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Cattle Council Report
by George Scott
Cattle Council has for the most part been able to carry out its core role as our industry’s Peak Council during the past year in a reasonably effective manner.
That said there have been and remain several unresolved issues for Cattle Council, both on an internal and an external level, which I will deal with in more detail as I move through this report.
I will address firstly issues close to home for us here in the NT.
Indonesian Live Export Situation.
Cattle Council has monitored and participated in efforts to better understand and resolve the situation affecting the trading arrangements with Indonesia.
These efforts revolved primarily around the two key issues of the weight restrictions and the issuance of permits.
CCA Executive Director David Inall accompanied Rohan Sullivan in a delegation to Jakarta which met with the New Director General of Livestock Services in the Indonesian Government on 24th November of 2010, in what was described as a very constructive and open meeting.
We are yet to see any significant indicators that changes to the current situation are to hand.
Reports continue to trickle through regarding the types and numbers of Indonesian Cattle being slaughtered, which do indicate that market pressures may eventually force some adjustment, but the timing and format of that is firmly in the hands of the Indonesian Government.
Animal Welfare In Indonesia and Abroad In General.
In early 2010 MLA, Livecorp and the Australian Federal Govt commissioned an independent report into the Live Trade with a particular focus on Animal Welfare.
This report was carried out by a professor from the University of Melbourne, a professor from the Royal Vet College, University of London, a Beef cattle veterinarian from Brisbane and an Australian Doctor.
The report was publicly released on 26th January this year.
At that time CCA President Greg Brown and ED David Inall were in Indonesia principally to observe Autralian cattle at point of slaughter.
I selectively quote from the Executive Summary of the Final Report:
“The trade in Australian cattle in Indonesia was found to be transparent and the tour group received unfettered access to facilities and staff.”
“Animal welfare was generally good.”
“Australian cattle in Indonesia were generally found to be coping well with the
conditions to which they were exposed.”
Despite the generally positive report Animal Welfare Groups seized on occasional incidence of non-compliance mentioned in the report and used the report as another opportunity to attack the live trade.
This included a letter from the RSPCA to Minister Ludwig condemning the trade, with particular focus on the point of slaughter and limited use of stunning.
The issue of Animal Welfare practises in Indonesia is firmly on the radar of the RSPCA, and we as an Industry will have to address the concerns of this well respected mainstream Animal Welfare Organisation more often in the future.
It is my personal view that in the longer term the Australian public will not accept Australian Animals being treated in any way that would be unacceptable here, wherever they happen to be in the world.
The adjustment period for standards such as ours to be implemented in our Live Export markets will be considerable, therefore I believe the sooner we accept this as a basic aim the better off we will be in the long run.
I should add that there are plenty who disagree with me here and this is not current CCA policy.
Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines
This document is still under development and is in the review stage at present.
NSWF have raised a concern with the use of the word ‘competent’ in the Guidelines on the grounds that it may result in Farmers needing to attain a qualification to farm.
As a result of this CCA has resolved to oppose the use of the word ‘competent’ in the Guidelines.
I look forward to what the replacement word may be.
NLIS & RFID
The exemption to RFID use available to NT Producers has been raised at all Cattle Council meetings that I have attended in the past year.
At the recent Council meeting in Yass I was blindsided by the ALEC policy on RFID use. This policy was a surprise to me, and would be to most NT live exporting producers I would think.
There is a strong feeling in some other states that we are not participating in the National Livestock Identification Scheme, and until we do some believe it will not be a “National” system.
Can I say that when I went to school NLIS did not spell RFID.
It is the view of the NTCA which is being strongly represented by me at Cattle Council that the alternative pathway offered by the Federal Government and accepted by the NT whereby Cattle may transit direct from a ‘Property of Birth’ to Live Export or an NT Abattoir with an NT Waybill, is a part of the NLIS Scheme, and I should add a very effective part of it.
Some here would argue I am sure that the waybills are actually more effective than the RFID and unquestionably more economical.
We are fortunate that this is actually a State decision and we are strongly supported by the NT Government.
Nevertheless at a National level this issue will not go away in the longer term.
Your CCA delegate should resist it as strongly as possible, whilst ever it remains in the best interests of NT producers to do so.
PASTURE FED BEEF STANDARD
The development of a two tiered Pasture Fed Standard has continued with an announcement in December of 2010 of some details of these proposed standards. This is a CCA initiative.
