A new report card into the sustainability of the Australian beef industry, from paddock to plate, shows it is proactively improving its care of the environment, animals and people.

The 2019 Australian Beef Sustainability Annual Update reports the contribution cattle producers make by sustainably managing almost half of the Australian landscape and the significant contribution the sector has made to the national emissions profile and health of regional and rural communities.

Highlights include the industry more than halving its carbon footprint since the Paris Agreement’s baseline year of 2005, demonstrating the ambition to be net carbon neutral by 2030 is on track.

The Australian beef industry has reduced absolute emissions by 55.7 per cent, from 2005 to 2016, the most recent reporting period, largely through increasing productivity and landscape management.

The Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC), Australia’s policy leadership and advisory group for Australia’s 82,500 red meat businesses, released the report today. RMAC Independent Chair, Don Mackay, says this figure shows the Australian beef industry can achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, while boosting productivity.

“With industry, policy and research focus Australia can be the first country in the world to have a carbon neutral red meat production system,” Mr Mackay says.

The 2019 Annual Update also outlines the industry’s implementation plan to be carbon neutral by 2030. Mr Mackay says it sends a clear message to customers, investors and the wider community that the industry is committed to improving the environment while producing high quality and nutritious beef.

“The 2019 Update for the first time benchmarks our industry’s commitment to achieving the right balance of tree and grass cover and shows that forest and woodlands on beef producing land are increasing, and removal of primary forests has declined more than 90 per cent since 1990,” he says.

“Our customers recognise the important role our beef producers play in managing the landscape, biodiversity and our grasslands, and now our Update captures this.”

These are examples of the Annual Update reporting against the priorities of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework, developed by industry in collaboration with stakeholders, including retailers, environment and animal welfare groups and investors, to meet changing community expectations and guide continuous improvement in care of the land, livestock and people.

Tess Herbert, who chairs the Framework’s industry-representative Sustainability Steering Group, says they’re pleased to share examples in the Update of beef businesses using the Framework to develop their own sustainability initiatives.

She says as well as celebrating achievements, the Annual Update was also about identifying where further work was required and outlining Framework plans to support this work.
“As we announced in the Annual Update, the industry will now begin to develop targets, which will take the Framework from a tool primarily to measure and report sustainable beef production, to one that helps direct change and encourage more action on sustainability.”

Animal welfare
• More producers are using pain relief on their cattle, since it became commercially available in recent years. An estimated 15% of the national cattle herd are now treated with pain relief for routine, necessary husbandry practices. This is an increase of 11% on last year;
• Vaccination rates against clostridial diseases are up to 82% of the national cattle herd, up from 71% last year; and
• 86% of Australian cattle are polled (i.e.: don’t have horns), reducing safety concerns and removing the need to de-horn animals.
Economic resilience
• A National Livestock Genetics Consortium was established to deliver improvements worth more than $400; and
• Beef farms saw a 1% increase on their rate of return in 2017-18 compared to the previous year.
Environmental stewardship
• There was a 56% reduction in the beef industry’s absolute greenhouse gas (i.e. carbon dioxide equivalent) emission from the Paris baseline year of 2005 to the latest reporting period of 2016, largely through a focus on improving productivity and landscape management practices;
• The amount of land with coverage from trees and shrubs, including remanent and regrowth increased by 1.1% between 2016 to 2017 and 1.3% from 2008-17 in beef producing areas; and
• 52% of cattle-producing land is managed by beef producers for environmental outcomes through active management.
People and the community
• 39% of feedlots audited voluntarily implemented an antimicrobial stewardship plan in the first year of the guidelines’ release; and
• Launched the Rural Safety and Health Alliance to invest in work, health and safety solutions.
Launched in 2017, the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework was developed by the Australian beef industry in collaboration with stakeholders to meet the changing expectations of consumers, customers, investors and other stakeholders. The Framework defines sustainable beef production and tracks performance over a series of indicators, to promote the industry’s longevity and prosperity.
For more information or to organise an interview with Don Mackay or Tess Herbert, contact Laura Griffin, Currie Communications, on laura@curriecommunications.com.au or 0400 170 663.