One of the challenges representing the largest and most geographically diverse single agricultural industry in Australia is getting unanimous agreement on positions and ensuring all 46,000 beef cattle producers understand the reasoning behind decisions they do not agree with.
When it comes to our traceability system, producers sometimes ask what benefits and cost savings do new technologies deliver to me?
The bottom line is that the beef industry's traceability system underpins so many critical elements across the industry, including providing assurances to customers and consumers about what they are purchasing and why they should be paying a premium for it.
The age-old mantra 'the customer is always right' is crucial in making sure our industry stays ahead of the game. The end consumer of today lives in an age of confusion with conflicting information coming in from different directions.
We know the frustration of many producers when some of this information is inaccurate or a selective truth, and we will always stand up and set the record straight when our industry is misrepresented.
Providing transparency to our customers gives us the ammo we need to fight misinformation. We have a good story to tell, traceability helps us tell it.
In 2018-19, Australia produced 2.4 million tonnes carcase weight of beef and veal from 24.7 million cattle. While we currently only account for about four per cent of global beef production, we are the second largest beef and veal exporter after Brazil - last year, beef and live cattle exports were worth about $12.5 billion.
And with Australians continuing to consume about 25 kilograms of beef per capita, domestic beef sales are worth around $9 billion per year. Product integrity and provenance underpins our position as a supplier of safe, high-quality and ethically produced beef.
As concerns regarding human health, animal welfare and the environment become increasingly important, consumers will continue to seek assurance that the meat they consume is produced in a way that is safe, healthy and aligns with their ethics.
Many of our customers want to pay for this transparency.
Improving our provenance through traceability systems from paddock-to-plate is already paying a premium.
We could choose not to do it, but if we want to get the extra cash that comes from selling beef to discerning markets such as the European Union, or to sustainability-minded customers in Australia's cities, it makes sense to give them what they want. In the end, they are the ones picking up the tab.
To be profitable in a high cost economy like Australia means we must be able to get enough product into the right markets.
Beef is already exported to about 100 countries every year, and we remain under pressure from non-tariff barriers, and more recently, geopolitical pressures. It is relatively easy to diversify markets to achieve volume. It is much harder to diversify markets to achieve value, which needs to be the focus for our product.
Robust traceability and food safety systems open doors in the world market and keeps them open.
Our overseas customers buy 70 to 75 per cent of the beef we produce annually. Traceability should be a key focus for our industry and government as we face increasing scrutiny from importing countries.
Traceability relies on everyone doing the job properly, starting with the correct identification of all livestock before they leave a property. They need complete documentation of their movements at every point in the supply chain with records maintained through the National Livestock Identification System database.
Our overseas trading partners have made it clear they want to see a complete and well-established traceability system. This needs the whole red meat sector to work together because if one part of the industry fails, we all face the consequences.
There are big opportunities to add value and increase profitability by improving our integrity systems. By using the latest technology and data, we are working towards a seamless and valuable tool that will help to save on costs while making sure customers can trust Australian our product.
Getting this wrong is not an option if industry wants to maintain its markets. Saying it's all too hard or too costly, will mean little if we can't overcome trade barriers or get on top of a disease outbreak.
In 2013, ABARES estimated a large, multi-state FMD incident could cost Australia more than $52 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. Even a small outbreak controlled in three months could cost the country $7 billion. Consider that in 2013 the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) was around 300 cents a kilogram.
Cattle Council supports ongoing improvements to traceability to ensure Australia stays ahead of its international competitors and that all states, territories, and red meat industries operate under a single system.
The cost of implementing reform is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of getting it wrong. At the same time, the benefit of getting it right means producers can command higher profits while being assured of a good customer today, tomorrow and into the future.