The economic significance of Australia’s red meat and livestock industry

The recently released State of the Industry Report 2020 shows that domestic and export sales of red meat and livestock in 2018-19 totalled $28.5 billion, of which red meat exports contributed $17.2 billion and domestic sales accounted for the remaining $11.3 billion.

Industry turnover
Australia’s red meat and livestock industry turnover in 2018–19 increased 7 per cent year-on-year to $72.5 billion (ABARES, IBIS World). There has been significant growth in the feedlot and on-farm sectors of the industry in recent years, incorporating beef cattle, sheep and mixed farming, with overall industry turnover increasing 42 per cent from 2013–14 to 2018–19.  The feedlot sector in particular reported a 54 per cent increase over the same period, due to producers increasingly utilising feedlots as a means for drought mitigation and increased demand for grainfed beef in export markets.

Industry value add
In 2018–19, Australia’s red meat and livestock industry value add totalled $17.6 billion, up 1 per cent on the prior year and 89% higher than 2013–14 levels, driven by increasing demand for high quality protein in global markets. The production sector accounted for 70 per cent ($12.3 billion) of overall industry value add, followed by processing at 20 per cent ($3.5 billion) and sales at 10 per cent ($1.7 billion). While accounting for only a small portion of Australia’s key industry value add at 1.4 per cent, the ability for the industry to increase overall value during the worst drought on record is remarkable.

Employment
The Australian red meat and livestock industry employed approximately 434,000 people in 2018–19, stable on year-ago levels and 5% higher than 2013–14. Of these, 189,000 people were directly employed, with a further 245,000 people employed in businesses servicing the industry indirectly. Beef cattle farming continued to provide the largest employment levels in the red meat and livestock industry at 77,000 people, while 40,000 people were employed in mixed farming enterprises in 2018–19, demonstrating increasing interest in the sector.

Number of businesses
Despite a 3 per cent decline on year-ago levels in 2018–19 to 77,500, the number of businesses in the red meat and livestock industry has remained relatively consistent in recent years, with last year’s levels in line with 2013–14. The stable number of businesses since 2013–14 contrasts with the 42 per cent increase in industry turnover and 89% increase in value add, reflecting increased productivity in businesses in the industry.

Awards varied for Work Flexibilities due to COVID-19

A Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission recently varied approximately 99 Awards, including the Meat Industry Award 2010 (the Award). The variation is effective immediately and will remain in operation until 30 June 2020.

The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) has advised members on a variety of options available to them during the Coronavirus pandemic, including the JobKeeper incentive, stand down provision and allowing employees to take accrued leave should a stand down occur.

A brief summary of the variation, known as ‘Additional measures during the COVID0-19 pandemic’ is outlined as follows:

Unpaid pandemic leave:

  • allows employees to take up to two weeks unpaid pandemic leave if required,
  • the employee must give the employer as much notice as possible of the need to take leave, and,
  • if required by the employer provide evidence “that would satisfy a reasonable person” that the leave is necessary,
  • leave taken under this clause does not affect any other leave type in the Award,
  • Leave taken under this clause must commence before 30 June 2020.

Annual leave at half pay:

  • allows an employee to take twice as much annual leave on half pay.
  • any agreement to leave under this clause must be in writing and kept on the employees’ records.
  • any leave taken is recorded as half the amount taken. For example, two weeks leave at half pay is recorded as one week’s leave and deducted fem the employee s annual leave accruals.
  • The approved leave under this clause must commence prior to 30 June 2020

A requirement under these new temporary award provisions are that, nobody may take adverse action against or coerce a person into taking leave.

Targeted business support for red meat producers

Red meat producers hit by the bushfires can now access free one-on-one support from a local farm management consultant thanks to a partnership between the Andrews Labor Government and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

The ‘Back to Business’ initiative, which is being co-ordinated by Agriculture Victoria with financial support from MLA, will provide fire-affected red meat producers with the expert advice that they need to develop a strategic recovery plan.

Producers will have access to an experienced consultant who has an in-depth understanding of livestock farming systems from an integrated technical and financial perspective.

During the sessions, producers will be given tailored support to assess their current situation, work through the key issues and opportunities, and prioritise what actions to take.

All red meat producers, including sheep, cattle and goat, who have been affected by the recent bushfires are eligible to apply.

