THE Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, Alison Penfold, has today rejected calls by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union for a cap on the export of live cattle from Australia.
Frustrations amongst meat industry employees at Townsville have surfaced this week due to the extended closure of the local abattoir, with the AMIEU levelling blame at the volume of live cattle being exported out of northern Queensland.
“In simple terms a cap is not the solution because live cattle export is not the problem,” Ms Penfold said.
“Tough seasonal conditions due to drought, high input costs and a sluggish global market for beef are the key issues affecting decisions for not only northern abattoirs but for livestock exporters too.
“At the same time that live exporters have been active in purchasing suitable stock in northern Australia, massive numbers of cattle have been processed domestically with the national cattle herd plummeting to a 20-year low. In relative terms, 87 per cent of Australia’s overall 2015 cattle turnoff – some 9 million head of cattle – were processed domestically.
“It is also important to understand that the live trade sources different lines of cattle which are predominantly younger and lighter to those processed at abattoirs like the one at Townsville. This is because our customers in Asia prefer smaller, lighter cattle rather than the larger, heavier bullocks which are the mainstay of the processing sector in northern Australia.
“Live exported cattle are slaughtered in the early hours of the morning, the beef in wet markets shortly after and in soups and stews by breakfast. This is the food security story that Australia is supporting.
“In addition, it must be noted that many Queensland cattle that were previously shipped out of Darwin have been shipped out of Townsville more recently, as a means of reducing transport distances and utilising port capacity in Townsville. This is a good thing for the local economy in northern Queensland.”
Ms Penfold expressed concern for the abattoir employees during this period of uncertainty.
“This is obviously a tough time for the workers affected by the decisions of local processors, just as it was a tough time for producers not that long ago who were enduring low cattle prices,” he said.
“I believe the red meat sector is best served by a strong live export and boxed sector that maximises opportunities for producers with a wide range of market options, which in turn promotes growth and improvements in our production capacity and increases the overall economic value of the beef cattle industry.
“The strong livestock export figures for the 2015 calendar year released last week by MLA confirm significant contribution the livestock export industry is making to the economy, to regional jobs and to leading improvements in our overseas markets in infrastructure, handling and in-market slaughter practices.
“Rather than laying blame at the feet of live exporters out of convenience, there should be a greater focus on the removal of unnecessary regulatory costs and inefficiencies that challenge the sectors productivity, act as disincentives to innovate and place the entire red meat sector at a competitive disadvantage to our overseas competitors.
“In this context, more regulation via heavy-handed market inference by the governments clearly isn’t the answer. Exporters are naturally wary of any suggestions about caps on export numbers given the last time we saw government interference of this nature it effectively came in the form of the ban of cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011, which had a devastating and long-lasting effect impact on exporters, producers, stockmen, transport operators and the many other people involved in the trade.
“Australia’s red meat supply chain draws much of its long-term resilience on the integrated way in which all players in the sector cooperate. Such integration, which is a pillar of the national red meat sector’s strategic accord, is a significant strength and helps us to grow our overall red meat production and output for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
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