Does Australia have the world’s most environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre production?

By James Lane and Louise Evans

The Statement

“We (Australia) produce the most environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre in the world."

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. May 8, 2019.

The Analysis

Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud told a National Press Club debate that Australian farmers and primary producers should be “loud and proud” of their achievements which includes being No.1 in the world for producing environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined his claim that Australia produces the “most environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre in the world”.

Mr Littleproud’s office was unable to provide AAP FactCheck with a source for his claim. In a statement the minister’s spokesman said: “The minister’s opinion is based on his experience during his life (which includes as an agribusiness lender) and as minister, which has included travelling and viewing farms overseas. There are many, many components of ethical and environmental production and it’s fair to say Australia leads or is very close to leading in most of those facets.”

A similar quote was echoed by Mr Littleproud’s National Party leader Michael McCormack at the Liberal Party campaign launch five days later: “I say to farmers - we value what you do. Thank you for what you do and I am proud to be in a government which wants to ensure Australian children - all children - know where and how their food and fibre, the best food and fibre in the world, comes from. And that is Australian farms,” Mr McCormack said. [2]

Mr Littleproud holds the safe coalition seat of Maranoa for the National Party by a margin of 17.5 per cent. His inland southern Queensland electorate extends from Warwick and Kingaroy in the east to the Northern Territory border in the west. It’s also the largest electorate in Queensland, covering 42.2 per cent of the state and is more than three times the size of Victoria. [3]

Regarding the minister’s claim about Australia leading the world for most environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) ranked Austria, with a score of 79.9 out of 100, not Australia, as the leader in sustainable agriculture in 2018. The FSI is conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit in partnership with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition and ranks 67 nations on food system sustainability. [4]

The FSI scores are scaled from 0 to 100, where 100 equals the highest sustainability and greatest progress towards meeting environmental, societal and economic key performance indicators. Australia tied with Japan and South Korea in 13th position. [4]

The Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) also ranks countries on environmental sustainability and performance including agriculture. The EPI ranked Australia 53 out of 177 nations for agriculture. [5]

Regarding meat and fish farming sustainability, Australia’s biggest companies were ranked by global producer index - The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index - which assesses the sustainability risk of 60 companies with a combined market capitalisation of $US297 billion ($A427.1 billion). Tasmania’s Tassal salmon farming company was rated as medium risk, however Queensland’s Ingham poultry and beef producer Australian Agricultural Company in Queensland and the North Territory were rated high risk. [6]

Based on this evidence AAP FactCheck concludes the minister’s claim that Australia has the world’s most environmentally sustainable food and fibre is false.

The Verdict

  • False - The checkable claim is false.

The References

1: ‘National Press Club Address’. Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud. May 8, 2019:

2: ‘PM announces first-home scheme at Liberal party campaign launch – as it happened’, by Amy Remeikis. The Guardian. May 12, 2019:

3. ‘Maranoa. Australia Votes’. ABC:

4. ‘Food Sustainability Index. Country Ranking’. The Economist Intelligence Unit with Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition:

5. ‘Environmental Performance Index. Agriculture Results’. Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University. 2018:

6. ‘Summary of Findings’. 2018 FAIRR. A Coller Initiative:

  • First published May 15, 2019 13:33 AEST