IF animal welfare is not your number one priority now, it should be.
Those words from the man at the helm of global branded beef supplier Stockyard Beef sums up the dominance of the issue across a multitude of beef industry big ticket events in the past month.
Regardless of whether the topic was sustainability, global market opportunities or even disruption, talk invariably turned to livestock exports, animal activists and political footballs and audience question time was swamped with ‘what is being done’ inquiries.
Stockyard Beef, based in Southern Queensland, has interests in every step of the beef supply chain and its managing director Lachie Hart also holds prominent industry representative roles including chairman of the Australian Meat Industry Council and board director at the Red Meat Advisory Council.
In a panel session at a global markets forum hosted by Meat and Livestock Australia at Beef Australia, Rockhampton, he said standards had to be put in place that were beyond reproach - across all sectors of beef.
“We must have nothing to hide. We should feel free to welcome anyone into our backyard, into our feedlots, our processing plants and onto our live ex ships,” he said.
Mature discussion as an industry was required.
“Activists have their coffers full and are ready to spend up,” he said.
“It’s coming at us from all areas.
“Whatever decision is made on live ex, it is potentially going to be made outside of our control so our industry needs to support each other.
“If it’s not hourly, it is certainly a daily conversation being had at a representative body level.
“The processing sector is not quarantined from animal welfare issues, nor is the feedlotting or production sectors.”
Asked about the consumer abroad - Stockyard exports beef to 20 countries around the world - Mr Hart said the shock live sheep ship footage was probably “a story contained within Australia.”
On the same panel session, MLA’s business manager based in the Middle East Nick Meara fielded a question on whether this region was equipped, and willing, to take the 1.7m head of live Australian sheep currently exported as boxed meat instead.
The Middle East had been a slow-maturing market but there had been increases in the box and cracase trade, Mr Meara said.
“We currently do 110,000 tonnes of sheep meat there - 65,000t is lamb and, of that, 60 per cent is chilled overnight air freight,” he said.
“Infrastructure development and cold chain investment is definitely aiding the development of that market.
“But there will always be a market for domestic slaughter in-country.”
While some of the countries had domestic flocks that could service that demand, the Australian live sheep trade was already competing with other livestock suppliers here.
And of course, many factors came into play.
Jordan, for example was a 50:50 chilled and live sheep market and Australia had lost equal volume here, due to price, to Romania in the past five years.
In Indonesia, Australia’s big live cattle export market, local beef operators were mindful of what was being said in Australia but were possibly more concerned about their own domestic politics, MLA’s general manager international markets Michael Finucan reported.
In particular, policies around importing other beef products and government support for local breeding programs were their high priorities, he said.
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