This program is one of several activities the Labor Government is delivering to support farmers to recover from the fires.

“The fires over summer have been devastating for many regional Victorians, and especially our farmers – that’s why we’re doing everything we can to back our primary producers,” said Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes.

“I encourage anyone who needs assistance to get in touch and get the support they need.”

“We hope this MLA-funded project will assist producers to rebuild their business,” said Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Jason Strong

“We understand that each situation is likely to be very different and so the program that has been developed has flexibility to meet the needs of individuals.”

Swine fever helps keep red meat prices high

The value of Australian agricultural production is forecast to remain high despite bushfires and prolonged drought, with overseas demand balancing drought-related falls in farm output and incomes.

ABARES’ chief commodity analyst Peter Gooday said the value of farm production in fiscal 2019-20 was expected to fall slightly to $59 billion, down on the previous year’s $62 billion and above the 10-year average due to higher prices for livestock and some other agricultural commodities.

“Widespread bushfires over the 2019–20 summer are not expected to have had a significant impact on the agricultural sector on the whole,” said Gooday, launching the latest Agricultural Commodities report at the ABARES Outlook 2020 conference in Canberra.

“The bushfires and smoke impacts in some areas were locally devastating. The majority of Australia’s agricultural production and exports, however, takes place outside the affected areas.”

This year, Gooday said, was another drought impacted one, with many regions having experienced their driest 12 months on record, even as others – particularly in Victoria — saw improved conditions, making for an uneven national outlook.

“Farm production and average farm incomes are estimated to have fallen for a second straight year in drought regions, with incomes for all broadacre farms projected to fall 8 per cent to $153,000 per farm in 2019–20 – around 4 per cent below the 10-year average,” he said.

“In NSW we are expecting farm cash incomes to be close to zero this year. As bad as things have been at a state level in the last 20 years – and some regions are substantially worse than the average.”

“For dairy farmers, average farm cash incomes nationally should increase from $120,100 per farm in 2018–19 to $165,000 per farm in 2019–20, with modest improvement for around 73 per cent of Australian dairy farms due mainly to higher farm gate milk prices.

“Those gains come from comparatively low levels in Queensland, parts of Victoria and New South Wales, and drought-related falls in milk production plus high feed and irrigation costs are constraining improvement.

“Meat and livestock prices have stayed high as African swine fever (ASF) has decimated China’s swineherds, driving red meat prices up and requiring Chinese consumers to look elsewhere. Without those good prices, this year would look a lot worse.

“Livestock prices medium-term are expected to soften but remain high, although coronavirus poses a significant risk as Chinese demand for agricultural products has declined under restrictions put in place to contain the outbreak, particularly for items like seafood and wine.

Gooday said that in 2019–20 Australia would have the lowest number of beef cattle since 1990 and lowest sheep flock since 1904, with production 12 per cent lower than five years ago.

“Over the medium term to 2024–25, a gradual recovery in the production of livestock and livestock products is expected to follow herd and flock rebuilding, although recovery will take several years and livestock related production in 2024–25 will still be 8% below the 2014–15 peak,” he said.

“The value of Australia’s agricultural exports overall is forecast to fall by 11% to $43 billion in 2019-20, which in real terms is 16% below the record value of exports in 2016–17, reflecting 3 consecutive annual falls in crop exports.

“We can expect grains and oilseeds exports to rebound quickly, but livestock numbers will take some time to recover and for cotton the speed of recovery will depend on how quickly irrigation storages are replenished.”

“The signing of phase one of a trade deal between the United States and China is a welcome sign of easing tensions. But the deal contains some very ambitious targets for agricultural imports, and the implications of that for Australian agriculture are not yet clear.

AMIC welcomes new red meat reform

The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) will engage with members over the coming weeks to discuss the recommendations in the  Red Meat Advisory Council’s (RMAC) White Paper  ‘A better red meat future’.

The White Paper makes a number of recommendations for updating the red meat sector’s memorandum of understanding. Its goal is to provide a clearly defined strategy to strengthen the value and reputation of Australia’s 82,500 red meat businesses.

AMIC CEO, Patrick Hutchinson, said members have taken an active interest in the development of the White Paper.

