Australian beef producers have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and commit millions of dollars to ongoing research and development into this area. Unfortunately, we do not communicate this well enough to our customers who purchase and consume our beef.
For too long the Australian beef industry has been reactive, waiting to defend itself from the next animal activist campaign or animal cruelty scandal.
It is time we, as an industry and as individual producers, take a stand and become public champions of our industry's animal welfare.
An independent economic study in 2019 forecast the Australian livestock sector could face losses of up to $3.2 billion by 2030 if it does not meet changing consumer expectations to animal welfare.
More scrutiny is being placed on the beef industry, and consumers are increasingly looking to make ethical decisions. If we want to continue to be world leaders in animal welfare, then we must continue to make practice changes and adopt innovations as they develop.
For our family business, animal welfare is making sure every one of our 4000 animals are cared for physically and mentally. It is ensuring they have availability to adequate, nutritional feed, and clean water, and that they are handled in a calm and non-threatening manner. This is standard practice for many Australian beef producers, and we should be proud to demonstrate our animal welfare merits. We must also be willing to identify gaps and change where required.
On our properties, we have formal animal welfare plans which include: animal welfare and safety induction, cattle transport loading densities, curfew off feed and water guidelines prior to transport, documented animal husbandry procedures, duty of care statement for animal welfare, management during extreme weather, emergency killing and disposal procedures, drought management procedures, and an emergency animal disease action plan.
These things did not happen overnight. Planning for animal welfare takes ongoing commitment and regular scrutiny. But implementing an animal welfare plan is undeniably worth the effort as it is the right thing to do. It is also assurance to our customers and the markets that we supply that Australian beef producers take their responsibilities for high animal welfare standards seriously.
Good animal welfare has the benefit of increased productivity, improved meat quality, and reduced mortalities. It also shows we are responsive to community concerns and are willing to change behaviour for improved outcomes in the health and welfare of animals under our care. This is backed up with the increased use of pain relief during aversive procedures, and as an industry we must aim for 100 per cent uptake and continue to develop alternatives to these procedures.
On an industry level, there is work being done to prove our animal welfare credentials. The Australian Beef Sustainability Framework tracks performance to give our consumers, customers, investors, and other stakeholders the confidence that the Australian beef industry is continuously improving how we care for our animals, because no one cares more about our cattle than farmers.
- Melinee Leather is a beef producer from Banana. She is a member of the Sustainability Steering Group for the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.