IN 1998, AUS-MEAT relinquished responsibility for oversight of the livestock component of the Australian Beef Language.
No one stepped in to take over this function and it was 16 years before industry noticed the drifting, directionless nature of this orphaned element of the overall beef language.
At the depth of low cattle prices in 2014, a White Paper review of the Australian Beef Language was commissioned and it was during the working party’s background investigations that interest in the forgotten livestock language was re-kindled.
From 2014 until release of the White Paper in January 2016, the working party went to great lengths to establish solid foundations for the wider technical recommendations it made.
This included 12 months of public submissions, in-depth review for preparation of 13 background technical papers and extensive industry consultation.
Not unexpectedly the principal recommendations focused on beef and top of the list was a new Eating Quality Graded (EQG) cipher as an alternative to dentition-based ciphers which would give MSA brand owners the option to pack and label beef according to consumer eating quality outcomes.
In its own right this was ground-breaking stuff of high-order global significance.
But when the White Paper came to livestock, all it could suggest was to form yet another expert group to conduct yet another review.
Having dug the issue up and identified it as in need of attention, this now looked like a recommendation to rebury it rather than reinvigorate it.
Perhaps AUS-MEAT had the right idea back in 1998 but a less cynical view might be that the recommendation had more to do with recognition of complexity and scope of the task. The words used in the White Paper give some indication:
“That an expert group review the Bovine Livestock Language with the aim of creating a section within the existing language standardising terminology and ensuring common description across all trading and production categories including registered and commercial cattle sold by live export or as domestic store or finished cattle. This review will standardise the language used by all parties so that carcase and chiller assessment data can be linked to genetic evaluation programs.”
Fifteen months later in April 2017, the peak councils who had commissioned the White Paper concurred with the authors and said, “This recommendation is supported by industry. Full industry representation is required to work through this recommendation. MLA will coordinate the commencement of a working group and will link in with the Objective Measurement Rural R&D for Profit program of work.”
Almost a year has since passed and therefore it was not unreasonable to think it may be time to hear of what progress is being made on this matter.
MLA seemingly obliged a week or so ago with an Industry-News headline on its web site stating “Industry moves forward with adoption of enhanced Australian beef language”.
The article talked about the EQG cipher and a number of other recommendations implemented and approved by the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee (AMILSC).
The article went on to say that other recommendations are being progressed by relevant industry committees under the oversight of AMILSC.
Unfortunately all the committees referred to related to beef rather than livestock but that was hardly surprising given that AMILSC is part of AUS-MEAT. And that is where the article ended; no mention of the livestock-language working group MLA was tasked to create let alone any progress it might have made.
Hopefully it is not the case but it looks very much as though the livestock language has once again been left to its own devices.
In the meantime agencies/organisations that have remained committed to the notion of a national livestock language are left to struggle.
MLA’s own livestock market reporting service is one example. It is still bound by the national language developed 40 years ago when the purpose of market reporting was to accurately reflect the reasons for differences in slaughter cattle sold in saleyards.
But by the early 1990s, most of the once plentiful numbers of slaughter cattle had disappeared from saleyards and the big terminal markets of Cannon Hill, Homebush and Newmarket were gone.
Instead, remaining saleyards have since been dominated by store cattle and market reporters are left with the task of trying to explain to restockers, backgrounders, feeders and fatteners the reasons for store-cattle price difference in a language that is inadequate and in some respects irrelevant.
The consequence of this is reports that frequently contain no explanation for wide variation in price within individual livestock categories; hardly the purpose of a market report.
As well as the market reporting service there are numerous other stakeholders in this issue who should be prevailed upon for insight and advice toward its resolution.
The obvious ones include the agency/commercial livestock sector, meat processors and meat-brand owners, seedstock/genetics sector, live exporters, lot feeders and research and extension providers from universities and government.
If the task has not yet been taken up for one reason or another, now would be a good time to start.
Short kills drive up rates
WHILE the highway between Townsville and Cairns opened on Tuesday morning, there is still a way to go before a reasonable flow of slaughter cattle is resumed.
Townsville’s Stuart meatworks remains closed with a commencement date for the season yet to be announced.
In the central and southern parts of the state the situation remains much the same as last week with some works continuing to lose production from dropped days.
This has resulted in a further 10 cents being added to rates on Monday taking 4-tooth ox to 510c/kg and heavy cow to 450.
As one processor commented earlier in the week, all this is doing in the short term is increasing the pain without any gain (in kill numbers).
Bullocks at Dalby last week and Toowoomba on Monday averaged 292c/kg while cows reached an isolated 260c.