Eggs, milk and cooking oil are just starters

I’m not sure who should manage the store inventory, but whoever it is, it’s seriously fallen short in its duties. We’re out of gas, we’re out of eggs, and now it looks like we’re out of cooking oil either. Milk and fresh vegetables are also getting a big boost and let’s not even talk about toilet paper – presumably some people have yet to pull out of their self-proclaimed role as national stockholder for the latter.

Every week there seems to be a shortage or lack of stuff that we as a nation cannot supply. Yes, it’s all to do with international shipping regulations and the near collapse of the global transportation industry (not to mention climate change and the pandemic), but surely someone should stay on top of these things? An unjustified and overly elaborate smoko in the household pantry apparently.

With shortages of the name of the game and the flavor of the month, we’ve taken the liberty of writing the national shopping list. Here’s what Australia would want the next time someone snaps to the supermarket. Cheers.

Things Australia lacks

Oil

Don’t worry, we have no intention of launching an illegal international invasion of a foreign power under the guise of bringing freedom. Undoubtedly, with the better late-than-never efforts by federal and state governments to support electric vehicle infrastructure, this kind of oil is even more urgent than petroleum.

Shoppers are being told to brace themselves for a national cooking oil shortage that will drive up the cost of the essential ingredient in all the goodies. In the past 12 months alone, frying fat has increased by 14%, second only to fruit and vegetables in the consumer price index.

Cooking oil, made primarily from sunflowers, is being hit by, you guessed it, the war in Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest exporters of the yellow stuff and both have been hard hit by the fighting. Another good reason not to invade a sovereign democracy.

In addition, poor soybean harvests in Brazil and the rest of South America have made this other key ingredient more expensive. Already, food manufacturers in Australia, such as industry giant Goodman Fielder, which produces tons of brands including Helga’s, Medowlea and Whole Earth, are having to replace sunflower oil with canola in key products like mayonnaise.

It’s unclear how long this shortfall will last, but as it relies on major global events, we’re unlikely to see any relief anytime soon.

Eggs

We have previously reported that the country has run out of eggs. During the lockdowns, egg producers in Australia have reduced the size of their flocks to 20% and given the time it takes to get a chicken from chick to ready-to-lay, it could be some time before production can ramp up.

Chickens don’t start laying eggs until four or five months into their life cycle, which means that shortages can’t just be made up by raising more chickens now. In addition, hens do not lay as many eggs in the winter as they do in the summer months, when daylight raises their temperature.

This one seems insurmountable, but we could see a few months without a bright side until production catches up with demand. As always that means more expensive omelettes.

Almonds

The fact that we even grow almonds in this country is a crime against nature and a hybristic affront to the good lord’s plans. Growing a single almond requires 4.1 liters of water, a resource we are famous for in this country. Granted, all nuts are thirsty insects, with walnuts taking about 25 liters per pop, but Australia still produces more almonds (and walnuts) than almost anywhere else in the world.

Last year almond production reached 120,000 tons and we are trying to expand that aggressively. Most of the products are exported to China, but this year we may have to rethink our strategy if we want to continue to enjoy it.

That’s because the Varroa mite, a particularly nasty parasite that has recently invaded the country, is killing the bees. Our striped friends are locked up to stop the spread of the deadly infection detected in hives in New South Wales.

As such, Victorian almond growers, who normally import bees from NSW during pollination season, will struggle to get their trees pregnant. As Vic produces 60% of Australia’s almonds, we are dealing with a loss of 30,000 tonnes.

The effects will not be felt immediately, but it may be an idea to try oat milk soon.

Medicines

While we’re gone, we might as well go to the pharmacy and see if we can pick up, I don’t know, one of the more than 300 drugs that we “deeply” need, according to doctors and pharmacists from the Pharmacy Guild.

Alarm bells have recently been sounded in the medical industry about a low stock of 320 drugs, 50 of which are considered critical, and another 80 that could be added to the list soon.

These include things like drugs for diabetes, hormone replacement therapy, depression, nausea, stroke, and even birth control. Oh, and if you’re planning on getting bitten by a funnel web spider, you better do it fast, because apparently we’re running out of antivenom for that.

The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Karen Price, has said global supply chain problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic, causing delays in deliveries. A national strategy must be developed immediately to get the medicines we need, she advises.

“There’s a lot of drugs that we’re running into now that people can’t get, and that’s a big problem for Australia,” she said.

“It’s pretty dire for a developed country, and drugs aren’t easily interchangeable.”

One solution, planned increases in the minimum inventory for PBS-listed drugs, is not expected to take effect until 12 months from now and, even if they do, will result in price increases.

Labor

Not exactly something you want to pick up at Kmart, but while you’re away can you find us some teachers? Some nurses would be great too. Thank you.

Unemployment is at an all-time low, which is great if you want a job, but not so great if you need to fill a position. It’s a well-known story by now, but since the pandemic, we’ve struggled to get the staff to do the things we need. The aviation, hospitality, transportation and retail sectors have been hit hard and while this is putting good upward pressure on wages, it also means we’re not getting the services we need.

While it’s not the end of the world not getting a good coffee or a slap-up meal in regional areas, having a good education or nursing sector is critical. Australia’s education ministers are meeting this week to try and tackle the national teacher shortage – which could have to do with not paying them or listening to unions’ concerns, I suspect. In education, demand is expected to exceed supply by 4,000 rolls in the coming years.

It’s a similar story for nurses, with some estimates putting the shortfall at 8,000 unfilled vacancies across the country. The nursing profession is also one that has recently been discontinued due to poor working conditions and lack of pay. Funny that. If we don’t tackle the problem soon, models from Health Workforce Australia predict that in just three years we will miss 85,000 nurses.

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