Ensuring Australia’s world-class animal welfare practices are maintained overseas is vital to protect the live export market, industry leaders say.
About 100 people attended a Northern Beef Producer Forum in Charters Towers last week, where producers asked industry representatives what was being done to protect their interests.
Meat and Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton said Australia had exported about 500,000 cattle into Indonesia and another 170,000 to Vietnam this calendar year.
Mr Norton said MLA had about five staff in Indonesia whose primary roles were to work with government to broaden their understanding of the beef industry, while training others in animal handling and animal welfare.
He said Indonesia’s policy of accepting four steers for one breeding heifer made educating handlers on animal welfare practices vital.
“The worst thing for our industry would be for all those breeders to go up there and there’s an animal welfare crisis,” Mr Norton said.
“We are working with them around animal welfare to make sure that four to one policy doesn’t blow up in our face.”
Mr Norton said work was underway to introduce similar education programs in Vietnam.
“Vietnam is an emerging economy and it's going to take a lot more high value product,” he said.
Mr Norton said while live export was expected to continue to grow in South East Asia, he also expected more chilled or frozen product would go into Vietnam as global retailers set up in the country.
He said marketing and understanding the consumer was also vital in increasing global export and said China, while important, had a limited audience for Australian beef which was considered a high-end protein accessible to a small percentage of the population due to its cost.
“It’s about marketing, understanding the consumer. There is no point sending all this product to China, trying to find the 15 million among 1.3 billion who buy our product,” Mr Norton said.
Mr Norton said monitoring Australian consumers in metropolitan areas was also a gauge as to how the industry was perceived.
He said while producers often felt they were being attacked on environmental or animal welfare grounds, research showed 93 per cent of Australians trusted beef primary producers and would buy their product.
Recently appointed Cattle Council of Australia CEO Margo Andrae said her key focus was to communicate with producers on the ground so that she could best represent them in Canberra.
She said she was working collaboratively with live exporters to ensure the industry was protected.
“It’s 75 per cent of our trade across Australia so it’s a huge thing for us and that’s why the trade negotiations are so important,” Ms Andrae said.
“We’re currently looking at the Indonesian agreement, we’ve got protocols for Japan and they’re just so important to know that producers are well protected in those.
“We work really collaboratively with the live exporters, it’s not about us and them it’s a value chain approach.
“We’ve got to be having all of those conversations all the way through to ensure high animal welfare.”