Concerns mount over processor shutdowns

Concerns mount over processor shutdowns


Red meat bosses move to calm fears over supply.


AS line-ups outside city butchers grow and supermarkets introduce rations on red meat purchases, fears are mounting about the impact of potential coronavirus processor shutdowns.

From both a consumer and livestock producer perspective, the consequences would be devastating.

The sentiment was certainly evident at saleyards this week with yardings much larger, even taking into account the re-establishment of animal movement again post-rain.

However, industry leaders say everything is being put in place to ensure red meat keeps coming down the supply chain.

The shortages in domestic meat cabinets at the moment are largely limited to metropolitan areas and are the result of unwarranted hoarding. As such, they are expected to be temporary.

Panic buying has led to mass shortages of food at supermnarkets across the country. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Panic buying has led to mass shortages of food at supermnarkets across the country. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

A whole-of-industry red meat virtual roundtable meeting was held yesterday to ensure supply chains continue to function as they should.

Red Meat Advisory Council chair Don Mackay said everyone in the beef and sheepmeat supply chain was focussed on working with supermarkets and butchers to keep them supplied.

"There is no doubt processors are dealing with big challenges at the moment. A number of things are being put in place to ensure we can get the system to continue to work effectively, including eliminating unnecessary regulatory hurdles while maintaining the rigour of audits," Mr Mackay said.

The industry is also pushing for the availability of coronavirus testing to increase significantly to expedite treatment and containment as well as eliminate unnecessary isolation and allow employees to return to the workforce

Both lotfeeding and production sector sources have expressed concerns about big abattoirs having to halt operations completely.

Some suggestions have been made that processors struggling with high cattle costs and extreme volatility in global demand would be happy to shut up shop for a period and effectively 'cut their losses'.

However, industry experts said that defies logic when demand from the retail sector is red hot.

Mr Mackay reiterated processors were committed to doing everything they could to meet demand.

The Australian Meat Industry Council's chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said meat processing was a leading industry in the management of microbiological issues, with enormous regulatory requirements around sterilisation and sanitisation already a part of daily business.

"So we are in a good place if a meat worker is found to have the virus," he said.

"If a facility had a staff member test positive, there is a good argument it could be managed without a total shutdown by assessing the key control points. We would be asking for things to be considered on a case-by-case basis."

The situation was spelling out just how important red meat was in the diet of Australians and the fact it was considered an essential item was key for the industry, Mr Hutchinson said.

"With the advent of covid-19, people are voting with their feet to say if they are quarantined these are the staples they want and access to red meat is high up," he said.

"What that means is red meat supply has to be a top level issue for our government.

"The supply of red meat being recognised, from a legislative point of view, as an essential service will facilitate the addressing of issues around the longer-term viability of our industry."

JBS and Teys were contacted for comment.

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