Pushing back on red tape and fake claims in beef

Pushing back on red tape and fake claims in beef


Everyone wants a strong united voice for beef but what does that look like?


GROWING concerns about the need to stop producers being regulated out of business and to fight back against 'fake news, fake data and fake meat' has seen renewed calls for strong united beef industry leadership.

Exactly what that looks like, however, is hard to pin down.

A massive effort to comprehensively analyse and review the structure of Australia's red meat industry has been underway for two years, with those involved still chipping away at a solution that ticks all boxes.

Any grand announcements around industry restructure as a result of the Red Meat Memorandum of Understanding review appear to be some way off.

Meanwhile, the arguments for and against consolidation of advocacy work and a shake-up of the way levy money is managed continue to be expressed.

At a recent beef webinar organised by Agforce, prominent Queensland cattle producer Alice Greenup advocated for the retention of overarching national representation, along with sectoral representation and strong and effective state and territory bodies.

She said a levy was needed to fund peak industry councils and all beef producers should be direct members, with 'no free loaders'.

"It's really disappointing to hear big corporates saying they can get inside the doors of ministers and so they don't need to be a part of industry organisations," she said.

"How powerful could we be as an industry if we all got behind strong leadership?"

Queensland cattle producer Alice Greenup.

Queensland cattle producer Alice Greenup.


Mrs Greenup acknowledged the conversation around whether state bodies were cannibalised by strong sectoral bodies but argued both were needed.

To back that up, she provided lists of what had to be dealt with by each. Nationally, there is fake news, fake meat, carbon emissions, climate and animal welfare; sectorally, live export bans, trade, biosecurity, integrity systems and statewise there is vegetation, reef regulations, transport and electricity costs.

That's just naming a few for each category, she said.

To industry stalwart David Crombie, the lack of clear-cut changes that all can agree on in the MoU process is proof there is no easy answer, and no perfect system.

Mr Crombie - producer and former National Farmers Federation and Meat & Livestock Australia boss - said for all the complaints about the system in place, there may well be no better alternatives.

"A bugbear in beef is the adversarial nature of our supply chains. This has bred a lot of discontent," he said.

"Also adding complication is the enormous geographical spread of our industry - what northern producers and southern producers are looking for can be very different - and the many different markets our cattle supply."

Producer and former NFF leader and MLA boss David Crombie.

Producer and former NFF leader and MLA boss David Crombie.

Mr Crombie personally believes the MLA model, where a skills-based board is democratically elected, is best set-up in terms of capability to employ strategy and policy.

But just how much input or influence representative groups should have in that process is another debate.

He does not believe in compulsory levies.

"We want to get regulation out of our lives, not introduce more," he said.

"If representative organisations can create value, they'll attract members."

In any case, a levy for advocacy would be impossible to enforce, he said.

Mr Crombie said the plethora of industry groups, in particular the numerous smaller 'splinter' groups looking to represent producers, was indeed hurting the industry's ability to speak with one voice.

"Even where those groups are not fighting each other on issues, different messages from different voices to government diminishes our strength," he said.

"Confused messaging has always been the enemy of advocacy.

"Governments then say, the industry does not appear to know what it wants so we will decide."

It seems this is what so many producers want fixed most.

Mrs Greenup said a united voice was now critical, not just as a 'reality check' on bureaucracy overload but to deal with the well-funded interest groups actively working to undermine the industry.

"We are not controlling the narrative at all," she said.

She argued the concept of beef being 'customer-centric' came with a caveat.

"Of course we have to remain customer-focused but the customer might not be getting accurate information and so they may not be a reliable guide for the direction we take," she said.

The Australian Beef Sustainability Framework was a point in case.

"If we are not careful this will start to infringe on our ability to do business," Mrs Greenup said.

"We're not going to be able to comply with the standards we've set for ourselves. We are setting ourselves up to fail."

She said her desire was for a strong vibrant industry that was valued and respected - not one that apologises for what it does.


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