2021 May ABSF update – beef week

by Dale Stiller

2021 May ABSF update - beef week

Trust and transparency are important attributes for the beef supply chain to develop with their customers and the wider community, the audience was told by Tess Herbert, Steering Group Chair for the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework, delivering an update at Beef 2021 in Rockhampton. A little transparency from the Steering Group towards grassroots cattle producers would have gone a long way in the format used at the Update seminar that cleverly avoided too arduous scrutiny.

There was an introductory video with various people giving reasons for the importance of sustainability along the beef value chain. Tess Herbert gave a presentation to the audience who had been provided with a Summary Report booklet. This was followed by a panel conversation from beef supply chain achievers, ranging from a large multi producer beef marketing group; a feedlot with a branded product; a meat processor; a celebrity chef and a banker. The MC was the President, Rural Press Club of Qld. This discussion was interesting and pleasant.

 Finally came the Question & Answer time with the audience able to participate. Tess Herbert did not return to the spotlight which left anyone armed with a more difficult question specific to the Update feeling it was a little unfair to unload on the panel. At no fault of their own the panel became misused as window dressing.

A positive from Tess Herbert’s presentation was a declaration that a purpose of the Framework was to challenge the narrative of those attacking the beef industry. The audience was also told that it was important to remember what the ABSF is not – it is not about certification schemes, imposition of prescriptive practices, and will not seek further regulations.

At Q&A time with the absence of Tess Herbert, the panel couldn’t satisfactorily answer a question by Property Rights Australia board member Dixie Nott about how 3 of the indices were calculated for the Balance of Tree & Grass Cover. (PRA plans to expand on this in the future)

Further explanation could not be gained about the extent of consultation with external stakeholders, referred to in the presentation, which PRA board member Dale Stiller wished to explore. How closely does the Steering Group associate with, and how much influence do external stakeholders have? Amongst those who featured in the introductory video was the Director of Beef Sustainability for Tyson Foods.  Tyson is a very large, powerful US meat packing company, with only a small presence in Australian natural red meat trade, but has invested heavily into fake meat products. As Brian Sanders of Food Lies pointed out in his Mythbuster 3 seminar at Beef 2021, there are greater margins in manufactured food and these companies are only too happy to spread misinformation about natural beef. There arises a conflict of interest. Those who remember the historical context of the Australian beef sustainability journey will know that Tyson’s Ian McConnel has spent the previous 8 years in the employ of WWF, a multinational environmental agitator who can be proved conclusively as no friend of the cattle producer.  Also featured in the introductory video was Cowra seed stock beef producer Jon Wright. Surely the Steering Group would be aware of how divisive are the statements by Jon Wright who as a member of Farmers for Climate Action, in August 2020, was quoted in an ABC article:
“Mr Wright said the problem for the industry is that most of Australia’s meat supply comes out of rangelands in Queensland and the Northern Territory and he does not think it will be easy for those graziers to change their practices or access low emissions food and genetics.
He said retailers may need to reconsider sourcing beef from those areas.”

If the Steering Group is prepared to have these “stakeholders” endorse the current process measuring sustainability of the Australian beef value chain, are the Steering Group in danger of being seen as endorsing in the conduct and statements of these companies and individuals?  If so, that will be to the detriment of grassroots cattle producers.

For grassroots cattle producers it is essential that the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework can tell our sustainability story without harmful influence. The ABSF was founded to guard against the imposition of a sustainability directive from domestic and international powerful interests who either sought to attack the beef industry or control it for their own self-interest. I can assure the Steering Group that those of us, who speak out enthusiastically, do so not to seek the demise of the ABSF, but to ensure it serves the Australian beef supply chain well. 

(759 words)
Dale Stiller is a Wandoan cattle producer, PRA board member & a past Chairman of PRA. Dale first wrote about beef sustainability in 2012 & has had a number of articles published since then.