THE cattle and beef industry has taken some steps towards improving transparency in dealings between processers and livestock producers, but more work is needed, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has noted.
In 2017, the ACCC published its Cattle and Beef Market Study, which made 15 recommendations to address concerns about a lack of transparency and other issues in Australia’s cattle and beef markets. Similar concerns were raised in a Senate Inquiry into Meat Processing at the time. An update report published by ACCC in May last year reported a disappointing lack of progress on the commission’s recommendations.
Following the update report, a number of cattle and beef processors have begun publishing their price grids online. Beef Central now provides links to publicly-accessible grids for Teys Australia, NH Foods, Bindaree Beef and Thomas Foods International via this portal. Other large processors, including JBS Australia, Kilcoy Global Foods, Greenhams, Midfield and others, continue to provide access to grids on a supplier request-only basis.
Grids are used to calculate a likely per kilo price paid to farmers for their cattle, before discounts for bruising, excess or insufficient fatness, carcase weight, dark cutting and other criteria.
Easier access to price grids, which would allow farmers to choose the best processor for their own circumstances, was one of the key recommendations of ACCC’s original study.
“We are pleased that price grids are now more readily accessible online, which will allow farmers to more easily select the best buyer for their cattle,” ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said.
Progress in objective carcase grading
The ACCC also noted that the industry was taking steps to improve objective carcase grading processes.
“Certain processors are trialling new technologies which are expected to provide greater objectivity and transparency in how meat is graded,” it said in a statement.
“But while these signs of progress (in access to grids and objective measurement) are welcome, we continue to receive inquiries from stakeholders which relate to the ACCC’s recommendations. Farmers are especially concerned about the level of information available and objectivity of grading processes. These concerns are similar to those raised with us during our market study,” Mr Keogh said.
The ACCC said it also continued to hear concerns from livestock producers about other issues identified in its market study, including a lack of appropriate producer/processor dispute resolution options in the sector.
“The ACCC understands that industry is considering dispute resolution processes as part of broader reforms to the industry’s governance, encouraging stronger internal and third-party arbitration mechanisms,” Mr Keogh said.
“We will continue to advocate for action on our recommendations, and for better transparency across Australia’s cattle and beef markets,” he said.
The ACCC inquiry also identified the need for uniform national licencing standards for livestock agents, which are considered important to improve industry compliance with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and biosecurity requirements.
While the industry is supportive of such a proposal, the process of obtaining the support of state governments was not well advanced at this stage, ACCC noted.
Commission buying for multiple processors
The ACCC earlier also recommended greater transparency in the saleyards, through the adoption of a buyers’ register identifying which processors commission buyers were intending to purchase for.
“There has not been any progress on this issue, which could address the concerns some livestock producers have about saleyard selling,” it said.
The ACCC would continue to engage with the industry and governments on these issues, Mr Keogh said.