Australian beef producers have much to learn from the fallout of last week’s live sheep export saga, according to a leading Queensland beef retailer.
Susan McDonald is the managing director of Super Butcher and a member of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework steering committee.
Ms McDonald said the most recent live export issue, as well as tightening controls around vegetation management in states such as Queensland and NSW, highlighted that if industry didn’t hold itself to account on sensitive issues, governments would step in and regulate for them.
She said initiatives such as the Beef Sustainability Framework were ‘no silver bullet’ but did provide proof that the industry had taken leadership on issues around sustainability and animal welfare rather than waiting for governments to legislate.
“Last week has been a reminder that, as an industry, if we don’t hold ourselves and the rest of our industry to account on what we believe is best practice, then someone else will do it for us,” she said.
“We have a particularly good example with live export but also with vegetation management legislation.
“If we had been able to provide that leadership from the outset then perhaps we wouldn’t be legislated and facing outcomes that won’t be in the best interest of the environment or the industry.”
An initiative of the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC), the Beef Sustainability Framework was built on four themes including animal welfare and environmental stewardship and involved broad consultation across the entire beef supply chain.
Ms McDonald said the Framework was an important first step in the beef industry taking control of the sustainability discussion that was already occurring among consumers.
“The reason I got involved is that I have heard government ministers, trade organisations and commercial beef brand owners talking about Australian beef as being sustainably produced but there was no basis to really back that up,” she said.
“Consumer expectations both domestically and overseas have developed rapidly.
“While consumers do not want to make specific enquiries themselves, they do have an expectation that the production of their food occurred in a way that they felt comfortable and confident with.
“The Sustainability Framework provides an industry agreed set of indicators that can potentially be accredited and commercialised by brand owners.
“In the end, it is all about access to as many markets as we care to operate in, returning the greatest price against our competitors from overseas beef producers.”
Given its potential value, Ms McDonald said she was frustrated that so few beef producers were aware of the progress of the Framework.
“It has been frustrating that information distributed to state farm organisations has not been further distributed to grassroots producers,” she said.
“It would be great to see state farm organisations taking the lead on communications and distributing information to grassroots producers.
“Reading this article might be the first or second time that many producers have heard about the purpose and activities of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.”
Ms McDonald said members of the steering committee hoped to spread the word about the Framework at Beef Australia next month.
The Framework Forum will be held on Thursday May 10 from Noon.
She said that event would be an opportunity to learn more about the Framework, why it is important and speak to members of the steering group to provide feedback.