Spending a pleasant and balmy Easter Saturday afternoon at the annual Kenilworth Fine Food Festival the other day brought home the impact that the closure of small regional abattoirs can have across the fabric of the Australian beef industry.
Kenilworth, in the picturesque headwaters of the Mary Valley in southeast Queensland, is a microcosm of what is happening across other parts of the country where smaller, less efficient domestic abattoirs are in decline.
Beef Central highlighted the issue in a February article “Gympie a snapshot of a changing industry.” It listed the closure of no less than 21 small slaughter yards in the region immediately north of Brisbane, and south of Bundaberg over the past 40 years.
Among the exhibitors of local cheeses, fruits and vegetables, nuts, dairy and other local produce at Saturday’s Kenilworth Fine Foods festival were two small boutique-scale ‘Paddock to Plate’ beef supply chains – Mary Valley Prime and Eumundi Beef.
Eumundi Beef and Mary Valley Prime rely heavily on their natural, pasture-fed, no HGP claims, and the notion of ‘Food Miles’, where the product is bred, grown, processed, packed and distributed locally around the Sunshine Coast/Mary Valley region.
When Beef Central stopped by to inquire how trade was going, both operators nominated the late-January closure of the local Eumundi service kill slaughter facility as a big financial and logistical challenge to their business.
One is currently getting a kill done at Biggenden, a 336km, five-hour round trip, according to Google Maps. The other is getting a temporary kill done at Nolan’s Meat at Gympie, but is going to have to make other long-term arrangements.
Not only is this adding cost to a small, low-throughput business, but it hardly fits well with the notion of ‘local’ sourcing and the marketing appeal attached to Food Miles.
Are these small, boutique-scale beef supply chains significant in a financial or volume sense in the overall context of the Australian beef industry? Definitely not. But do they add dimension and character to the beef offer available to Australian domestic red meat consumers? Absolutely.
In the modern age of heightened food safety, regulatory pressures and the need for high meatworks efficiency driven by plant utilisation, it is hard to imagine how so many small, low-throughput businesses could have survived in years gone by. But survive they did, no doubt putting bread on the table for a local family, and delivering a considerable measure of employment and economic flow-on in local communities.
It would be a shame to see the passionate, committed band of mostly small-scale Australian beef producers who share the vision of taking their product right though to end-users being derailed by lack of access to convenient slaughter facilities.