“We commend the Independent Taskforce for its work in gathering and assessing the wide feedback from across the sector. We support the broad aims of this exercise, which is about  promoting a stronger, more competitive and streamlined industry,” he said.

“We’ll be going out to members in the coming weeks and months to gauge their response to the White Paper and in due course will share our thoughts on the best way forward to ensure greater returns for our members, while driving us all towards a high performing domestic and internationally recognised red meat industry.”

AMIC has been involved in the consultation process around the White Paper development, to ensure its diverse membership, which includes processors, wholesalers, smallgoods and butchers, has been fairly represented.

Red meat industry calls for cuts to red tape costs

The Australian Meat Industry Council of Australia (AMIC) is set to formally present the red meat industry’s Cost to Operate Report to key political parties from this week, as calls are made for urgently-needed bipartisan solutions to cut the cost burden of excessive red tape and energy costs.  According to the report, Australian meat producers have the highest operating costs in the world, making it impossible to be continually competitive on an international basis.

Importantly, the Report has had a significant galvanising effect across the red meat industry supply chain, with processors, wholesalers, smallgoods manufacturers, and independent butchers coming together to determine a range of strategies that aim to ensure they do not suffer the same fate as most of Australia’s other major manufacturing industries.

The red meat ‘farm-gate to plate’ supply chain is the largest rural and regional employer providing more than 150,000 full- and part-time jobs.  It’s also the country’s largest agricultural exporter with more than 70% of red meat and co-products produced sold overseas in 124 countries, and contributes more than $21 billion in value added to the economy.

The Cost to Operate Report shows that cost reduction is the only way the industry can compete with the main competing global red-meat-producing markets, including the USA, Argentina, Brazil and New Zealand, which are working hard to increase access to Australia’s key overseas markets at a time when Australia’s product has been impacted by catastrophic droughts and floods.

The average cost per head, excluding livestock purchases, incurred in processing beef in Australia are 24 per cent higher than in the USA, 50 per cent higher than Brazil and 75% than Argentina.  Of these costs, it is estimated in Australia that 54 per cent are due to some form of government regulation.  This is more than twice that of the USA and Argentina and more than three times that of Brazil.  In addition, Australia’s regulated costs for beef and sheep are 46 per cent and 37 per cent higher respectively than those of its closest neighbour, New Zealand.

Australian processors also face unreasonably high energy costs and are paying 104% more than North American processors for utilities, 53% more than the Argentinians, 20% more than New Zealanders and 0.3% more than the Brazilians.

Furthermore, in Australia, labour-related costs comprise over 58% of total operating costs.  This figure is considerably less than 50% in the other countries examined in the Report.

Patrick Hutchinson, AMIC’s CEO, said, “Australian processors, and the wider red meat supply chain, are battling unsustainable cost pressures while continuing to remain competitive internationally but, according to the report, they’re fighting a losing battle, particularly as one of the biggest costs they face is as a result of excessive government red tape.”

Australia’s government-regulated inspection and certification costs are 3.4 times higher than the USA and 4.5 times higher than Argentina.  In Brazil these costs are fully-funded by the federal government and are not passed on to processors.

The Cost to Operate Report found that one of the key contributing expenses is offshore inspections fees, adding around $110 million in costs each year. These inspection fees are not exclusive to Australian businesses, the difference is in government response in other countries. Both the US and Brazilian governments offer support to their processors, covering around 95% of these fees, while Australian processors are currently fending for themselves.

“We are asking for relief in export certification charges, which is one of the largest cost contributors to why Australian red meat is becoming uncompetitive in the global market,” explained Mr Hutchinson.

“Simply put, the red meat industry is dependent on global trade for its viability.  Streamlining the major federal and state regulatory and red-tape burden would be a good first step and will allow the industry to compete on a level footing with other red meat producing countries,” he said.

“As appreciation, particularly from Asia, increases for Australia’s high-quality premium meat and renowned ‘clean and green’ status, our industry is saddled with the considerable burden of being the highest-cost red meat processing nation in the world. Cost reduction, as highlighted in the CTO Report, is our best course of action to increase our industry’s ability to not be priced out of the global market, remain viable and ensure sustainable prices for livestock for our Australian farmers.

“With regard to excessive energy costs, the unfortunate policy paralysis is resulting in increased cost flows across the full supply chain as the industry is one of the biggest users of energy due to its refrigeration requirements, as an example. Energy costs are realised throughout the process of meat production.

