About the Review of the Red Meat MoU

Source: Towards a Better Red Meat Future. A Green Paper for the Red Meat MoU.

RMAC has initiated this review to explore reform options for the MoU, the partnership agreement which has guided RMAC and guided interactions between peak industry councils, rural research and development corporations, and the Commonwealth Government since RMAC and the Red Meat MoU was established over twenty years ago.

Recognising the many interests within the red meat industry – both amongst signatories and businesses – RMAC determined the need for an independent, wide-ranging and consultative Review process that put all aspects of how industry does things on the table. The Review has been designed to give an arm’s length assessment on how to build a better red meat future, and RMAC has put in place a range of checks-and-balances to ensure the integrity of the independence.

The purpose of the MoU and its associated reforms was to support greater self-determination and self-regulation of the red meat industry, while continuing to ensure appropriate representation, governance and accountability. The MoU incorporates:

  • defining a role for RMAC to give policy advice to the Commonwealth in respect of the whole of the industry sector it represents, and to respond to the Minister on issues the Minister raises with it
  • the definition of agreed roles and responsibilities;
  • funding, planning and service delivery arrangements;
  • the Meat Industry Strategic Plan (MISP) and
  • research and development; and,

WHAT WE LEARNT FROM THE GREEN PAPER

As the industry has grown, so too have the relationships that RMAC and the red meat industry need to maintain in the daily exercise of their responsibilities. When managing issues and policy on behalf of the industry, RMAC and its members currently engages with Government departments, including, but not limited to:

  • Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) on policy and biosecurity, among others;
  • Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities on supply chain and logistics planning and investment;
  • Department of Industry and Innovation on processing and manufacturing;
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including AusTrade, on trade and market access, provenance, traceability, technical barriers to trade with DAWR, and bilateral, multilateral and plurilateral trade deals;
  • Department of Health on public policy and nutrition;
  • Department of Workplace Relations on employment
  • Department of Environment and Energy on energy costs and sustainability programs; and,
  • Relevant State Government agencies.

Service Providers too have been challenged to be more collaborative, for example, in the recent Department of Agriculture and Water Resources report Agricultural Innovation—A national approach to grow Australia’s future.

As the industry has moved away from the language of agricultural production to self-identify as being a part of the food supply chain, it has also altered the way it engages with the federal government.

As the red meat industry moves to align its members vertically, to streamline engagements and provide industry unity on key issues, it now needs to engage more fully with government and other stakeholders dispersed horizontally across many different agencies and jurisdictions.

Emerging challenges

There is a growing recognition from players in the red meat value chain, from paddock to plate, that the industry could do better and take a bold leap forward – that it can take control and shape its own future rather than respond reactively to events and challenges that may force others to take control.

While the industry continues to strive for unified responses to emerging issues, the current governance arrangements appear to accept unnecessary divisions between supply chain participants.

Community concerns around animal welfare have been voiced publicly, and often. In turn, industry has concerns about whether sections of the supply chain can survive rising costs to operate, especially in the face of growing competition from other red meat producing nations and a growing regulatory burden. Stakeholders within the supply chain challenge whether the industry has secured a social license to operate.

While research and development in the red meat sector are world class, the relative investment in relation to comparable industries is relatively low and declining. This is significantly reflected in low adoption rates for innovation, ranging from genetic improvement, reduction of greenhouse emissions, effective water management, and automation. Overall, commercialisation rates remain low.

Consumption of red meat remains high, with Australians consuming three times more red meat per annum than the global average (MLA 2018). Total consumption of red meat is growing annually. Competition from other sources of food protein – such as chicken and fish – continue. Lab-grown, or in vitro meat, is also emerging as a potential opportunity and challenge.

The current MoU is silent on the role of both social license to operate and also the role of commercialisation and adoption. These have been identified as looming challenges to the industry, and individual efforts are under way to strengthen programs which address them.

This poses the key question as to whether the red meat industry has again reached the stage where bold reform is required. If so, who will drive and shape it? How do we improve current industry arrangements so we are collectively delivering for those who we work for – Australia’s 82,500 red meat businesses from butchers, manufacturers, live exporters, lot feeders and producers?

Public interest and the MoU

The Green Paper articulated very clearly the role Australia’s 82,500 red meat business play in delivering on the public industry; and how the signatories to the Red Meat MOU contribute to this. This sets the scene for the writing, and recommendations contained within the White Paper.

The MoU appears to be viewed by the majority of stakeholders as a document high on principles and good intentions, but aside from specific funding commitments, has limited “teeth” or legal obligations that force participants to engage and collaborate more effectively on cross industry matters.

“Social license to operate” has grown in importance alongside a deepening understanding of demand-side drivers on the supply chain. This was not evident as a consideration or a tool in the original MoU but has featured significantly in both Taskforce deliberations and consultation.

This has been focused by emerging issues around live animal exports and broader animal welfare concerns, environment and climate change concerns such as greenhouse gas emissions and water management, and extends to demand for animal proteins in diets and a ‘meat tax’.

Additionally, the MoU does not cater for activities and strategies that engender good corporate citizenship or social purpose across the industry and does not provide a baseline of acceptable behaviours (“codes of conduct”) which would empower industry efforts at self-regulation, and importantly, to secure community trust or their social license to operate.

A number of public interest components were identified in the Green Paper, which we have grouped into the following key categories and challenges

Commercial Do the Taskforce’s recommendations contribute to building profitable businesses along the supply chain?
Community Do the recommendations provide an architecture that will facilitate better responses to community concerns?
Consumers Does the review consider the operation of the industry within the broader social and economic environment in which consumers (at home and abroad) purchase and consume red meat?
Co-regulated Does the review balance the need for the industry to maintain self-determination with the need for government to intervene in matters of public interest?
Capability Are the recommendations of the Taskforce capable of meeting the domestic and global challenges of the next 20 years?

The public interest tests confirm what we all know – which is we need customers and decision makers to support us – so we in turn can continue to support them and provide them with high quality and nutritious red meat.

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