After much debate and discussion, the cattle producers who attended the Roma Beef the Future Forum voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resolutions:
- calling for the creation of a levy funded grassfed cattle corporation;
- receiving all grassfed transaction levies; and
- directly setting policies for the grassfed sector of the industry; and
- directing and controlling policy delivery through the MLA and/or other service delivery bodies;
- together with the establishment of an independent Task Force to define the detail of the organisational restructures necessary to establish the new proposed grassed cattle corporations.
The full text of the two resolutions that were passed overwhelmingly at the Roma Forum are:
(a) This meeting supports the establishment of a new Cattle Corporation funded by the existing grassfed transaction levy with the board directly elected by levy payers to perform representative, policy setting & control policy delivery functions on behalf of the grassfed sector of the cattle industry. I.e. Take over functions of Cattle Council Australia (and ‘liaise with’ MLA)
(b) This meeting calls on the Federal Government to establish an independent task force forthwith to inquire into the organisational structures required to meet the needs of the grassfed Cattle industry over the next decade and report back to industry and government within 3 months
ABA’s Goals For 2012
4. Abandon LPA.
5. Make RFID NLIS voluntary not compulsory.
It is the view of the ABA that the only way to bring about change is a complete restructure of the MLA and dismiss the present board and put in its place a board that is answerable to its levy paying members. As it stands MLA’s biggest contributors are producers through a statuary levy valued at $90 million. The biggest beneficiaries are processors, retailers and the supermarket duopoly.
Coles and Woolworths both have an MLA employee working on their accounts, yet retailers and supermarkets don’t contribute anything and are not required to pay any levies. The biggest processor in the world has its CEO on the MLA’s board. In the ABA’s view we need a one stop shop that is answerable to producers and be focus on producer’s interests. As it stands now MLA by their structure are A political but in practice they are very political when it suits.
Cattle Council is set up to look after producers, however there are huge problems. Short of funding as most of the funding comes from the industries reserve fund and it seems ironic that the processor and retail organisation gets double what Cattle Council gets out of the reserve fund. Cattle Council never put out financial reports and they have three employees with a budget of $1 million as opposed to MLA with a $170 million budget with 100’s of employees.
The Cattle Council board is made up of members from state farming organisations who pay for a seat, however state farming organisations are losing memberships and are reluctant to pay for a seat. In theory the Cattle Council should be producer’s political group who represent producers at Senate and ACCC hearings. However, they have been conspicuous by their absence. Unlike other industry peak councils who are well represented politically. With a one stop shop where red meat or beef producers pay their levies into one organisation that looked after producer’s interests in R & D, marketing and political lobbying. This would be a very well resourced dynamic group that would fight for producer’s interests. AMIC being a peak council have made it very clear that they are against live shipping and will do everything to try and stop it. Cattle Council for the above reasons have almost been ignored.
MSA – spent over $100 million of MLA’s funding and as it stands it is far too complicated and substitution is rife and has been watered down to such an extent that it has become a very inconsistent product. And unless something is done and the abuse is stopped it will mean that a very good science has been ruined.
Aus-Meats – controlled by processors for the benefit of processors and this is a classic case of the fox being in charge of the henhouse. This is a body that is in charge of what processors can trim before the scales and can mean a huge difference in returns to producers over a period of time. This must be also reviewed and changes made.
NLIS – was designed to go from the gate to the plate however processors said that it was too costly to implement and with their political muscle made sure it didn’t cost them anything. The processors were given assistance with readers and computers unlike producers. If we ever have a problem with meat it will show just what a flawed system it has become.
Cattle Care – a failure and MLA has phased it out. Then we find that LPA has taken its place with processors insisting on LPA and it has become another burden and cost on to producers.
ABA Goals 2000
2) Identify cow beef with ‘truth in labelling’ legislation.
3) MSA to be made into a commercial grading system, with legislative backing instead of a brand.
4) Meat inspection costs returned to government, as is the case with our overseas competitors.
5) Johne’s disease zoning and movement restrictions to cease and be left to the market.
6) Removal of GST from all livestock sales.The Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) is an affiliate of the National Farmers Federation, which is stationed in Canberra. In its 20-year existence, the CCA has become closely allied with Liberal Party economic rationalism policies, rather than looking after its membership the same way that European and US farm bodies do.Disillusion with NFF policies is such that, of the 160,000 tail tag owners in Australia, less than 15% are members of the CCA (this Membership is through state farm organisations). Cattle producers do not elect CCA councillors.Despite this, the Anderson Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) gave CCA, as a ‘Peak Council’, access to compulsory levy reserves to the tune of $685,000 in 1999. (However, there is possibly still some lack of understanding of the true position of the Anderson MoU.)
In return for this large handout of industry money, CCA is bound to produce a business plan, to account to government and the levy payers for the use of the money. As at 23/2/2000, they had not done so.
ABA and CCA have major policy differences, as is healthy in any democracy.
Current areas of disagreement are: -
GST: ABA fought for, and achieved, exemption from the GST for beef. This was done because of beef’s price elasticity, and the effect of a 10% GST on reducing beef sales by up to 13% on economic models, and from NZ practical experience. CCA wanted GST on beef.
ABA is strenuously lobbying for exemption from GST for all livestock sales -they return no revenue for Government. It will be an administrative nightmare for agents dealing with hobby farm exempt and non-hobby farm division. Above all, they will incur heavy bridging finance costs for abattoirs who are already financially strapped. Abattoirs will have no alternative but to try and reduce cattle prices – at the expense of cattlemen.
