Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has told red meat industry representatives that he has a plan for the restructure of the grassfed cattle industry and its levies, but is not yet ready to shed light on what that plan is.
The Minister held a three-hour meeting with invited leaders of 26 red meat industry councils and companies in Brisbane last Friday to help inform the Government’s response to the recent senate inquiry into grassfed cattle industry structures and levies.
At present, red meat industry groups are broadly divided into two positions on the issue.
The main groups that spoke for grassfed producers during the recent Senate Inquiry – the Cattle Council of Australia, the Australian Beef Association and the Australian Meat Producer’s Group – support the Senate Committee’s recommendation that a single producer body be formed to manage the entire grassfed levy in future.
Under that proposal Meat & Livestock Australia would remain as a service provider for research and development and marketing, but it would have to compete with other service providers to undertake grassfed levy-funded projects.
Non-grassfed groups along the red meat supply chain such as the feedlot, sheepmeat, goatmeat, processing and live export sectors are generally opposed to that plan, largely because of their view that it will weaken existing R&D and marketing structures within MLA, upon which they also rely.
Grassfed producers commenting on Beef Central regularly argue that this is a grassfed sector restructure, and it should therefore be up to the grassfed sector alone to decide how grassfed levies are spent in future.
Others, however, contend that if the grassfed restructure plan is likely to impact other sectors, those sectors must also be heard in the debate.
Balancing these competing but inextricably connected cross-sectoral interests is one of the major challenges facing the Minister as he contemplates a restructure solution.
This debate flared last week when grassfed representatives raised concerns that of the 26 groups invited to discuss the grassfed industry restructure, only three – the CCA, ABA and AMPG – could clearly be described as representing the specific interests of grassfed cattle producers.
Beef Central understands from sources close to last Friday’s meeting that most voices in the room spoke against the idea of grassfed levy revenues being directed away from MLA to a separate grassfed producer group.
Such an outcome was always fairly predictable based on the number of non-grassfed groups invited to participate in the forum.
Sources said there was stronger support in the room for the concept of grassfed producers being given more jurisdiction over their grassfed levy funds through a strengthening of the Memorandum of Understanding between the peak grassfed producer council and MLA.
Under the existing MOU, MLA is obliged only to meet with peak councils, not necessarily to do what the peak councils ask it to.
Minister Joyce, the man who instigated the grassfed Senate inquiry, is yet to publicly detail how the Government will respond to the Senate committee’s recommendations, handed down in early September.
A spokesperson from his office said last Friday’s meeting was being held to ensure the Minister understood where each of the various red meat industry groups stands in the debate.
In the absence of more definitive statements as to its purpose or detail about what transpired, the significance of last Friday’s meeting and the degree to which its outcomes will influence the Minister’s final response remains unclear and a source of continued speculation.