Reclaim the narrative, urges Cattle Australia’s ‘Angry Little Bastard’

Jon Condon, 15/04/2024

David Foote

CATTLE producers need to reclaim the narrative on affairs affecting the grassfed beef industry, Cattle Australia’s Northern Australia region director and immediate past president David Foote told a large beef industry gathering last week.

Speaking during the 2024 Wagyu Edge conference in Cairns, Mr Foote suggested to delegates that part of the reason he had been elected inaugural CA chairman was that he was an “angry little bastard” when it came to effective industry lobby matters.

“But it’s important for industry representation to stay a little angry; to stay a little active,” he said.

“If we don’t choose to own the narrative for our industry, I can promise you that somebody else will do it for us – and it may not necessarily be what we want to hear,” Mr Foote warned.

He said a classic case of this was unfolding at the moment though the National Health & Medical Research Council’s dietary guidelines.

“Most people eating their entrée at last night’s Wagyu Conference dinner ate more than the current guidelines suggest  should be eaten for a week,” Mr Foote said.

“What’s happened this year is that the dietary guidelines have now reached further down into sustainability areas – nothing to do with nutrition.”

“Scientists who are now developing your nutritional advice are becoming environmental activists, suggesting we all should eat less meat – because (according to them) it might be impacting the environment, or biodiversity.”

“It’s just not their speciality. Industry has to stand up and speak up, for itself, on issues like this. We will get steamrolled if we don’t start putting some pegs in the sand, and say, ‘Enough’s enough’.”

Mr Foote’s message to nutritionists? “Stick within your tramlines in your area of expertise, and stop making comments and judgements outside your brief,” he said.

“It was bad enough when the NHMRC lowered the weekly suggested intake of lean red meat to 450 grams – that was a huge shock to industry – but now to extend that into the environmental and ecosystem considerations, is going to be the challenge.”

“It’s why we, as an industry, have to reclaim the narrative, instead of passing it over to others.”

“If we don’t thump the table, somebody will thump us. History will show that things can get away from us really, really quickly. But by being at the table, either through the directly-elected Cattle Australia board, or its regional consultative committees , stakeholders can get to drive policy for their sector.

“You’re at the table for that industry R&D – we invest $165 million each year in R&D across the meat and livestock sector. You won’t have all the say on how that money is spent, but at least you get to help steer, to challenge and to question how it is spent. You’re at the front row in influencing how MLA spends that levy money it receives. You won’t always win, but you’ll go away knowing you’ve got your thoughts across the table,” he said.

Appeal to Wagyu breeders

In recognising the growing significance and influence of the Wagyu sector of the Australian beef industry, Mr Foote acknowledged Wagyu supply chain members as a “progressive bunch of operators,” encouraging AWA members to engage in broader industry affairs via Cattle Australia – either by standing a candidate to join the CA board, or via the regional consultative committees.

Last week’s AWA conference in Cairns was arguably the biggest annual beef industry conference gathering ever held, with around 650 delegagtes from across Australia. And with around 200 of those being  first-time delegates, it suggests that  the sector’s progress is nowhere near tapping-out just yet.

In a broad-ranging address, Mr Foote touched on industry structure and representation, but did not raise the issue of CA’s solutions to finance the funds-starved representative body going forward.

He said the industry (partially led by Troy Setter) had for 15 years been working towards creating a more united, representative industry representation model.

“To its credit, the former Cattle Council of Australia voted itself into extinction, in favour of a single-commodity, directly represented model, rather than via the bedsprings of the state farm organisations.”

The new body, Cattle Australia – described by Mr Foote as “an opportunity for change and new growth” – came into existence in December 2022.

Reminding delegates that Meat & Livestock Australia was not allowed by law to advocate or lobby on the industry’s behalf, he said the industry therefore had to have strong representative foundations back at the government level through peak industry councils.

Effectively, CA’s role was to represent the 56,000 grassfed (meaning grass-grown) beef producers.

“We operate at a national level – CA does not deal in state matters, we deal in the macro issues that affect us all. It’s an $18 billion annual industry – it surely deserves to have a strong and representative voice at the tables that are making decisions on behalf of those 56,000 producers who are custodians of 43pc of the Australian landmass.”

He pointed out that simply paying a $5 cattle transaction levy on animals sold did not provide ‘membership’ of anything.

