HOW beef is addressing societal demands, and misunderstandings, around animal welfare is clearly keeping a lot of producers up at night.
Time and again throughout the three days of forums and industry events organised around Meat and Livestock Australia’s annual general meeting, held in Alice Springs recently, discussion honed in on animal welfare.
From how the school curriculum encompasses agriculture to the idea the industry remains reactive and whether beef’s credentials be part of generic marketing, producers fired animal welfare questions at numerous speakers.
MLA’s marketing head Lisa Sharp said at this point beef’s animal welfare credentials were not actively promoted as part of our holistic generic marketing campaigns because there were other purchase drivers.
The benefits consumers have traditionally sought, in order of priority, had been nutrition, convenience and versatility, so they had been the primary focus of marketing efforts, she said.
“We do of course have finite resources and every campaign dollar spent needs to deliver a return to the farmgate,” Ms Sharp said.
“We will continue to watch the trends - and we share quite openly the fact we know there are more consumers now interested in animal welfare credentials.
“As an industry we have to be absolutely confident that if we choose to make it part of our generic marketing campaign, each and every cut needs to be compliant.
“Otherwise we’ll find ourselves short when it comes to advertising standards and consumer law.”
Red Meat Advisory Council boss Don Mackay agreed it was a big issue that there was not sufficient focus on farming and agriculture in schools.
The result, he said, was that “young people are picking up that farmers do nasty things to animals and the environment where the reality is we are the ones protecting those things.”
More resources and attention had to be paid to conveying the right information to the next generation, he said.
Cattle Council of Australia president Howard Smith pointed to the addition of extra modules covering national standards on animal welfare in the Livestock Production Assurance program as evidence of the industry being proactive.
“It’s been a good step in demonstrating we take welfare seriously,” he said.
Beef’s biggest risk
Chairman of the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council Simon Crean said what his sector was attempting with its global assurance program was to do “the unfinished work” which resulted from the implementation of the world-first animal welfare guarantee the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
Of the 130 countries that export live cattle, Australia is the only one where the exporter is responsible, up to the point of slaughter, for the welfare of the animal.
The global program was about other countries taking on that responsibility too.
What live exporters were also pushing for was requiring the facilities in-country to take more responsibility for the welfare of animals through control and traceability, Mr Crean said.
“The beef industry has identified the biggest risk, not just to our sector but the production sector also, is another reaction to bad animal welfare practices,” he said.
“That is the reason the biggest expenditure by our service provider, Livecorp, is in addressing these issues.
“Our commitment is to engage on an ongoing basis - not to wait to deal with a problem after the fact.
“We need to engage with animal welfare activists on the principle we are about improving practices, not about closing the trade because that is no solution.
“If we are the best in the world, how do you improve animal welfare if you take us out of the equation?”
Mr Crean said the feedback now coming through was the concern wasn’t so much with the practices at a slaughter level - “indeed we haven’t had much reaction to these incidents for a long time now” but rather with animals being transported.
As such, the live trade sector had been successful in calling for the government to hold a review into the standards for the carrying of animals in Australia, he said.