AUSTRALIAN Livestock Exporters’ Council Chairman, Hon Simon Crean, has heralded an exciting new era in Australia’s live trade in a speech to the Rural Press Club of Queensland in Brisbane today.
Mr Crean said the dynamic nature of the global livestock and red meat markets meant that Australian exporters needed to seize unique opportunities currently within their grasp.
“Economic growth in Asia presents significant ongoing opportunities for our livestock export industry, but it also demands we step-up to the challenge of maintaining control and traceability in our supply chains,” he said.
Mr Crean said the first shipment of Australian slaughter cattle destined for China, which sailed from Victoria on February 4 and is due to arrive in China in the coming days, was a historic first step in opening up of a major new market for Australian cattle.
“The new trade opportunities in China, the world’s largest beef market, build on our presence in many other existing markets. The more markets we are supplying, the greater stability in the overall trade and the greater confidence for producers, and for exporters to invest in supply chain development,” he said.
“This first slaughter cattle shipment has been preceded by significant in-market investment in China, including the construction of Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) compliant feedlots and abattoirs. The scale of this investment is underpinned by the growing demand for Australian cattle and premium Australian beef.”
Mr Crean said further market diversification was vital for future growth, especially in light of current cattle, sheep and goat prices which are putting pressure on the competitiveness of Australian red meat in price sensitive markets across Asia, especially those which have access to alternative forms of protein, such as Indian buffalo meat.
“Livestock exports form part of the total off-farm value of Australia’s red meat industry which is worth almost $18 billion annually to our economy,” Mr Crean said.
“Australia’s livestock exports are approaching $2 billion in annual worth. It is one of our top 10 agricultural exports and generates employment for up to 10,000 Australians per year, mostly in rural and regional areas. We are a significant economic contributor by any measure.”
But Mr Crean emphasised that Australia’s livestock export industry relies as much on its social licence as it does on any economic drivers.
“Australia’s livestock export trade is committed to a ‘no fear – no pain’ objective in relation to livestock under our management. We know that good animal welfare outcomes represent good business,” he said.
“Our commitment doesn’t stop when Australian livestock leave our country or are discharged from their vessel. It exists up to the point of slaughter and we are the only country that makes that commitment.”
Mr Crean said that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), recognised Australia as the world leader in animal welfare practices in the trade.
“Since 2011 we have made huge progress, but that’s not to say we have eliminated all incidents. There is still significant improvement to be made and we remain committed to achieving that,” he said.
“Our industry’s programs have delivered training to 11,000 participants in international markets and the biggest budgetary commitment from our service-provider, LiveCorp, is to animal welfare programs.
“In the case of Indonesia, pre-slaughter stunning of cattle has grown enormously, from under 10 per cent five years ago to around 95 per cent today.”
Mr Crean said exporters’ commitment to the ESCAS – now in its sixth year – and the industry’s determination to build the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP), means Australia is continuing to set global benchmarks.
“The ESCAS journey has been revolutionary for livestock exporters. While our social licence to operate is at the core of ESCAS, it also represents a 21st century approach to ensuring our industry can meet the growing demand for live animals as a source of protein,” he said.
“Critics who argue we can simply replace the live trade with boxed product overlook the basic fact that this demand is specifically for live animals.
“And Australia’s status as the world leader in livestock exporting – leading a field of more than 100 other livestock exporting countries – means that if Australian exporters are taken out of the equation, the global trade will continue but animal welfare standards will decline.”