Stop eating beef and save the planet?

View From the Paddock


Opinion
Charters Towers beef producer, Emma Robinson.

Charters Towers beef producer, Emma Robinson.

Aa

Better understanding and responding to community concern about beef production could be the most important thing we do, according to Charters Towers beef producer Emma Robinson.

Aa

The United Nations says so, as does the Chinese government and a growing number of A list celebrities, academics, bloggers and everyday consumers. 

Globally there’s a vocal movement of interest calling on consumers to do their bit for the planet by ending, or at least reducing, their consumption of beef. 

Initially born from concern over methane emissions and climate change, this meatless push is providing the nexus for a host of concerns – everything from habitat loss, to coral bleaching to obesity and heart disease, all being attributed to beef. 

These concerns are magnified by the ever present animal welfare groups who demand an end to animal consumption, feeding the wider view that an end to animal farming will be the next big social movement. 

As beef producers, such assertions can quickly get us hot under the collar. We rise to argue the facts, debunk the science and dismiss these concerns as extremist hysteria, but is this the best approach?

Community expectations are continually evolving – women’s rights, environmental rights, child rights, animal rights are finding new levels of acceptability.

Fringe ideas around the farming and slaughtering of animals are now becoming more mainstream, influencing consumer behavior and creeping into government policy discussions. 

While this can be seen as a threat, these concerns also give rise to opportunity by creating a much greater sphere of consumer interest to satisfy. They drive the development of technology, production systems and supply relationships that better demonstrate a commitment to the values that consumers believe are important. 

But when beef makes bad news, beef demand everywhere suffers.  Our industry remains only as good as the weakest link – and these linkages are increasingly complex – environment, health, ethics are all issues that can draw beef into the firing line.   

In a week when Queensland beef producers have been in the news for the wrong reasons – with tree clearing claims again drawing the linkages between beef and reef – do these images give reason to another group of consumers to eat less beef?  

Trying to change consumers’ minds through scientific facts and technical expertise doesn’t always work. On the flip side neither does activists chastising consumers for eating beef.

Working in our favor is the increased curiosity and interest consumers have in where there food comes from. This opens the door for producers to engage with consumers, to humanise our industry and build shared values around what is acceptable. 

At our dinner table we’ve hosted an increasing number of “mindful meat eaters” (often in the form of well-travelled Gen Y backpackers and city cousins) who share their concerns and questions around beef.

It gave us the opportunity to talk about the paradox of caring for and respecting an animal, but at the same time farming and eating it. Being able to articulate our belief that beef can be part of the environmental solution, while at the same time genuinely hearing their concerns gives us a better understanding of what we need to do better.  

Having these conversations at a whole of industry level can help us balance the need for a beef supply chain that works efficiently and productively with a level of transparency, integrity and traceability that aligns with consumer perceptions of what is acceptable and why. 

Perceptions of what is right will continually evolve. Each change can bring rise to new industry arguments about who pays, who says, timeframes and paperwork. Alternatively we can choose to make it work, ultimately driving new market advantage and exceeding community expectations. 

In the end our success as producers comes down to one thing – the willingness of the consumer to buy our product.

Better understanding and responding to the nexus of community concern could be the most important thing we do. The alternative is to let the market decide, and deal with the consequences.

 – Emma Robinson, Beef Co-op founder and Charters Towers beef producer

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by