Vax rates high but meatwork woes keep piling up

Vax rates high but meatwork woes keep piling up

Beef
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All eyes on processing sector's bid to keep COVID at bay

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MORE than 85 per cent of Australia's abattoir workers have now had their first COVID-19 vaccination and more than 70pc have completed the schedule.

Those rates, well above the nationwide community average, are in line with the extensive COVID-safe interventions and on-site plans, which on average abattoirs are investing $20,000 a week in, according to the peak processing body, the Australian Meat Industry Council.

In the wake of temporary shutdowns in the past week in abattoirs due to positive COVID tests among staff, the strength of the sector's ability to keep the virus at bay is under the spotlight.

The United States story, where the cattle market plummeted as processing backlogged with plants unable to keep going due to worker issues, is at the forefront of the minds of Australian producers this week as more and more abattoir COVID cases emerge.

So far, Australian red meat processing has proven far more resilient.

AMIC's chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson points out the temporary shutdowns that have occurred to date have been put in place by the companies themselves, as part of high-level, proactive COVID-safe plans endorsed by relevant health authorities.

Effectively, shutting down is part of the plan, ensuring fast turnaround times to business as usual.

The sector desperately wants an end to the Victorian Government's workforce cap in abattoirs, saying it is hurting the entire lamb and beef supply chain unnecessarily.

Mr Hutchinson said those who will hurt the most in the coming months will be farmers.

"As a time when they will be putting larger volumes of product onto the market, a lack of ability to process it will be devastating," he said.

"Lambs and feedlot cattle can't be held back."

Shipping woes

The processing sector is also urging government intervention on wharf disputes, which is exacerbating the global shortage of container vessels and playing havoc with the ability of beef exporters to get product to overseas markets.

Both shipping and air-freight has been in turmoil over the past year as consumer demand has vastly exceeded expectations and supply chains have grappled with relentless COVID disruptions, Meat & Livestock Australia reported.

Refrigerated shipping containers are in extremely short supply and freight rates have skyrocketed.

Further, key international ports and their surrounding freight networks have gone into lockdown following virus outbreaks.

The industrial action at Port Botany in Australia has added to the turmoil.

Analyst Simon Quilty, Global Agritrends, said the logistical woes would hurt Australia's beef industry most in the high-value chilled trade. Data was already reflecting that.

Since July, Australian chilled beef to China volumes have fallen 21 per cent.

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