers travelled to Tin Can Bay, Cooloola Cove and Rainbow Beach in search of vital provisions, only to find the shelves bare or nearly bare in most cases.

While Army aircraft dropped emergency provisions – at significant public cost – into flood-ravaged Bundaberg, consumers at Cooloola Coast and Maryborough also ran out of vital commodities.

“They’re getting pretty hungry in Maryborough,” Gympie police district Acting Superintendent Ron Van Saane told Gympie’s disaster management group, as he explained the need for police to escort an emergency convoy of grocery trucks into the region.

At the same time, literally millions of dollars worth of food was on hand between here and Bundaberg, but consumers were unable to buy it at any price.

IN Gympie, more than a million dollars worth of meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables was stranded in trucks in Hall Road, on its way to Rocklea, with other trucks stopped at other points around the city.

In Bundaberg, The Gympie Times’ sister publication, the News-Mail, reported that 2000 pallets of fruit and vegetables were in cool storage in that city, even as residents suffered increasingly urgent food shortages.

Farmers were reportedly not harvesting because there was no available market for their produce.

Aside from the enormous cost of repairing the damaged Kin Kin road which became the Gympie Region’s grocery lifeline, Mr Smith said it was “grossly unfair to expect truck drivers to make deliveries using our small mountainous, possibly unsafe side roads, as happened last week.

“It is also unfair to expect police and council staff to waive load limits to facilitate those deliveries.

“Corporations locking away or withholding supplies for their own profit is not acceptable in our country,” he said.

“During regular flood periods in the early 1950s as a teenager in Amamoor, the most serious deprivation I can remember was that the Rattler was not running so we couldn’t get ice cream.

“The house cows were milked and local ladies made butter and jam. All kinds of fruit and vegetables were available from surrounding farms.

“The local butcher Eric Herberg killed fresh beef and pork.”

Mr McDonald blasted what he called “an obsession with road transport of goods up and down the Bruce Highway.

“It shows how ludicrous the supply chains are and how vulnerable they are to natural disasters.

“This is not inevitable. It is the outcome of stupidity, management failure and communication failure dressed up as market theory.

“The carbon cost of trundling primary produce down south and back up again adds enormous economic cost to fruit and vegetables, in terms of money, lives and CO2,” he said.

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