“We all want farmers to thrive, but the reality is that a weakened supply chain that is hindered from competing globally will be the next and long-lasting crisis for farmers if urgent action isn’t taken,” said Mr Hutchinson.

Chop unreasonable red tape costs to level international playing field

The Australian Meat Industry Council of Australia (AMIC) is set to formally present the red meat industry’s Cost to Operate Report to key political parties from this week, as calls are made for urgently-needed bipartisan solutions to cut the cost burden of excessive red tape and energy costs.  According to the report, Australian meat producers have the highest operating costs in the world, making it impossible to be continually competitive on an international basis.

Importantly, the Report has had a significant galvanising effect across the red meat industry supply chain, with processors, wholesalers, smallgoods manufacturers, and independent butchers coming together to determine a range of strategies that aim to ensure they do not suffer the same fate as most of Australia’s other major manufacturing industries.

The red meat ‘farm-gate to plate’ supply chain is the largest rural and regional employer providing more than 150,000 full- and part-time jobs.  It’s also the country’s largest agricultural exporter with more than 70 per cent of red meat and co-products produced sold overseas in 124 countries, and contributes more than $21 billion in value added to the economy.

The Cost to Operate Report shows that cost reduction is the only way the industry can compete with the main competing global red-meat-producing markets, including the USA, Argentina, Brazil and New Zealand, which are working hard to increase access to Australia’s key overseas markets at a time when Australia’s product has been impacted by catastrophic droughts and floods.

The average cost per head, excluding livestock purchases, incurred in processing beef in Australia are 24 per cent higher than in the USA, 50 per cent higher than Brazil and 75% than Argentina.  Of these costs, it is estimated in Australia that 54 per cent are due to some form of government regulation.  This is more than twice that of the USA and Argentina and more than three times that of Brazil.  In addition, Australia’s regulated costs for beef and sheep are 46% and 37% higher respectively than those of its closest neighbour, New Zealand.

Australian processors also face unreasonably high energy costs and are paying 104 per cent more than North American processors for utilities, 53 per cent more than the Argentinians, 20 per cent more than New Zealanders and 0.3 per cent more than the Brazilians.

Furthermore, in Australia, labour-related costs comprise over 58 per cent of total operating costs. This figure is considerably less than 50 per cent in the other countries examined in the Report.

Patrick Hutchinson, AMIC’s CEO, said, “Australian processors, and the wider red meat supply chain, are battling unsustainable cost pressures while continuing to remain competitive internationally but, according to the report, they’re fighting a losing battle, particularly as one of the biggest costs they face is as a result of excessive government red tape.”

Australia’s government-regulated inspection and certification costs are 3.4 times higher than the USA and 4.5 times higher than Argentina.  In Brazil these costs are fully-funded by the federal government and are not passed on to processors.

The Cost to Operate Report found that one of the key contributing expenses is offshore inspections fees, adding around $110 million in costs each year. These inspection fees are not exclusive to Australian businesses, the difference is in government response in other countries. Both the US and Brazilian governments offer support to their processors, covering around 95 per cent of these fees, while Australian processors are currently fending for themselves.

“We are asking for relief in export certification charges, which is one of the largest cost contributors to why Australian red meat is becoming uncompetitive in the global market,” explained Hutchinson.

“Simply put, the red meat industry is dependent on global trade for its viability.  Streamlining the major federal and state regulatory and red-tape burden would be a good first step and will allow the industry to compete on a level footing with other red meat producing countries,” he said.

“As appreciation, particularly from Asia, increases for Australia’s high-quality premium meat and renowned ‘clean and green’ status, our industry is saddled with the considerable burden of being the highest-cost red meat processing nation in the world. Cost reduction, as highlighted in the CTO Report, is our best course of action to increase our industry’s ability to not be priced out of the global market, remain viable and ensure sustainable prices for livestock for our Australian farmers.

“With regard to excessive energy costs, the unfortunate policy paralysis is resulting in increased cost flows across the full supply chain as the industry is one of the biggest users of energy due to its refrigeration requirements, as an example. Energy costs are realised throughout the process of meat production.