CCA supports the GST on livestock; – claiming that it will give producers cash flow bonanza at the expense of processors.
· Johne’s Disease regulation.
Cattle Council has helped the veterinarian dominated Australian Animal Health Council with industry funding and policy support to set up regulation of this relatively minor disease that has existed around the world for over 200 years.
There is no accurate test for Johne’s.
There is no accurate map on the incidence of Johne’s.
There is no known cure for Johne’s and little understanding of its survival in the environment or transfer from the feral animals that carry it.
Consequently the zoning and movement control programs put in place by State Governments at the instigation of Cattle Council and AAHC make no scientific, commercial or social sense.
The effect on individuals financially ruined by these ‘Russian Roulette’ controls has been horrendous with marriage break ups and suicides – all for no purpose as the rest of the world agreed long ago.
ABA is lobbying hard, using the media, large meetings and investigating lawsuits to bring the regulatory program to an end.
· MLA Structure-the worst of both worlds.
Meat and Livestock Australia which replaced the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation by the then Minister John Anderson restructure has left an unworkable, costly mess. An undemocratic, compulsory funded ($100 million) corporate structure that has far less accountability than the old AMLC.
Only 10,000 of 180,000 meat levy payers are ‘members of the company’. It has policy decided by RMAC-representing less than 15% of levy payers. The company is unique in having no idea who its stake holders are.
RMAC The Red Meat Advisory Council consists of the following Peak Councils: -
Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Lot Feeders’ Association, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Live Exporters, National Meat Association (Domestic abattoirs and retailers) and Australia Meat Council AMC (exporters). They decide policy for the producer compulsory funded Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
The initial Board of MLA were selected on political and geographic grounds in a closed shop manner by a Peak Council based selection committee, 8 of the 10 appointees are producers, 4 are former Peak Council associates. This made a mockery of ‘selection for skills’.
Future Boards are to be selected by a panel of 9 – 3 appointed by the board itself, 3 by peak councils and 3 are elected by producers at an AGM. Few would regard the process as anything but a sham.
Cattle Council naturally supports the control that it and other Peak Councils have over the 180,000 levy payers and a large slice of their money.
At the first meeting of levy payers since 1997(held at Albury in Nov 1999) ABA had organised some 150 MLA members’ to move for the abolition of the power of veto. This veto allows for each Peak council to have over a 75% vote of members necessary to alter the MLA constitution. ABA and its allies scored 52% of the vote. An easily organised ALFA vote (one member alone had 250,000 votes) was against us. Cattle Council and ALFA announced that they would use the veto if we got 75%.
ABA will continue to fight for an elected Board for MLA, a removal of the veto power which is an insult to the intelligence of all producers and the right for every producer to have an automatic vote in line with his stock numbers.
ABA maintains that elected board members are there to protect producers’ levy money from the sharks that have fed on $1.4 billion of it since 1984 with little return. Talk of selecting on expertise is hypocritical in view of the present board and the past incompetence. Expertise is something that is called on when necessary-commonsense is the quality we look for.
· Meat Standards Australia (MSA).
Until 1998 Cattle Council has vigorously opposed a grading system – something that has given the US huge advantage over Australia. Something that occurs in Japan, South Korea, Canada etc-but not in Australia.
Now they are supporting huge ($20 million plus) expenditure on a massive research project that has been commercially translated as a beef brand instead of a grading system-MSA.
ABA wants a commercial grading system with legislated backing as occurs in other beef producing countries .Cow beef currently produces 50% of domestic primals in Australian supermarkets and butchers. In the US, it is all put into manufacturing beef, in UK it is incinerated-in Australia it is labelled ‘export quality’ and sold beside young beef with predictable consumer disillusion with beef. US calves bring thrice the money of their Australian equivalent.
MSA currently accounts for less than 1% of Australian production as supermarkets and large abattoirs fail to take up the highly complicated system, despite the huge money spent on promoting it. ABA continues to advise MLA with little response.
· TRADE POLICY and WTO
ABA is opposed to the fruitless efforts over 20 years by NFF to stop Government assistance to EU and US.
It supports Government assistance to Australian farmers on an environmental caretaker basis. A direct payment to farmers for Parthenium, woody weeds, salinity, reafforestation etc. Australia -the most fragile continent –must protect its soil and water. There is no longer the capital in the inland to do so -it must be rectified.
Some of the largest producers and processors provided seed funding to start the first nationally elected meat body in Australian history. Dr Rod Kater, Chairman of the Stanbroke Pastoral Company, was elected Chairman of the Steering Committee.
Boundaries for the 15 Council seats were drawn up on a cattle number basis to avoid the interstate factionalism that has plagued the Cattle Council of Australia since its inception in 1979. (See the accompanying map.)
The newly elected Council moved the ABA office to Toowoomba (the demographic centre of the Australian beef industry) in October 1998, to assist staff in remaining focused and in touch with people in the beef industry and their concerns.
The initial elected Chairman of the Board of ABA is John Carter from Crookwell, NSW, and a cattleman with the oldest registered cattle brand in Australia. He is a Churchill Fellow in Meat Marketing (1983) and was Chairman and CEO of the NSW Meat Industry Authority from 1984-1994.