A PROPOSAL driven by some red meat processors is seeking to lower the minimum percentage of Angus content required in beef cattle destined for Angus-described brand programs in Australia, from the current level of 75 percent (second cross) to 50pc.
A draft ‘guidance document’ currently sitting before the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee is seeking to change the current conditions in trade description or export documentation around minimum breed content for Angus.
Following the original processor approach, the AMILSC asked AusMeat to review existing specifications regarding Angus breed Content Raising Claims.
In essence, early concerns around the proposal are that it will water-down the value of ‘brand Angus’ to the Australian beef industry.
The widespread interpretation appears to be that the request is an attempt to put Australian processors on a more ‘level playing field’ with US processors’ Angus brand programs, which require only 50pc breed content or even looser interpretations (see references below).
Curiously, livestock managers from two of the largest beef processing and lotfeeding companies in Australia – JBS and NH Foods – had no knowledge of the proposal when Beef Central raised it with them yesterday.
Beef Central has been told the Language and Standards Committee has already agreed ‘in principal’ to the proposal, but the body will not formally meet until well into August.
Some stakeholders say that if successful, it could also create dangerous precedents for other beef breeds using breed claims in brands, such as Wagyu. Currently a first cross (Fullblood Wagyu sire x Angus dam) animal can only be described under AWA regulation as ‘Crossbred Wagyu’ in Australian descriptors.
Angus breed society opposes move
The Angus Australia breed society says it is vigorously opposed to the proposed change in trade description.
Chief executive Scott Wright said the association only became aware of the proposal yesterday. It had not yet been consulted on the matter to this point, but has pro-actively drafted a statement to AusMeat. Beef Central will publish an edited extract next week.
“It would take a lot for us to change our position on this,” Mr Wright said.
“That’s because a lot of our members are heavily invested in Angus production systems, destined for Angus brand programs that currently require higher content to qualify.
“What this would do would be to undermine all of those people and their production systems built up over a very long time.”
The proposal would also undermine livestock market premiums for ‘Angus’ cattle, currently anywhere from 30-40c/kg to 100c/kg over the past 12 or 18 months, he said.
“Reducing minimum breed content requirement back to 50pc could clearly dilute any Angus price premium, and also reducing the average meat quality of beef going into an Australian carton carrying such an Angus identity,” Mr Wright said.
“Australian Angus beef has been a premium product, and differentiated as such in world markets for a long period of time. This move would simply take away from that,” he said. “Allowing an F1 will inevitably mean a dilution in average meat quality for a product marked ‘Angus.”
According to the American Angus Association’s Certified Angus Beef program, US beef cattle being directed into ‘Angus’ programs can be identified in one of two ways – genotype or phenotype:
- Genotype: Where one registered parent or two registered grandparents must be Angus
- Phenotype: Cattle eligible for certification in US Angus influence beef programs based on phenotype (appearance) must have a main body that must be solid black, with no other colour behind the shoulder, above the flanks, or breaking the midline behind the shoulders, excluding the tail. Angus influence cattle may be either horned or polled. Carcases of certified live animals which display certain non-Angus characteristics (e.g. dairy conformation, Holsteins, Brahman humps) will be excluded as specified in the carcass specifications for approved programs.
“Angus Australia thinks 75pc content is a workable level for the industry in Australia,” Mr Wright said. “This move is certainly surprising. For most people in the Angus job, they would be taken aback by it.”
He said there were some Australian processors that were very strongly linked to Angus brand programs, but others, not so much.
“I guess this move is driven by some of those other processors that don’t have a strong Angus presence, or the supply chains to deliver it,” Mr Wright said.
“But the (Angus) brand owners who we have spoken to since this matter was raised yesterday, support the current 75pc breed content position, very strongly – because they have invested in the product, and have built strong brand reputation around it.”
Draft form only, AMIC says
An Australian Meat Industry Council spokesman stressed that the details in the document were still being worked through, and should not be taken as anything but ‘draft form’ at this stage.
“However the general principal of having an alternative definition of ‘Angus’, outside of that chosen by Angus Australia Verified program, has in-principal AusMeat support,” he said.
“While processors initiated the proposal, in principal it has been supported by the entire language and standards committee, representing all sectors – but that’s on the condition that the detail needs to be worked through,” he said. “Nothing is finalised.”
“The move is partly around competing more directly with Angus beef processors in the US, but equally it is about providing greater commercial flexibility in export trade language for processors in Australia – allowing them to have (Angus) brands, based on a broader range of requirements.”
The AMIC spokesman said the proposal was not about ‘watering down’ Angus Australia’s own Angus Verified program (requiring 75pc or F2 Angus cattle.
“While this Australian proposal will support processors and brand owners in supplying all markets underpinned by Angus verification programs, it will uphold the integrity of the Angus breed by demanding both genotypic and phenotypic verification be in place,” he said. “It’s not just saying 50pc Angus genotype – the proposal also has phenotypical requirements as well. That’s where these details are still being worked through.”
“It’s purely adding greater commercial flexibility, so exporters can have brands based on the specifications that are more appropriate for some export customers. And the Australian standard will still be in excess of that used in the US (set out above), under their export program.”
“The Australian version will have a greater level of integrity behind it than what is used in the US industry.”
He rejected any suggestion that the proposed adjustments to trade terminology was likely to impact premiums for Angus livestock in the cattle market.
- The exact contents and execution of the Angus content proposal currently before the Language and Standards Committee are complex, so we’ll circle back and examine them in more detail in a separate story next week. AusMeat chairman Allan Bloxsom was also unavailable for comment this afternoon, but we’ll follow up with him, also, on Monday.