“What you have just paid is effectively a tax, to the Federal Government’s levies management unit, which is then filtered back down through MLA, Animal Health Australia, and the National Residue Testing Scheme. To be eligible to have a vote, a producer actually has to be a member of CA. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s not expensive – but it’s a ticket for you to get to the table,” he said.

CA’s regional consultative committee structure across 15 regions was designed to unearth the “willing horses out there in the pubs, campdrafts and saleyards” listening to what’s going on, and what’s getting up producers’ noses, Mr Foote said.

“We don’t fix potholes, we don’t do level crossings, but we can have an influence, potentially, on issues like telecommunications, and we certainly need to have an influence on biosecurity, the environment, and where this is being driven.”

“So you need an independent  membership of some vehicle. At the moment, your members are doing that through the Australian Wagyu Association, but AWA also needs a platform for its voice – and ideally, Cattle Australia will be that platform for your voice and recognition.”

More members, more representation

Mr Foote stressed that when walking up the steps in Canberra, the more stakeholders that CA represented, the more they (politicians and bureaucrats) had to listen.

“Disunity in politics is death, and it’s no different in industry,” he said.

“Former Labor agriculture minister Joe Ludwig (infamously connected with the 2011 Indonesian live export ban) used to jokingly refer to events where industry wanted something to happen, and he couldn’t make a decision, he would simply say: come back to me when you have industry consensus – then we can have a serious meeting.”

“Ludwig knew that in general, that would buy him nearly a year before industry could get its act together. They use it against us, so it is vitally important to try to create this powerful, energetic and respected industry organisation – and the broader community we can have within that, the better,” he said.

Key issues

Mr Foote touched on a series of key issues that CA was engaged with, including biosecurity, trade access, carbon/climate neutrality and EU vegetation and deforestation laws.

“The EU has actually excluded its own agricultural land from its deforestation policy, but it has not done so for Australia. Deforestation here means any land cleared.”

What that meant was, the Australian exporter  had to show, within a carton of beef, the geolocation of every animal’s life-cycle that’s in that carton of meat when it arrives at the border in the EU. The EU had pixilated all the land clearing that’s occurred across the globe, and if a supplier like Australia could not identify whether an animal was from land where vegetation was the same as it was in 1994, a duty would have to be paid.

“In Queensland, we’ve been operating under the Vegetation Management Act since about 1994. We’ve been doing things that Government has approved, and allowed. Now we have a market which is about to tell us they won’t accept product from land that has been managed legally.

“You can’t just roll over for this crap. You have to fight for what’s right. While the EU is a market of value and pays a high price per kilo, your conference is actually going to eat more beef tonight than they are going to take in a year.”

Climate/carbon neutrality

On the topic of climate/carbon neutrality, Mr Foote said there was still a whole range of debate around the world about the biogenic methane cycle.

“The Paris agreement was to stop global warming by more than 1.5 degrees – it wasn’t to reduce methane, it was to stop global warming,” he said.

“The point is the methane cycle has a half-life of 12 years, while for fossil fuels, the life is 1000-2000 years. Methane is not the supreme product problem, but it is probably too late to sway the argument now.”

“A bloke (former MLA MD Richard Norton) signed our industry up in 2017 – without telling anybody – for a carbon neutral aim by 2030. He did that without recognising what the ramifications were. Nobody else in the world, no government, is trying to achieve anything by 2030. We just have to make sure that we don’t go out of business by trying to achieve the CN30 objective.”

“If you think about the UN sustainability goals – and there are 17 of them – we see most companies embracing them are banks, insurers, advisors and tax consultants.

“None of them have to bear the consequences of claiming as many of these sustainability blocks as there are. We should remember the UN’s three priorities: addressing poverty, food security, and health and wellbeing. Clearly stating, ‘people before planet’.”

“We really need to consider, whether we are looking after humanity first, before they create this wonderful playground of nature and biodiversity, to go and hunt for food that doesn’t exist.”





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  1. John Armstrong, 08/05/2024

    Richard Norton as an employee of the Cattle Industry was NOT the Cattle industry representative in signing us to Carbon neutral by 2030 and did so illegally, thus the signature is worthless. Foote talks about disunity, I am HERE TO SAY THAT everyone WHO SUBSCRIBED to the destruction of our former representative body the CCA (Cattle Council of Australia) practiced first hand that disunity. Ludwig did not need to be smart to create division, he knew the destructive galahs were everywhere!!

