CONSENSUS appears widespread that the four key areas of environmental stewardship, economic resilience, people and the community and animal welfare are where Australia’s beef industry needs to focus to ensure sustainability credentials going forward.
The feedback coming through on the draft Australian Beef Sustainability Framework, much of it from producers, indicates those areas are seen as most relevant.
Adjustments are likely, however, on the animal welfare and environmental indicators listed in the framework, with some common themes emerging from feedback.
A need for indicators for animal nutrition and pasture management, greater discussion of carbon sequestration as a way to reduce emissions on-farm and clearer and stricter indicators around animal welfare, with a focus around how to properly handle stock and minimising stress on stock, have been flagged.
The development of the draft framework has been led by the Red Meat Advisory Council’s Sustainability Steering Group (SSG), an 11-person grass roots industry group from across all sectors.
It includes some highly respected and very experienced beef industry personnel.
SSG chair Prue Bondfield said it was clear from the feedback on the draft, released last month, that producers were interested in clear and strict indicators as a defence against interest groups who were looking to attack the industry.
Feedback was coming in every day, with 123 submissions already received, which equates to around five a day, she said.
More than 1000 people so far had viewed the draft framework online, she said.
“Now’s an ideal time for producers to help us define what sustainable Australian beef means, and how we measure and report this to the wider community,” she said.
“The draft framework supports priorities in the Meat Industry Strategic Plan 2020, which focus on improving transparency, aligning practices with community expectations and building trust in the red meat sector.”
Producers were certainly getting involved, supplying 55 per cent of the feedback to date, Mrs Bondfield said.
Interestingly, 19pc has come from those outside the industry.
Producer groups have been relatively tentative with their public response to the framework, apart from strongly urging farmers to have their say.
Some farmers and stock agents who contacted Fairfax Media, but did not want to be quoted, said the framework presented as another level of certification and regulation, which was very much not wanted in the cattle production game.
Property Rights Australia also had some criticisms, mostly along the lines of the framework falling into the trap of trying to answer, and thereby being influenced by, the campaigns of environmental activists.
Spokesman Dale Stiller said the beef industry should not try to pander to a minority.
“Instead of positively singing our song, the danger is ending up dancing to someone else’s tune,” he said.
He did acknowledge, however, the beef industry could not afford not to be involved in the question of what is sustainable “because that void will be filled by someone else seeking to do so on our behalf.”
Mr Stiller said the framework was too broad, going into areas the beef supply chain could not be responsible for, areas where participants have no control.
As an example, he cited diversity in the workforce and percentages of men and women hired.
“Skilled workers are highly prized in the rural sector - to put limitations on who you can hire simply wouldn’t work,” he said.
Mrs Bondfield said the framework would provide real evidence to counteract, and provide proof points to give evidence against, claims some of the more extreme groups may have.
“Scientific evidence and industry experience have guided the development of the proposed priority areas and indicators in the draft framework,” she said.
“Our commitment is to listen to stakeholders and consider all constructive, evidence-based views.
“The customers and special interest groups we’re talking with are saying they want the beef industry to be profitable.
“The purpose of establishing the framework is to report - using existing data, where possible - on what our stakeholders are telling us they want to know.
“In doing so, we seek to ensure we are meeting the expectations of the community and maintain our market access.
“It’s purpose is not to create green tape or paperwork for anyone in the beef value chain.”
Mrs Bondfield said where suggestions were not adopted, reasons for why woouldl be provided.
Open consultation via the online platform continues until February 17. Visit http://www.sustainableaustralianbeef.com.au/.
The inaugural report is due to be released in March.