There is still plenty of work to be done before it is finalized based on the CCA Pasture Fed Standards Committee’s report to the full council at the recent meeting in Yass.
The report included some important unresolved issues around the auditing requirements.
In the current format both tiers of this standard offer nothing to NT producers due to the requirement for compliance that the product grades MSA.
Torbay Bill and Domestic Beef Retail Register.
The first major issue on the table during the past year was the Food Amendment: Meat Grading Bill (Commonly known as the Torbay Bill) which had been passed by both Houses of NSW Parliament and signed into Law by the State Governor, and was awaiting proclamation by the Minister.
Whilst this Bill related only to NSW law, it had, and still has the potential for much more widespread ramifications for domestic beef marketing.
This Bill if proclaimed in its original format would have had some beef on our shelves labelled Low Quality & Low Grade among other equally outrageous terms, and common terms such as ‘budget’ were to be banned unless accompanied by ‘low quality, low grade’.
The CCA supports truth in labelling, but to qualify beef as ‘low grade’ purely based on the age of the animal does not represent the truth, and would have been an appalling reflection on our product.
The NSW Minister had been lobbied extensively by RMAC, CCA and MLA and had agreed to a compromise in terms of the language available to retailers in the Domestic Beef Marketing Register.
Through these efforts of RMAC and the Peak Councils, including Cattle Council, a more reasonable, albeit far from ideal set of terms is in use today.
It is interesting, and concerning, that a Private Member such as Richard Torbay, who was the Independent Speaker of a State Parliament, could introduce and have enacted a bill, sponsored by a large employer in his electorate, which had the potential to cause real damage to a National Industry.
Given the results in the NSW Elections on Saturday last I wonder whether such influence will be available to the same member in this term of Government.
Coles & HGP
The decision announced by Coles on Boxing Day 2010 to sell only beef that had never been treated with an HGP certainly created a storm of publicity and more than a few headaches for Cattle Council.
The issue for many councillors is not as clear as it seems to most of us in the North.
CCA stopped short of condemning the move outright but has concerns, particularly with the ‘more tender’ aspect of the Coles labelling program and has and will continue to address this direct with Coles in the belief that it is not true in many cases.
To label mince and even beef stock ‘more tender’ has to be considered a dubious claim at best and deliberately misleading at worst.
The general view of CCA is that Cole’s choice of product is up to them but that as an Industry we must not accept any truth in labelling breaches.
Personally I hold the view that this is a clear case of stigmatising competitor’s product for commercial gain, and there is no shortage of research that claims to prove that such activity does provide sectoral gain but reduces the value of the whole.
The current milk price debacle instigated by Coles and adopted by Woolworths has been noted by CCA with much concern.
CCA has supported the Dairy Industry in their request for Fighting Fund support for an ACCC inquiry into Predatory Pricing.
Global Conference on Sustainable Beef
This conference was held in Denver, Colorado from 1st to 3rd November 2010.
The hosting partners were WWF, Macdonald’s, Cargill, Intervet Schering Plough and Walmart.
It was attended by a CCA delegation in President Greg Brown, Executive Director David Inall and Queensland CCA Councillor Justin MacDonnell.
Whilst the attendance of our Peak Council at an event sponsored by WWF raised plenty of eyebrows all reports from the delegation were that it was a positive event and a timely opportunity to engage with the Global beef supply chain.
The conference was well attended by representative from around the world, including our counterparts from the USA, Canada, New Zealand and numerous South American countries.
In summary the conference provided an opportunity to:
The concerns held by CCA prior to the conference were not realized.
Progress continues toward this vital instrument for the Beef Industry.
Members should be aware that the USA actually has a FTA with Korea which only requires ratification by the houses on both sides of the Pacific to commence.
Currently Australia and the USA are both subject to a 40% tariff on beef imports into Korea. The USA FTA allows for that to reduce by 2.5% per annum from ratification.
This means that for every year’s start they get on Australia they get a 2.5% trade advantage for 15 years.
If they had 3 years start it would equate to a 7.5% trade advantage for 15 years.
This is not a head start the Australian Beef Industry can afford.
Securing import parity is vital to our interests, thus we are requesting US equivalent or better.
Cattle Council is taking every opportunity to promote the urgency of this Agreement to the Australian Federal Government.
It should be noted that it is reported that Korea are as keen as Australia in getting this done, and that the outstanding issues at my last late update revolve principally around the motor vehicle industries.
