THE Australian beef industry needs to question, warts and all, everything it does across the value chain to ensure its continued social licence and subsequent access to global markets.
Prue Bondfield, the chairwoman of the Beef Sustainability Steering Group, told the Yulgilbar Beef Expo and Forum that the development of a beef sustainability framework was critical to the future of beef production.
“What we learnt is that people want beef production to continue and they want beef production to continue in a very sustainable way,” Ms Bondfield said. “We all have the objective that beef production should be sustainable. It’s not a conflict, it’s not a difference of opinion, it’s just a matter of how we get there.”
Ms Bondfield said the steering group had spoken to range of groups including customers, consumers, financial institutions, investment houses, and people who have an interest or influence in our beef production including WWF and RSPCA.
“I think that talking with all the external stakeholders was the most valuable thing the group did,” Ms Bondfield said. “We had the opportunity to go there not trying to develop policy or trying to defend ourselves but to talk to people and groups and identify the big areas of concern. Best of all the response was very positive.”
The steering group was appointed by the Red Meat Advisory Council as part of its strategic plan to investigate environmental stewardship, economic resilience, people and the community, plus animal welfare, as priority areas of focus for the cattle and beef industries.
Ms Bondfield said sustainability was not just about environment and animal welfare, but also economic and social realities.
“Part of that thinking is that we want more profitable farms,” Ms Bondfield said.
“More profitable farms make for better farmers with better mental health, and that all translates directly into the community.
"The concept of sustainability has to be taken as a whole, it cannot be a single element.”
However, having a look from outside the industry and understanding what those expectations of people outside our industry would help ensure the beef industry maintained its social license.
“We can’t always but achieve everything they want but hopefully we can achieve some things,” Ms Bondfield said. “But there is also a pressing need for industry to tell its story so that more people understand how and why we do things. We certainly have a great story to tell and people will listen. We also need to focus on threats to our industry and continually work on reducing or eliminating them.”
Ms Bondfield said the importance of the approval and acceptance of the red meat industry by the community could not be overestimated. “To me the people who matter most are are consumers,” Ms Bondfield said. “If we don’t have that end user with confidence in what we are doing we have no reason to be producing beef and cattle.”
She said the flexibility of individual businesses meant they were better at adapting to change compared to industry as a whole.
We all have the objective that beef production should be sustainable.