    Use of capital letters is considered shouting, John. Future comments with capitals will result in non-publication. Refer to our long-standing reader comment policy. Editor

  2. Rob Atkinson, 18/04/2024

    I like what David Foote said at the AWA conference in Cairns and I like what Garry Edwards said last week at Yaraka in Western Queensland.
    I believe that Cattle Australia has our back. Join up, CA can give our industry real leadership and we haven’t enjoyed that luxury for a very long time!

  3. Justin Dyer, 16/04/2024

    Well said David. We are sick of being dictated to by the EU/UN.

  4. United Stockowmners of Australai, 16/04/2024

    Mr Foote has got it wrong, its not membership of CA that will change things its support within the federal Parliament that will, that’s where the power is. Currently we have no representatives that have a fire in their belly to represent us.
    A good example is in the article is the reference to Richard Norton and MLA; we are being led around by the nose by MLA because it’s a sub-department a federal agency; and what did CCA do about that announcement … nothing!
    There is a large body of cattle owners that think our future does not lie within trade exclusively within the western bloc it lies within the BRICS trading group, Asia is in this group and we are making enemies of them, when we should be trading with them on BRICS terms. Another lost opportunity.

  5. Peter Dunn, 15/04/2024

    What a welcome intervention. David Foote, thank you, thank you, and thank you. For exposing the Joe Ludwig “consensus” tactic, which Labor uses regularly, thank you. For exposing the EU fraud which excludes its own farmers from standards demanded from Australian farmers, thank you. For identifying the dishonesty and misrepresentation relating to the biogenic methane cycle, thank you. For reporting the allegedly secret 2017 industry commitment to carbon neutrality, thank you. Most importantly, most, most importantly, is your statement of the not sufficiently obvious, that being that it is the farmers who have to bear the consequences of all of the UN sustainability goals; not governments, not banks, not woke multinationals, and not environmental activists. David Foote’s message in his final paragraph is very subtle. I will not be so subtle. If farmers do not find the ticker to tell the Federal government to take a hike on its various net zero/emissions reduction delusions, it will be to their detriment. At present, some markets are the tail wagging the producer dog, threating not to purchase goods which in their opinion are not sufficiently ‘green’. The reality is that the producers are the dog, because they produce the goods, and the market, kept in its place, is the tail. All it takes is ticker to tell the market that producers are in charge of quality, and the market can accept that or go hungry. Most other first world countries have realised their farmers (and in turn their food security) must be protected at all costs. Well done, David Foote.

  6. Richard Boyd, 15/04/2024

    Gotta luv “the angry little bastard ” my question is how
    do we get a voice/ seat at the “Balance of Power Table”which
    continues to be ruled by single policy parties and independents who get voted in as major team players
    but then run over the sideline when someone questions them on their own policy which they never had and didn’t understand in the first place.

  7. Peter Hamilton, 15/04/2024

    When will Northern Producers who rely on live exports and particularly the Indonesian market stand up and be counted? Fancy talking at conferences has not addressed how to halt the slide in numbers to Indonesia. MLA wont help you, CA.. not even close to the start line. Too comfortable at home.
    Northern graziers are stuffed in a few years, unless something is done, and it’s as if everyone forgot the impact of loosing the Northern trade.

    • Anthea Henwood, 16/04/2024

      Like lollies, coke and chips- marbled grainfed meat is OK in small amounts once a week.
      Grassfed beef is good stuff for human health. Consumers need to be fed the narrative as well as the product.
      I think we are stuffed because vegetarian/climate change activists have the ear of the public not us.

    • United Stockowmners of Australai, 16/04/2024

      whilst we are not part of the BRICS trading group and our government is making enemies with them the trade will die; we need a change in direction trade wise with SE Asia

  8. Anthony Fellows, 15/04/2024

    Agreed David, there comes a time when one has to put the political niceties to one side and focus on the best outcome mixed with a liberal dose of common sense.

    Stay angry, the fight has only just begun!

    • Rod Potter, 16/04/2024

      Well said, David. Next job for the angry little bastard: How about we get together and take on the supermarket duopoly?

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