CELEBRITY chef and food producer Maggie Beer has taken a swipe at major supermarkets for pushing food prices lower and failing to support Australian growers.
In a speech last week, Ms Beer, whose pate, quince paste and ice creams sell through Coles and Woolworths, lamented ''so many Australians seek the cheapest alternative in food, and perhaps this is exacerbated by the big two [retailers], our duopoly, that pits one against the other in price wars, that see the farmer suffer. We have to do something about that.''
Speaking after the International Year of Co-operatives conference in Port Macquarie, Ms Beer backed entrepeneur Dick Smith, who launched his own range 12 years ago to support Australian farmers against rising food imports.
Sales of Dick Smith Foods had dropped from $80 million in year one, to about $8 million.
''It's interesting Australians say they will support Australian-made and Australian-grown, but will we? We support what's marketed most, and we so often support what's cheapest, especially with food.''
Beer, who was this year awarded an Order of Australia, is best known for her award-winning cookbooks like Maggie's Table and the television series The Cook and The Chef.
Based in Nuriootpa in South Australia's Barossa Valley, where a consumers co-operative was formed in 1944, Beer's farm includes vineyards, olive groves, quince orchards and a soft fruit orchard.
''If we don't support our farmers, we will not continue to enjoy the freshness and the diversity of the produce we have now,'' Beer warned.
''I have to say flavour, seasonality, ripeness, can not travel a long way. I know we live in a global market, but our local farmers can not compete against the imports of a global market when it comes to the cost of our labour.
''It's important that we pay a proper wage to a farm worker that not only sustains a family but sustains farming communities - whole communities.''
Beer also criticised complex food labelling laws which made it hard to identify which foods were locally-grown.
''We were bottling some of our olives. The salt came from South Australia and we had some of our own red wine vinegar in the jar and we were labelling it and then we found out we could not say 'Produce of Australia' because the jar came from overseas.''