DESPITE some loud differences of opinion within the beef supply chain on issues such as objective carcase measurement technology and mandatory price reporting, there was ‘evolution among stakeholders’, according to those at the helm of a senate inquiry into the industry.
Senators investigating market consolidation in the red meat processing sector are due to hand down a final report by the end of this month.
Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan, deputy chair of the rural and regional affairs and transport committee, which began the inquiry close to two years ago, said senators wanted to hear again from industry service bodies Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation.
This follows their first-hand look last week at Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) equipment, which can accurately differentiate meat from bone, in action in Melbourne.
“There is some contest between those two industry bodies in relation to how quickly this technology should be rolled out and how it should be funded,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
The AMPC has also commissioned a feasibility study on the costs and benefits of industry-wide installation of the technology.
“I suspect we will wait for outcome of that too,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
“As is the case with most technologies, DEXA will provide us with more information, more accurately than we might be used to from subjective observation.
“It’s fair to say it will greatly benefit that 30 to 40 per cent of producers who supply a near-perfect article for the export market.
“But it may create an environment for the balance, whereby the frailties of their product are more identifiable.
“What we need to be careful of is that the introduction of this technology is transitional, that is to say it allows the production sector time to make necessary adjustments in supply, so it isn’t akin to jumping into a swimming pool full of ice.”
Senator O’Sullivan said on top of that, the processing sector was divided over the value of the technology, with “a number not yet convinced it is all it’s presented as.”
“Some see there is an edge to be gained. The likes of Teys and JBS are way past thinking about it and have moved on securing it.
“They are clearly are after that top 30pc of supply and are prepared to pay a premium for it.”
The committee is also in the processing of digesting recommendations from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on measures to improve competitiveness in the beef supply chain.
National Party senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie, a participating member of the committee, said the ACCC recommendations go to the heart of problems in the industry raised with her over many years.
The recommendations around getting objective carcase measurement into the system were particularly welcome, she said.
“For a market to operate effectively and to deliver returns to the entire supply chain, there needs to be transparency around how prices are set,” she said.
“Everyone needs to be able to understand why a particular beast fetched that particular amount of money on that market.”
Senator O’Sullivan said a lot of the challenges both the ACCC and senate inquiry were dealing with had been part of the industry make-up for decades.
Thus, there was solid argument to “hasten steadily”, he said.
“It’s a bit like losing weight, it will only happen as quick as it took to put it on,” he said.
“This industry is so big and so significant - we need to produce as clinically accurate an outcome as we can.
“Ideally, what we want is a report to the Minister that says ‘there’s nothing to see here, this industry has sorted it out themselves.’”