Consumers are king, beef sustainability proponents say

Consumers are king, beef sustainability proponents say

Beef
GOOD FACTS: The annual update of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework highlights achievements made by the industry - facts beef producers can use to tell their positive story, say proponents of the scheme.

GOOD FACTS: The annual update of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework highlights achievements made by the industry - facts beef producers can use to tell their positive story, say proponents of the scheme.

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"The only ones we are pandering to are our customers."

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The people the beef industry is 'pandering to' with its sustainability framework are its customers, says one of the early drivers of the scheme, Richard Rains.

His comments come in response to claims the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework is placing too much weight in the opinions of agenda groups.

Mr Rains, who has more than 40 years experience in promoting and selling Australian beef to the world, was an initial member of the framework's steering committee.

He said all consumer research pointed to the fact beef's customers were concerned about sustainability issues.

He agreed economic resilience was key - a farmer that was not profitable was not sustainable, he said.

"That is why profitability has been one of the framework's biggest silos from the start," he said.

"The bottom line is the consumer has to be everyone's focus. If we don't meet their expectations, they go elsewhere."

Chair of the steering group that oversees the framework Tess Herbert said the four themes - economic resilience, animal welfare, environmental stewardship and people and community - were all integrated throughout the work.

"They blend into each other - if you are caring for your people and your animals, it's profitable," she said.

Profitability, in particular, was a key focus for data indicators, she said.

Demanding evidence

Mrs Herbert said the framework involved examining, and at times responding to, requests to explain the beef industry's views on the environment and welfare. These topics, she pointed out, were now entering trade negotiations.

"Customers aren't just investigating and asking, many are demanding evidence - a request that has become embedded in supply," Mrs Herbert said.

"This is another form of market access and arguably driving the agenda more."

For companies looking to access capital it is becoming unusual not to be asked to demonstrate beyond the economic, she said.

The framework's steering committee also says one of its purposes is to minimise regulation, via industry taking a proactive approach.

"What we are proud of, is that the industry is in the driver's seat," Mrs Herbert said.

"The framework is about understanding, responding and working together with all of our stakeholders to deliver on mutual goals.

"Twice a year we bring together this group of predominantly external stakeholders to hear what is on their radar, what they are moving towards and to provide a forum for industry to update them on progress.

"It is an unlikely meeting - representatives from Agforce, Elders, McDonald's and the World Wildlife Fund around the same table."

The feedback is that these forums are constructive, but sometimes challenging, Mrs Herbert said.

"It IS challenging to hear views that are different to your own, but it is critical we do to ensure ongoing trust and support for our fantastic product."

Mrs Herbert said everyone enjoyed seeing shelves of beef cleared in the early stages of COVID-19, as consumers flocked to a product they trusted.

"While some may see this as a sign that sustainability is no longer as prominent a priority, the experts are pointing to an increased focus on how food is produced and the ethics of food as we move out of the pandemic," she said.

Those guiding the framework, however, are clearly conscious that work needs to be done to bring all producers on board.

Along with ongoing consultation events, an industry consultative committee forum will be set up to allow approaches to sustainable business practises to be tested in partnership with beef business themselves.

"What we need to do is work harder to connect with the wider industry and better connect industry with what the priorities are from our end customers and those that influence them," Mrs Herbert said.

"At the same time we need to work collectively on how to address these while ensuring a thriving industry across the value chain."

ALSO READ: Renewed interest in how beef is produced in the post-COVID world

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