“We all want farmers to thrive, but the reality is that a weakened supply chain that is hindered from competing globally will be the next and long-lasting crisis for farmers if urgent action isn’t taken,” said Hutchinson.

Red Meat Advisory Council reviews whether industry standards are fit for future

The Red Meat Advisory Council is undertaking an independent review of the rules of engagement in the red meat industry.

The review will look at the industry’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and examine whether it properly represents all sectors of the industry and is fit for the future.

Jim Varghese will lead the review. He has a 30 year track record of delivering results, as both a CEO and as head of government agencies in Queensland and Victoria.

Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, said the red meat industry is big business and the industry needs to make sure it’s ready for new opportunities and challenges.

READ: Report shows Australia is the world leading exporter of lamb

“The MOU put in place 20 years ago carves out the funding and service delivery arrangements between peak councils, RDCs and the Commonwealth.

“What was put in place two decades ago might not be fit for today,” he said.

“The review is also in line with the recommendations of the senate inquiry into the effect of market consolidation on the red meat processing sector.

“It is an important opportunity to set the direction of the sector,” said Littleproud.

The beef cattle industry, including slaughter and live exports, is the largest contributor to Australian agriculture, with gross production at $13 billion.

Report shows Australia is the world leading exporter of lamb

Australia has been labelled the leading exporter of lamb worldwide, in a 2018 State of the Industry report.

Independent chair of the Red Meat Advisory Council, Don Mackay, said the report highlights the key economic and community role the Australian red meat and livestock industry plays for the nation – and the potential for it to make an even bigger contribution.

In 2017,  Australia was the lead exporter of sheepmeat in the world, despite representing only six per cent of the global sheep flock. 

The country was also the third largest exporter of beef in 2017, behind Brazil and India, and the world’s leading exporter of goatmeat in 2016.

READ: Lamb skins exports reach $377 million last year with price increasing

Mackay said beyond exports, red meat continues to be a key part of how Australians live their life with Australians being one of the largest red meat consumers per person in the world.

“Our industry continues to be a major employer, employing 438,100 Australians directly and indirectly, supporting 82,500 businesses and generating $65 billion in turnover.

“Ninety per cent of these jobs are regionally and rurally based and our combined workforce accounts for four per cent of total industry employment in this country,” said MacKay.

“Aussies still love red meat – what we don’t export, we eat. Australians are eating three times as much beef and five times the global average of sheepmeat,” he said. 

State of the Industry 2018 was developed by the Australian red meat and livestock industry’s service provider Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and builds on the inaugural report commissioned by MLA for the red meat industry in 2017.

It benchmarks where Australia sits in terms of red meat consumption, production, imports and exports, as well as the economic significance of the industry in a world where global red meat demand is projected to grow between 1 – 2 per cent.

“The Australian red meat and livestock industry generated more than $13 billon for the nation last year and has the potential to grow its contribution through investment in our people, our land and opening up markets,” said MacKay.

“Australian red meat is currently exported and enjoyed in more than 100 countries around the world. As an industry, we will ensure we continue develop and prosper for the benefit of all Australians,” he said. 

Australia the largest red meat exporter – report

Australia is the leading supplier of red meat to the world and Australians are among the highest red meat consumers according to a new report.

The Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) has released State of the Industry 2017, the first-ever snapshot of the value of red meat industry to the Australian economy and community.

In 2016 Australia was the largest exporter of beef and the second largest exporter of sheepmeat; and the world’s third largest livestock exporter.

Not only does Australia lead the world in selling meat, Australians are some of the highest consumers of red meat in the world, eating four times the average amount of beef and six times the amount of sheep meat compared to the global average.

RMAC Independent Chair, Don Mackay, said the State of the Industry 2017 demonstrates for the first time the key part red meat plays in the Australian economic success story, from our plates, to our jobs and our businesses.

“No industry has a more important place in society than an industry that feeds its people and sustains and improves their way of life,” he said.

“We have achieved turnover growth of 11 percent, contributed $18 billion to Australian GDP, sustain 405,000 direct and indirect jobs and feed 24 million Australians day in and day out.

“Our industry continues to work for our rural and regional jobs, accounting for almost a quarter of agrifood jobs in Australia.”

The report shows the value of Australian red meat and livestock exports increased by almost $6b over the past five years from $9.2b in 2011-12 to $15.1b in 2015-16.

