Push on to get Victoria's lamb processing back to full capacity

Push on to get Victoria's lamb processing back to full capacity

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Rest of country won't be able to absorb spring flush

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MEAT industry leaders are pushing hard to ensure the majority of Victoria's lamb processing capacity is up and running in time for the spring flush of new season suckers.

Victoria, which processes half the country's lambs, has been forced to drop production by a third as a measure aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19. No indication has so far been given of whether that measure will continue past the initial six week deadline, which is September 13.

Industry leaders say it will not be possible for processing facilities outside Victoria to absorb the lamb volume about to hit meatworks.

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said capacity elsewhere was reliant on a number of factors - not just having enough hooks but staff as well, which was also a challenge at the moment.

Without Victoria back at full capacity, many producers will be forced into a situation of having to take sucker lambs through to heavier lambs for the export market.

That shift could have long-term detrimental effects to the domestic market.

"Australia's lamb industry is weekend barbecues and Saturday night dinners. Consistent supply is key to maintaining that," Mr Hutchinson said.

"A prolonged interruption is a bad result for farmers at a time when they really should be profiting from better seasons."

Processors are urging the Victorian Government to manage COVID-19 prevention from an epidemiology perspective, saying the meat industry situation is not as concerning as what is being portrayed.

"We have been meeting, and exceeding, the health requirements put on us and we believe our industry has to reopen to 100 per cent, certainly in regional Victoria," Mr Hutchinson said.

"Any second waves, or returned cases of COVID, have been dealt with far more effectively than the first round and that's important because we have to look at it from the perspective of the compartmentalised structure within facilities.

"This is also about rural communities which are underpinned by meat processing - communities that have had no COVID cases."

Meat industry research shows the ratio of staff in so-called 'meat clusters' contracting COVID is no higher than 23pc, compared to 77pc in the general community.

"This is an industry that is showing the results required and can't be in a position where the restrictions are prolonged," Mr Hutchinson said.

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