Consumers have higher expectations of the red meat industry than ever before. Asking our industry to prove the care of the environment, animals and people.

So, in answer to demands from red meat customers, environmental groups, government and the wider community, in 2017 the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework (The Framework) was born.

Using an evidence-based approach, The Framework identifies key priority areas, to define sustainable beef performance and track progress annually.

If you need a recap on what was achieved in The Framework’s first year, you can find it right here.

Now, back to this year:

What’s new?

For the first time in Australia, national vegetation measures for the beef industry have been included in the report. Data collected using 30 years of satellite data, shows vegetation changes over time and how beef farming contributes to these changes.

This allows Farmers to demonstrate the work they do, so improvements can be made where necessary, meaning Australia’s world-renowned reputation for sustainable beef production is protected.

Now let’s look at three priority areas for red meat consumers, and how The Framework’s 2019 Update addresses them.

1. Care of the environment
It’s no secret that beef production gets a bad press from an environmental standpoint, so the beef supply chain is committed to ensuring that any environmental impact is minimised.

The Framework highlights the need for the industry to adapt to the changing environment, in ways such as minimising nutrient and sediment loss, efficient use of water and tree and land cover. Tree cover is critical for storing carbon and preserving biodiversity and soil health.

With Australia singled out as the only developed country identified as a ‘deforestation hotspot’ by the WWF Living Forests report, deforestation is a hot topic. In response, The Framework is focusing on developing evidence-based and practical measures for the balance of tree and grass cover.

This year, the MLA’s has progressed environmental sustainability and feedbase programs, creating opportunities for producers to efficiently and effectively manage soil health, weeds, invasive animals, water, methane emissions, biodiversity and climate variability.

This includes researching, designing and demonstrating new grazing systems that manage ground cover, encourage retention of desirable species, new species (grasses, legumes), exploring climate adaptation actions, and plants suited to hotter and drier future climates.

The red meat industry has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. The 2030 target was set following industry-funded research undertaken by CSIRO in 2017, which confirmed that carbon neutrality was possible in the Australian production system. The efforts of the red meat industry will contribute significantly to state and federal government carbon emission reduction targets

China’s decision to restrict imports of recycling waste renewed attention on both food and packaging waste. Australia’s beef processors are leaders in turning waste-streams into value-streams to reduce waste. We have research underway to explore alternatives to plastic that won’t have a perverse impact of increasing food waste.

In a bid to take us one step further towards tackling climate change issues, The Framework joins the Australian Forest Products Association, Farmers for Climate Action and Greening Australia, to launch the ‘Climate Proofing Australia’ alliance, to advocate for a whole-of-landscape approach to tackle climate change.

2. Care of animals
Diminishing public trust, especially in live export, means The Framework places great importance on animal welfare. This theme of the Framework was developed with the five freedoms and, the more recent, five domains of animal welfare in mind.

This includes:
Competent livestock handling
Safe livestock transport
Animal husbandry techniques
Humane processing

About two-thirds of Australian cattle are grass-fed, spending their entire lives grazing on pastures. The remaining third are grain-fed, spending most of their lives grazing pastures before being fed on grain in feedlots.

A collaboration of exporters, importers, industry bodies and producers has been established to show the care given to sheep throughout the live export process. It is called the
Sheep Collective, and a Cattle Collective is set to follow.

3. Care of people
While consumers raise concerns about the health risks of red meat, the industry promotes consumption in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend 130g of lean and cooked red meat every other day. And supports the community by providing safe and nutritious beef.

Lean red meat plays an important role in a healthy, balanced diet.

As well as nutritional health of the meat product, consumers are also concerned about the health and safety of people working within the industry, and how the health of the animals affects the beef product.

As such, The Framework strives for a safe, healthy and diverse workforce, that can continue to grow, with education and training. The considerable differences in the risks between sectors requires a tailored approach to tackling health and safety.

Maintaining the efficacy of antimicrobials so that infections in humans and animals remain treatable is of critical importance. This is a priority in The Framework, which looks at industry use of antibiotics and surveillance programs to detect resistance to them.

Just like people, when an animal’s immune system is overwhelmed by pathogenic agents, such as bacteria, they become ill. Therefore preserving the effectiveness of antimicrobials, to protect human and animal health, by promoting responsible antimicrobial use is at the very core of strong stewardship.

In 2018 the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association voluntarily established Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines. Despite the guidelines being optional, in just 12 months 39% of the industry have antibiotic stewardship plans in place.

In conclusion
Beef has a significant role to play in feeding the world and combating global food insecurity. To scale food production to meet the needs of 11.2 billion people by 2100, the industry must become more efficient and sustainable.

We believe that with extensive rangelands and limited arable land, Australia is extremely well suited for grazing livestock, which provides a highly nutritious protein source to the world. And with initiatives like the ASBF in place, we are raising the bar, and asking the rest of the world to follow our lead.

We welcome your input and encourage you to join the conversation on Twitter @BeefFramework and on the website.