WITH European Union expected to be the Australian lamb industry’s most high-paying market, attention on our animal welfare and environment practices are anticipated to intensify.
Meat and Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton said with income of earners in the EU far outstripping those in China, Australia needed to be sensitive to the demands of the country’s most important market.
“In 2015, there were 7.9 million, of the 1.3 billion (population), with an income over $US35,000, by 2020 that will double to just over 15m,” Mr Norton said during a recent sheep electronic identification (EID) field day held at Greta, in Victoria’s North East.
“In Europe, it is close to 300m, so this is why the post-Brexit free trade agreement is so critically important for the Australian prime lamb industry because that is the market that can afford our high value cuts.”
Post-Brexit trade talks aim to improve Australia’s current restrictive 19,000 tonne quota to the EU, which includes a 520 cents a kilogram tariff penalty on volumes beyond this.
But to achieve this, Australian producers can expect extra attention on production practices, according to Mr Norton.
During talks with the board of a Swiss meat importer, who purchases about $150m of Australian lamb for about $28/kg, animal welfare standards were buyers’ main concerns.
“The first comment I got was, ‘it must hurt those sheep when they get a tag in their ear’,” he said.
“Domestic (consumers) concerns are still price and health benefits of lamb but when you go to Europe, they are all about animal welfare.
“Europe has banned the castration of pigs from next year... Hormone Growth Promotants is another one.
“There is no scientific evidence whatsoever, we have lost that debate.
“This is the way unfortunately, or fortunately, consumers want to know what you’re doing on-farm.”
Mr Norton said Sheep Producers Australia’s recent stance against the mulesing of prime lambs helped the industry defend itself to global markets.
“A video or an exposé on animal welfare practices would have a negative income, particularly for markets like Switzerland.
“If we lost that market overnight, no doubt farm-gate prices in Australia would drop.
“MLA has never said ban mulesing... but we are responsible for the $40m of prime lamb (levy) income and have identified one of the risks to farm revenue would be if consumers had negative thoughts around the mulesing practice.
“I was asked to never talk about mulesing again. Have we not learnt anything from 2011 (live export ban)?”
Mr Norton said the “consumer is always king” and had the power to change markets, “for better or worse”.
“We need to be transparent, talk about on-farm practices and defend what we do because we should be proud of what we do,” he said.