FROM pushing back against banks over discriminatory lending practices to leading the charge against misleading labelling of plant-based proteins, the Red Meat Advisory Council has taken a strategically more assertive path in its approach to red meat industry affairs in the past year.
RMAC is an overarching board made up of the leaders of each peak red meat industry council in Australia.
It provides a forum for the various red meat industries to discuss and resolve cross sectoral issues and to provide a single national interface between the red meat industry and Government.
In the past year under a new leadership team headed by John McKillop as chair and Reith Parker as CEO, RMAC has taken a more proactive stance in leading industry commentary on issues facing the entire red meat sector.
This has included publicly pushing back against banks refusing to lend to businesses in legitimate industries such as live export and against anti-meat activists pushing for taxes on red meat and working to influence dietary guidelines against meat consumption.
Most prominent though has been RMAC’s work to push for truth in labelling around plant-based fake meat, which has led to the issue attracting the scrutiny of a Senate Inquiry this year.
Addressing the RMAC AGM on Thursday morning, chair John McKillop warned there is still plenty of work ahead.
“As an industy we need to continue on this fight, there is no doubt they are not going to back down so we need to be equally as forceful on our side to ensure our case is heard,” he said.
‘we need to be equally as forceful on our side to ensure our case is heard’
Mr McKillop singled out the work of CEO Reith Parker who he said had done a great job in the 12 months since joining RMAC in shaping the way the organisation works and leveraging its small budget to achieve greater influence.
Mr Parker who has resigned to take up a new opportunity in the private sector is being replaced by former ALEC deputy CEO Alastair James.
Challenge to change FSANZ loophole
RMAC believes that a 2016 FSANZ regulation allowing plant-based products to be sold under animal descriptors needs to be reversed.
However Mr McKillop said the industry faces a battle to achieve that because it needs to not only change the Commonwealth Government’s view, but it also needs to win the support of each State and even New Zealand for such a change to be implemented.
On the latter he said the New Zealand agriculture minister has demonstrated “a fairly lukewarm reception” to the proposition of amending the FSANZ regulation at their end, indicating he felt it was not a big issue, and that branding a way out was better than opting for an old regulation which wouldn’t allow fake meat to be called lamb or beef or goat.
“I still think we have got to push on with that, as much as everything else it is symbolic to the work these activists are doing,” Mr McKillop said.
“It is the thin edge of the wedge where they will come in and say ‘we are everything they are, except that we don’t have the environmental footprint, we don’t have the animal welfare footprint, and we’re better for you’.
“All of which are unproven claims, in fact we can probably disprove as much as they can prove in the other case, so we will keep the good fight up there.”
Red Meat Industry Fund at six year high
RMAC’s end of financial year report shows that as at 30 June, 2021, the Red Meat Industry Fund it has responsibility for managing has reached a six year high of $42.38 million.
This was achieved by a combination of a recovery in asset prices and a significant reduction in drawings, largely as a result of a decision to reduce disbursements to peak industry councils by a net rate of around 20 percent in 2020-21 due to market turmoil at the time of the decision, and a 30pc reduction in the RMAC executive’s operating expenditure.
The board has recently approved a recommendation to return the distribution schedule to peak industry councils to the long-term distribution average for the next five financial years, and thereafter index by inflation.
MOU review update
Meanwhile, a process initiated by RMAC in 2018 to review the Memorandum of Understanding which oversees red meat industry structures and levy arrangements is still ongoing.
Earlier proposals supported by the RMAC Board and members to create a single representative body and create a single service provider are understood to be unsupported and not being proceeded with.
Instead a decision was also made to establish a working group of MOU signatories (including peak councils, research and development corporations and representatives of the Department of Agriculture) to identify opportunities to modernise the memorandum and its supporting legislation.
In an update provided to Beef Central this week an RMAC spokesperson said the working group has met six times this year, with another meeting planned for December.
Much of the work so far has involved wading through required administrative amendments to bring the 20-year-old MOU document up to date with changes over that period to industry bodies and names and terminology.
Work is also focusing more broadly on modernisation opportunities to reform the MOU to reflect contemporary arrangements and potential enhancements keeping within the industry structure as defined in the primary legislation.
“At the moment, the working group is considering around 70 amendments that will continue to be advanced until all signatories are happy to progress with a deed of variation for signing, “ an RMAC update sent to Beef Central stated.