BEEF industry efforts to address community expectations around issues like animal welfare and environmental sustainability are not sitting well with all producers.
Following the release of the latest update from the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework, questions are being raised about whether the industry is pandering to fringe interests at the expense of its own prosperity.
Fueling the agitation is the argument panic buying during coronavirus lockdowns showed exactly what consumers valued - people who couldn't find mince on their supermarket shelves did not seem terribly interested in sustainability credentials.
Respected Queensland scientist Dr Bill Burrows, who spent his working life studying tree grass balance, believes the framework is setting benchmarks that will be unviable for the marginal producer in the north.
He also argues profitability can not be divorced from the other key priority areas identified in the framework, which include managing climate risk and the balance of tree and grass cover.
Dr Burrows, who was part of the expert working group dealing with this latter priority area, says the framework does not give sufficient recognition to several issues in this space, such as ongoing woodland thickening and the inverse exponential relationship between tree cover and grass cover.
But his key message is the risk that grassroots beef producers are becoming 'a pawn in a game being run by high flyers, big banks and companies who are using the framework as a feel-good self promotion exercise for their own business marketing purposes.'
"There appears to be a growing behemoth out there feeding on producer's levies to sustain their existence for exercises of doubtful value to the grazier in the paddock," he said.
"Some might believe it a good thing to gallivant with the Pitt and Collins Street business elites and the CEOs of the likes of McDonald's but I'm not sure it is, especially if you're a marginal producer with a timbered block in the Burdekin.
"It's one thing to say The Wilderness Society is happy with this framework but how relevant is that to the beef industry if that framework is not taking into account the effect of ongoing thickening on reduced profitability?"
Several prominent beef producers, including some who held early roles with the sustainability framework, have also expressed the same beliefs.
While they did not want to be quoted due to clashes with current representative roles, their employers or their business partners, the overriding sentiment was concern the framework was becoming over-sympathetic to the green and anti-animal production lobby agenda - groups they say will never endorse the beef industry 'so why bother engaging them at all'.
There were also concerns about the strong support the framework has from beef industry service providers and peak councils, which they described as 'unquestioning'.
"Australia's beef producers are becoming apologists at a time when our value as a secure food supply chain has never been more evident," one said.
"The only question producers are getting at the moment from the buyers of their product is 'how much have you got coming'."
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