A RENEWED focus on who produces food and how they do it is emerging in the post-COVID world and that is presenting opportunities for Australia's beef industry.
This was a key idea referred to during the launch of the annual update of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework at a Queensland Rural Press Club online event today.
"Without a doubt, things are changing for our industry and its place in the world," said chair of the steering group that oversees the framework Tess Herbert, a NSW feedlot operator and mixed farmer.
"The question is how responsive will we be to ensure that we enjoy a bright future where consumers around the world choose Australian beef not only because of it's superior quality, but because the men and women in the industry care for the environment, our animals and each other."
The framework, which tracks the industry's performance over a series of sustainability indicators, was set up largely to ensure changing expectations of consumers, the wider community and investors were being addressed.
It's touted as the vehicle by which cattle producers can tell their positive stories and the figures they now have courtesy of documentation in the 2020 update are arguably impressive in a world coming out of a major health crisis.
On-farm biosecurity plans now cover 90 per cent of Australia's cattle operations; the industry continues to make inroads to being carbon neutral by 2030 with a 56.7 percent reduction in emissions since the baseline year of 2005 and pain relief use has been increasing since becoming commercially available and moved from a 15 to 21pc uptake in the last year.
A total of 59pc of feedlots have now voluntarily put in antimicrobial plans.
This is the sort of information that answers many of the questions beef customers are asking, prominent restaurateur Darren Robertson told the 450 strong nationwide audience on the RPC meeting.
The owner of five restaurants and a television celebrity chef, Mr Robertson said the interest in sustainability and ethics of food production was genuine and consumer knowledge was growing.
"There is today an acknowledgment Aussie farmers are an important part of the community and there is a real passion in to know how the industry is going," he said.
"We can now communicate all this information and it justifies charging the prices we do for Australian beef," he said.
"Trends come and go and a lot of it is fluff, but this is stuff of substance. Farmers are a forward thinking, innovative bunch and emotionally involved with things like animal welfare and water management and I'm proud to teach my cooks and guests about this industry."
Mrs Herbert said sources around the world were pointing to the idea that community trust, now more than ever, was essential for businesses to survive.
She cited a recent Goldman Sachs survey of 100,000 Americans that found the issues most important to the community was how companies treat their workers, their customers, the communities where they operate and how they not only protect but enhance the environment.
"The conclusion was that the current health crisis has led to an increased focus on ESG - or environmental, social governance," she said.
"The audience here was investors, but it is worth observing how these previously fringe investment considerations have become entrenched in mainstream investment houses."
Mrs Herbert also pointed to Rabobank work identifying permanent changes for the beef industry as a result of the pandemic.
Consumers are seeking out local suppliers and are likely to trust what they feel they can understand.
There will be more online selling and digitalisation and a far greater emphasis on human health and nutrition.
"All of these issues relate to trust and how we, as a beef industry, build trust with consumers," she said.
Mrs Herbert said Australian the beef industry had to listen and respond to community priorities in order to remain on plates around the world.
That's what the sustainability framework process is setting out to do.