Nothing at present seems to engage the ire of beef producers more than the thought of a Carbon Tax.
I am pleased to report that the CCA policy adopted at the recent meeting in Yass is “that CCA opposes any price on carbon”. Full Stop.
The grounds for this position are that it will increase the price of food and has the potential to adversely impact our industries International competitiveness.
Personally I welcome the current exclusion of Agriculture, but it is vital that we recognise that the knock on effect of any Carbon price will be hugely detrimental to the Beef Industry.
We in the NT will be disproportionately affected as the freight component of every single thing we have to buy is greater than for the majority of Australians.
We should also beware that Professor Garnaut has left the door open for the inclusion of Agriculture in the future.
My view may be simplistic but I cannot fathom how any Government can honestly claim that consumers won’t be worse off with a Carbon Price.
At the end of the day consumers pay for everything.
The Cattle Councils view of the opportunities presented under the Carbon Farming Initiative concur with that of the NTCA.
That is that there is very little on offer to Beef Producers and the take-up will be minimal.
It will be no compensation for the costs incurred under a Carbon Price.
Every CCA meeting devotes a lot of time to reviewing MLA programs and budgets.
This is a vital role of the Cattle Council and it is important that the Council is able to maintain its independence in order to be able to carry this out without any conflict of interest.
The programs are many, the figures are at times extraordinary and the importance of getting these things right is vital to the ongoing progression of our Industry and our product.
I am of the belief that MLA on the whole is performing well and is focused in the areas where it is needed at the present time.
This is not to say MLA is perfect, no business or organisation is, but they are on the right track in general.
That said it is apparent to me that we are entering a quite different phase of food supply and demand in a Global sense, to what we have experienced during my lifetime.
This will require some adjustment to MLA’s focus in the years ahead.
Cattle Councils notes that a major shift in the Senior roles at MLA is fast approaching with CEO Mr David Palmer and Chairman Mr Don Heatley both to vacate their roles in 2011.
I am sure our Industry will suitably acknowledge the contribution made by both these individuals in due course.
CATTLE COUNCIL MEMBERSHIP
Membership of Cattle Council continues to haunt the organisation.
New South Wales Farmers decided to dictate to Cattle Council in 2010 that they would not be paying the full subscription.
This was not a decision based on current financial problems, but in response to falling membership in their own organisation. CCA were forced to reduce NSWF representation on the Council and prohibit the NSW Councillors from serving as office bearers.
Due to financial difficulties the VFF are in the same boat.
CCA was fortunate that SAFF were able to come back into the fold as members in 2010.
A request for a reduction in fees has been received by at least one other SFO this year.
The view is held by one significant SFO that CCA should become a subcommittee of NFF. I cannot see how that would serve our Industry in a satisfactory manner, nor save any costs in the long run.
In light of these ongoing issues the CCA executive had earlier directed a review of the structure of the Council and the Executive with addressing the cost pressures imposed on the Council in trying to maintain the representation of Industry with reduced funds as the priority of that review.
I am not encouraged by what I have seen so far in the first draft proposal for structural change, but accept the status quo cannot continue.
In most cases the issue is not a fundamental one with CCA, rather a response to falling memberships in respective SFO.
CATTLE COUNCIL STAFF & FINANCES
Cattle Council continue to be served by a small, stable and committed team led by Executive Director David Inall.
Due to the membership issues mentioned above the financial resources available to be able to carry out the core functions of CCA are shrinking, and the staff should be commended on their efforts to do so.
The question is often raised to me that CCA should source operating funds from the levy. That would be a simple solution but would raise more problems than it would solve, principally due to conflicts of interest and the legal issue of a Producer Group being effectively funded by a Tax.
An initiative of note in 2010 was the introduction of the NAB Agribusiness Rising Champion Award which saw entrants from across the country represent their State Farm Organisations at the CCA AGM in Launceston in November. This was an excellent program. Our NT candidates were very hard to separate, and I hope to see that continue this year.
Firstly thanks to the members of the NTCA for allowing me the privilege of representing you on the Cattle Council Executive for the past year.
Thanks also to Executive Director Luke Bowen and President Rohan Sullivan for their support and advise.
I must also thank my employers in Peter & Jane Hughes.
My time is their time, and they have always encouraged me to spend some of it being involved in the NTCA and its activities.
As always thanks to my family in Dianne, Daniel and Sam for their tolerating my absences.
NTCA Cattle Council Delegate.