Worth more than $20 billion, there’s no question the beef industry is big business in Australia, but can it also be a sustainable one?

Key points:

  • The Beef Sustainability Report for 2021 outlines the work the industry is doing around animal welfare, the environment and profitability
  • It showed animal welfare, economic resilience, environmental issues and maintaining a safe and healthy workforce were key issues
  • It shows more farmers are using pain relief, more land is being used for conservation, but more data is needed. 

At Beef Australia 2021 in Rockhampton, central Queensland, there’s a focus on the technology and production systems to do that. 

Launching the Beef Sustainability Report for 2021, the fourth annual report compiled by the Sustainability Steering Group, chairwoman Tess Herbert said tracking public sentiment remained a challenge.

The report aims to highlight improvements required to maintain market share and the sector’s social licence.

It identified animal welfare, economic resilience, environmental issues and maintaining a safe and healthy workforce as the key sustainability concerns.

Animal welfare and compliance improving

The report found improvements in the percentage of farmers using pain relief systems in animal husbandry, compliance with live export regulations and awareness of welfare systems for cattle.

On the environment, the percentage of cattle lands set aside for conservation increased but trends in ground cover, deforestation and conservation management of grazing country were not quantified by the report.

The former president of the Australian Lot Feeders Association, Ms Herbert, said attitudes to transparency and adapting to changes in community expectations were changing.

“We have an industry-wide change in perspective that we need to be more connected to the consumer and listening to what the consumer is asking,” Mrs Herbert said.

She said increasing supply-chain value to ensure all parts of the sector were profitable was also a challenge for industry, even in a time of record cattle prices.

The report showed declines in farm productivity and a distinct difference in profitability between the top quarter of producers versus the rest, something Mrs Herbert said requires attention.

Mid shot of a man in his 60s leaning against a steel cattle pen with blurred cattle in the background.

David Foote, managing director of Australian Country Choice, says the beef industry often wastes time opposing integrity schemes that are forced upon it. (

ABC Rural: Kallee Buchanan

)

“We need to become more and more efficient and produce more from less, through technology and research and development, that will become more important to producers,” she said.

On the cusp of carbon neutrality

Meat and Livestock Australia, the industry’s marketing, research and development body, has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Launched in 2017, managing director Jason Strong said the CN2030 program was critical to securing the industry’s reputation as a global leader in sustainable food production but would require new technology and farm practices. 

David Foote, managing director of Australian Country Choice, one of Australia’s largest vertically integrated beef supply chains, said producers needed to embrace sustainability, even if it’s forced upon them.

“Significant customers in the beef industry have made commitments that are requiring that (carbon neutrality) earlier.

“So potentially we’re going to have supply chain pressure that’s going to ask us to do things faster than we would normally do, so it’s about embracing it and how to make it fit. 

‘Tell our story’

Stockyard Beef marketing executive Ally Hart said the public perception of beef needed to be crafted through better public accountability by the cattle industry.

“They want to see you’re walking the talk on sustainability practices,” she said.

“Anything from introducing poll genes, pain relief and how much renewable energy can we use?”

Mid shot of two young women side-by-side

Ally Hart (right) believes the industry will meet it’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.(

ABC Rural: Tom Major

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Ms Hart said the industry’s carbon-neutral aim by 2030 still loomed as a steep challenge, despite a reduction in carbon emissions of 51.46 per cent on 2005 levels.

Beef Australia 2021 is the largest exhibition of cattle in the southern hemisphere, and more than 35,000 people streamed through the gates on People’s Day.

Chairman Bryce Camm said the event aimed to educate people about the work the industry is doing on issues like animal welfare and the environment. 

“It’s not about being ashamed or embarrassed about anything around those confrontational topics, It’s really being forthright and opening the discussion,” he said. 

“That’s something that the Australian Beef industry has always done quite well, to have the conversation with the wider community and ourselves as an industry.

“To really look at what we are doing and where we can advance and improve.”

Beef Australia runs until Saturday, May 8.

Stepping it up on sustainability for the beef industry
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