“WE need to be careful that the things we react and respond to are factual and real and not necessarily just perceived,” MLA managing director Jason Strong told the NTCA conference in Alice Springs, offering a few stories and examples to explain his point.
On a Thursday one year ago, at the start of the COVID pandemic, MLA received a phone call from an industry organisation asking “what on earth is MLA going to do about the survival of our independent red meat retailers, our butchers?”
“The pandemic is going to decimate them. These people are going to be wiped off the face of the earth, what on earth are you going to do to support them?,” the caller said.
There wasn’t anything MLA could do right at that minute, the person was told, but would see what could be done.
Over that same weekend independent retailers recorded their largest sales spike in the history of independent retail in Australia, because food service was shutting down, and people were suddenly panic buying red meat.
On the Monday MLA received a call from the same person.
“We get a call from the same person saying what on earth is MLA going to do to support our independent retailers so they can look after this massive increase in demand they have now got from consumers desperately after the product?”
“It was a good lesson to us about making sure we are prepared, but also about making sure we respond and react to the right things,” he said.
Look at ‘what is actually happening on the ground’
He said recent headlines around China had created perceptions that may lead to people making incorrect assumptions about the state of Australia’s beef trade with the major market.
While trade disputes between China and Australia had been a popular news item , it was important to note the difference between what the press was saying around the political activities between China and Australia and what was actually happening on the ground.
It would be understandable if people believed Australia’s meat sales to China last year had been decimated, he said.
But they weren’t decimated.
China was still our number three market for beef in 2020, taking 197,000 tonnes.
In fact 2020 was Australia’s second largest year ever for beef exports to China.
“And for perspective 10 years we only actually sent them 7000 tonnes,” Mr Strong said.
“But if you just listen to the commentary you would think it is a disaster for the industry, we actually had a significant reduction in exports to China because we didn’t actually have anything to send them.
“We exported 1.4 million tonnes the year before, we only exported just over 1 million tonnes last year”
Mr Strong said the message was to be careful that “the things we react and respond to are factual and real and not necessarily just perceived”.