Two key red meat industry councils were yesterday singled out for a stinging Parliamentary blast by the Senator heading an inquiry into the red meat processing sector.
Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport committee chair Barry O’Sullivan told the Senate yesterday that it was time for Cattle Council of Australia and the Australian Meat Industry Council “get on with the job” and improve representation of members.
The Cattle Council of Australia was not sufficiently reflective of the 50,000 grassfed cattle producers in Australia, and “they need to be”, the Senator said.
While the council was well and truly down the path of transition to becoming a stronger peak industry body, it was going much slower than it should.
“We are now at about the eighth month,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
“A transition body is in place, trying to agree on the finite details of how they will be funded, operated, measured and audited, but my message to them—I have said this privately and I will do so publicly—is: get on with it, get it sorted and get out there so that you can provide a very strong and cohesive voice for all the pastoralists and beef producers around the country.”
CCA: Restructure needs govt support
Cattle Council president Howard Smith told Beef Central in response that the Council had been pushing towards structural change since 2013, but implementation of the new structure could only be progressed with government support.
“I have said before that key for the new organisation is the ability to focus on delivering the best outcomes for grassfed producers, instead of being impeded by funding concerns – which is why we continue to work closely with the government to progress the issue and achieve the best outcome for Australian grassfed beef producers.
“Cattle Council have acknowledged the issue has consumed vast industry resources over the past three years and look forward to ‘getting on with it’ as we meet to discuss the issue with the government over the next couple of weeks.”
The Senator then turned his attentions to Australian Meat Industry Council, which represents meat processors.
“Two of our biggest processors are no longer active members of the peak industry body, so, again, that peak industry body cannot speak with the authority of the whole packer sector, as it is known, or the processing sector,” he said.
“My message to AMIC—again, I have said this privately and I say so now publicly—is to get on with the job; get yourselves back into a position where the peak body speaks with one voice on behalf of this very important part of the industry.
“These problems impact on the Australian Meat Processor Corporation because they, in effect, are the research and development and marketing arm of the sector and if they do not have a cohesive peak body then, of course, decisions that they make will sometimes only reflect the views and attitudes of some of the members of the industry and not all of them.”
In response, the GM of AMIC’s Processor Group, Patrick Hutchison, said the council remained committed to a unified approach for tackling the risks impacting Australia’s red meat industry.
“AMIC continues to work with its members, other processors and stakeholders including government and other peak industry councils to enhance the industry’s position globally.
“Our immediate priority, supported by the whole processing sector, is to address critical policy matters that are impacting the competitiveness of the red meat industry such as non-tariff trade barriers and the significant cost of regulatory compliance.
“AMIC, together with its service company Australian Meat Processor Corporation, as a collective processor representative group, continue to work hard to achieve positive outcomes in these areas.
“With greater stakeholder collaboration, we can deliver substantial improvements that benefit the entire industry supply chain.”
Further issues raised by AMIC included that Australian red meat processing was a major manufacturing sector, employing significant numbers of blue collar jobs, many in regional Australia, and was a highly export orientated sector facing significant international competition.
It faced significantly higher costs of production compared with our major competitors such as US and Brazil, while Australia had a significant cost disadvantage through higher levels of red tape and regulation and energy costs.
Producers and processors need to be ‘as one’
Senator O’Sullivan said the production and processing sectors had a very symbiotic relationship, but needed to be “as one”.
Embracing emerging technologies such as DEXA objective carcase measurement units would help to create a more independent, competitive and fairer environment in the relationship between pastoralists and producers, he said.
“It is not a new technology—it has been around for decades—but currently, in its enhanced form, it is almost ready to roll out across the beef processing industry in this country.
“For the first time, testing will be independent—if you accept that a platform that operates effectively and consistently is independent of human influence and interference. It certainly provides the opportunity for objective carcass testing.”
“Why is this significantly important?
“It is important because it does not matter where a producer’s cattle are sent for slaughter; they want two things. They want to be treated fairly in terms of being paid for the commodity, and that payment is of course underpinned by a description of the carcase yield. That is the first thing they want and need.
“The second is that they want feedback in terms of the data that is collected through the use of this technology so that they can make on-farm decisions about breed plans and patterns, genetic selection of size, and dams and so on, right through the entire industry.
“What will that do? That will underpin us and continue to reinforce the reputation that Australia has in the world as being the prime producer of quality beef. Why is that important, Mr Acting Deputy President? You know the answer: we are a trade exposed nation, where over 70 per cent of the beef that is processed in this $12½ billion industry is exported.”
The prospects for the further export of this commodity are very promising, with Australia currently in discussions to sell beef to India.
He said it was very important for the Government to support the industry to get itself into the very best position it can.
Govt will support, but industry must fix itself
But that support should come in the form of tools and pathways which allowed the industry to fix issues itself.
“I say to our government that we need to stay out of this as long as we can whilst we encourage industry.”
“The industry needs to repair these issues and to manage their own affairs without government being involved. Nobody wants more regulation or legislation in any sector, particularly in agriculture and particularly in the beef industry. They need to be urged to fix these things themselves.”