It also showed that a once niche industry in goat meat has experienced a significant boom with Australia now a leading supplier of global goat meat, enjoying a recent price increase of 177 per cent and exporting over 27, 000 tonnes of goat in 2016 alone.

Mackay said the State of the Nation 2017 demonstrated the need for government to show leadership in food and farming policy.

“Our industry’s success is Australia’s success. As an industry, we are responsible for far too many Australian businesses and Australian jobs for government to be cavalier about our industry,” he said.

 

Electronic NVD system delivers red meat supply chain benefits

Producers now have a cutting-edge electronic platform for the transfer of national livestock declarations at their finger-tips.

Launched this week by the Integrity Systems Company (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Meat & Livestock Australia), the electronic National Vendor Declaration (eNVD) will transfer Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) information, as well as animal health declarations, Meat Standards Australia (MSA) declarations and National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) delivery documentation.

The eNVD system is a significant step forward for the red meat and livestock industry and underpins Australian red meat’s enviable reputation worldwide.

Dr Jane Weatherley, Integrity Systems Company Chief Executive Officer, said the introduction of the eNVD is a major development in a broad program to utilise more digital tools and technologies in the red meat industry.

“Australian producers have a strong reputation for delivering quality red meat into more than 100 international markets backed up by food safety, product integrity and traceability. This is enhanced by our world-leading systems including the NVD,” Dr Weatherley said.

“A fully functional eNVD platform will make life simpler for producers. It will reduce time spent completing livestock assurance and health declarations and managing historical NVDs for auditing, reporting and administrative purposes. It will also ensure the latest NVD is being used.”

The eNVD system can be used to submit and retrieve eNVDs for property to property movements, or movements to feedlots, saleyards and abattoirs.

“In choosing to use it, producers will ensure they are providing information that meets the latest market requirements,” Dr Weatherley said.

“It’s not just on-farm where we’ll see the benefits. For feedlots, saleyards and processors, it reduces the likelihood of inaccuracies in information received from producers, and makes the information easier to store and retrieve. Most importantly, it provides greater visibility of the incoming livestock’s details before the stock arrive, enabling more efficient management.

“Overall, it will make the sharing of critical information simpler, quicker and more accurate for the entire supply chain. This supports the promise we’re making to our customers – and means that we can stand by what we sell.”

Since early 2017, producers in specific supply chains have been able to access the Aglive licensed commercial software versions of the eNVD that adheres to the national eNVD Standards endorsed by SAFEMEAT.

Science and innovation award set to reduce incidence of dark meat

 

A key scourge of the meat industry – dark meat – could be improved thanks to research by CSIRO scientist, Joanne Hughes, awarded on Tuesday at the ABARES Outlook 2016 conference in Canberra.

Ms Hughes, a muscle biochemist at CSIRO Food and Nutrition, won the red meat processing category of the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, for her work on dark meat.

The award is sponsored by the Australian Meat Processor Corporation and will provide the funding for Ms Hughes' project.

Meat colour is the primary method consumes use to judge the quality of meat. Rather than bright red meat colours, dark meat not only looks a 'less-fresh' darker red or purple, it can also have a shorter shelf-life, variable tenderness and an off-flavour. 

Failure to comply with colour criteria downgrades carcasses dramatically and results in lost value for producers, processors, and retailers. 

Dark meat, or dark cutting meat, is usually caused by undue stress on-farm or in transport and until now most methods for improving meat colour have focused on pre-slaughter interventions.

However, Ms Hughes and the team seek to use cutting-edge high pressure processing technology (HPP) under low temperatures to lighten the colour of high-value primal meat cuts.

HPP is also used to extend shelf-life, and retain nutrtion and flavours in a range of other food products. 

"Sometimes people in the industry tell me that HPP on fresh meat generates a "cooked-like appearance, and meat goes brown in colour," Ms Hughes explains.

"However, this is not the case when using lower temperatures and pressures like we will be, So, using controlled conditions, we want to show that dark meat colours can be lightened with no adverse effects on eating quality,' she said.

By adopting this technology in their plants, meat processors could reduce carcass downgrading, improve the quality and colour of the product before it reaches supermarket shelves, and maximise carcass value for both the producer and processor.

