Study uncovers the origin of Sydney’s fresh food

Most of Sydney’s fresh fruit and vegetables have clocked up hundreds of food miles by the time they land on the city’s plates, according to a unique study charting the geographic origin of produce passing through the Sydney Markets at Flemington.

The study by Professor Phillip O’Neill, from the University of Western Sydney’s Urban Research Centre, has explored the major role played by Sydney Markets Limited in the supply and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables.

More than 96 percent of fresh food moving through the Markets has travelled over 150 kilometres.  Nearly 29 percent of all produce comes from regions greater than 1000 kilometres from Sydney.

“By charting the geographic origins of Sydney's fresh fruit and vegetables, the study exposes the diverse and, in some cases, very long supply chains involved in feeding Sydney,” says Professor O’Neill, who is also based in the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

“This diversity and large payloads on the one hand shows the robust nature of Sydney's food supply chain. On the other hand, though, the configuration raises questions about the sustainability of a supply chain dependent on long distance trucking services.”

Professor Phillip O'Neill

Professor Phillip O'Neill

Each year Sydney Markets moves more than 2.5 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables from over 20,000 growers.

The UWS study details 222 food types grouped into 15 categories, with maps, data tables, and comparisons of payload and sector concentrations of the fresh food supplied daily to Australia’s largest city.

NSW supplies barely one third of Sydney's fresh fruit and vegetables (of those processed by the Sydney Markets). Victoria, Queensland and, to a slightly lesser extent, South Australia are the major sources of supply.

Sydney itself is found to be a very small supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Only 3.3 percent of Sydney Markets Limited produce - measured by weight - is sourced from within a 150 kilometre radius,” says Professor O’Neill.

“This very small contribution seems to suggest that Sydney basin agriculture has become an insignificant supplier of fresh food to Sydney kitchens.”

In the category of 'leafy or stem vegetables' - a category where Sydney basin farmers are specialist suppliers - only 2.3 percent of total supply (by weight) is sourced from Sydney postcodes.

Professor O’Neill believes the study is the first of its kind in the world and will set a benchmark for the future evaluation of the security of Sydney's fresh food supply chains.

“There is growing awareness in Australia of the need for secure supplies of fresh unprocessed foods at accessible prices,” he says.

“The study shows the important role of Sydney Markets Limited as a prime fruit and vegetables supplier, at a time when there is increased concern about the rising power of Australia's large supermarket businesses in the food supply chain.

“Moreover, it begs the question as to what is happening inside the supply chains of the large supermarkets, information which would complete the picture of food supply in Australia's major city.”


29 July 2013

Contact:  Paul Grocott, Senior Media Officer

The Sydney Morning Herald published an article on the study and an interactive map showing the origins of Sydney's fresh fruit and vegetables.(opens in a new window)  

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