"By improving the value of primals, such as the loin, we can help processors achieve a higher value for each carcass, in turn hopefully providing a solution to the dark meat colour problem."

Ms Hughes and the team also surveyed a number of meat processors, covering 43 per cent of the total cattle slaughtered, and found that dark meat could be costing the industry up to $500 million per year, or $1,000 per animal -much more than previous estimates.

‘Over the next five years, we aim to reduce this loss by 20% and save the beef meat industry alone up to $100 million per year,’ Ms Hughes said.

HPP machines can be expensive, but CSIRO have developed, in collaboration with Greenleaf Enterprises, a cost-benefit model to help processors determine the financial viability of adopting the technology.

Reducing the incidence of dark meat in the Australian industry will also ensure confidence in our product by export markets in Asia and elsewhere.

Should we eat red meat? The nutrition and the ethics

Many types of red meat and red meat products are available, from farmers' markets, to supermarkets, to restaurants. The impacts of their production and consumption on human health, animal welfare and the environment are complex.

So what should we be thinking about when we’re deciding whether or not to eat red meat?

The nutrition

Consuming lean products and different cuts, or muscles, of meat from cattle, sheep, pig, goat and kangaroo is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines as part of a balanced diet. Lean refers to animal muscle tissue that has lower amounts of total fat and saturated fat compared to higher-fat alternatives.

Most lean red meats are cuts, rather than processed products such as hot dogs or canned meat. Cuts provide many beneficial nutrients, including: protein, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and unsaturated fat (such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fats).

In comparison, fattier red meat cuts and most processed meat products provide higher amounts of potentially harmful nutrients, such as saturated fats, salt and sodium nitrate.

In general, horse and kangaroo meats have been reported to have the lowest total fat and highest polyunsaturated fat contents. Beef and sheep meats have the highest total fat and lowest polyunsaturated fat. Grass-fed beef is a better source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats compared to grain-fed beef, although fish provides significantly more omega-3 than any red meat.

Australian livestock is mostly grass-fed in fields, rather than grain-fed in feedlots. This is better for both nutrient levels in the meat and animal and environmental ethics. Feedlots are more common in the United States, for example.

The type of grain that is fed to an animal affects its muscle nutrient composition, as well as shelf-life, taste, colour and quality. For example, pigs can be fed on a certain amount and type of linseed to increase omega-3 polyunsaturated fat in their meat.

Associations with ill health

The links between red meat products and human health are not fully understood, but you may have seen recent media reports about processed meat and cancer risk.

It is likely that eating less processed meat will reduce your risk of getting cancer. It’s also probable eating less red meat will reduce your cancer risk.

Similarly, if unsaturated fats – especially polyunsaturated fats – replace saturated fats (for example, in red meat) in someone’s diet, the risk of coronary heart disease might be reduced. Further, processed meats have been linked to a higher incidence of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

The ethics

The ethics of consuming food, including animal produce, is a fraught topic for both animal welfare and environmental damage. The vast scale of commercialised livestock production is overwhelming.

Yes, any food that humans consume comes with consequences, especially when that food is mass-produced. However, with red meat, efficiency and cost can outweigh animal welfare when animals become “a commodity, a unit in the production line”. And there is huge environmental damage from livestock production, such as methane from manure and enteric fermentation (that is, farts!).

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations stated in 2006:

The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.

It must be hoped the animal welfare and environmental aspects of food consumption will be highlighted in future revisions of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

What can you do?

You probably care about your health, and hopefully you care about other animals and the environment. Luckily, you can do a few things to try to improve all of these aspects of red meat and red meat product consumption:

  • When (or if) you eat red meat: choose leaner options that have less total and saturated fat, such as lean beef mince in place of standard beef mince; choose meats that contain more polyunsaturated fats, such as kangaroo or grass-fed beef (I don’t envisage many Australians eating horse, which is also higher in these fats); avoid processed meat such as bacon, sausages and salami; and buy from retailers and eat at restaurants where the red meat is sourced from more ethical, smaller-scale, local and sustainable farms
  • Eat less red meat (Meat Free Mondays is one good idea)
  • Join the 4% of the Australian population following vegetarian or vegan eating habits.

 

Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds is a lecturer in Nutrition at UNSW Australia.

This article first appeared in the Conversation. You can read the original here.