Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Meatworks Argument De-Bunked

In today's modern world it pays to be forever wary of that old saying "He who pays the piper calls the tune" and the live export debate is no exception. Have you ever noticed that the government never releases a report that contradicts their policy position unless they are absolutely forced to? Those who have followed the climate change debate closely will be able to point to reports from both sides of the debate that are laughable in their attempts to cherry pick and selectively quote data regardless of whether big oil, the government or the UN paid for the research. It happens on both sides. It seems these days our universities do a very poor job of producing seekers of the truth, rather they have become a breeding ground for academic mercenaries that can tip the scales of truth any way you want.

Provided you can pile enough money on them.

That said it will not surprise you to learn the often quoted ACIL Tasman Report was of course paid for by the WSPA, the Heilbron Report by several of Australia's biggest abattoir owners including the multinational giant: JBS Swifts.

These two reports form the core evidence for the argument that live exports can be replaced by a frozen meat trade. An argument often made by Lyn White, The RSPCA and The WSPA. They might feel uneasy about staking their reputations on these reports when people begin to read them closely.  

The first and most obvious claim that doesn't add up is the massive amount of GDP we can supposedly create by having Australian meatworks kill the cattle and sheep right here. This won't create anywhere near as many "Australian" jobs as the reports claim, nor will they create as much GDP. The ACIL Tasman report cheekily concedes on page 51 that a cessation of live export would require "some skilled abattoir workers from abroad".

Australian meatworks can't get enough Australians to work for them right now, a large percentage of the current workforce are overseas workers on 457 visas who, as most people would expect, send a large proportion of their wages to their families back in their home countries. This renders the claims for increases in Australian jobs and GDB dubious at best.

Even the much anticipated Darwin abattoir will have an international flavor.

The ACIL Tasman report makes a limp attempt at analyzing foreign markets and makes the assumption that our boxed sheepmeat will be mostly lamb, targeting the emerging and wealthier middle class in some of the counties we live export too. This completely overlooks the fact that  live export is often centered around older animals that represent an invaluable source of affordable protein to the poor people of those nations.  ACIL Tasman fails to take into account the high processing costs in Australia would effectively price us out of that market.

This Beef Central article explains why it costs twice as much to process an animal here than it does in the USA, let alone anywhere else. 

The Heilbron Report does a better job than ACIL Tasman at finding a home for the thousands of tons of extra boxed meat we could produce if we only phased out live export. They didn't even bother to analyze if foreign markets would still buy our more expensive boxed beef but instead make the assumption we can sell that meat to....um...the meat fairies?   

ACIL Tasman's solutions for increasing sheepmeat exports boil down to asking the EU nicely to lift their tariffs (good luck with that), a massive promotional campaign and increasing competitiveness. The money spent by New Zealand on promotional campaigns sound like a good investment until ACIL Tasman concedes on page 61 that even they "cannot ascertain the actual return on these marketing activities". The "Increased competitiveness" ACIL Tasman cites as necessary to make boxed meat exports viable (page 63) hinge on "lowering the cost of production" which is a carefully worded way of saying farmers have to take less money for their animals.

ACIL Tasman are dreaming if they think a return to the bad old days when farmers were paid loose change for their stock is going to be a positive outcome for our already embattled rural communities.     

Lyn White is often quoted comparing farmers to slave traders for arguing that if we cease live export we will be replaced by other countries that have lower or no animal welfare standards. This has already happened in one market, thanks in part to her handy work.

Boxed beef is streaming in to Indonesia from illegal abattoirs in India after boxed beef imports from Australia were slashed early this year. I somehow doubt that animal welfare is a high priority for these lawless backyard butchers that defy not only the laws of their country but their national religion as well. The black market beef trade makes a mockery of The Heilbron Reports sloppy assumptions that expensive Australian boxed meat can replace the live export trade at all.

Far more likely we will be (as we have repeatedly warned) replaced by countries with no regard for animal welfare.

1 comment:

  1. Jim, Instead of whinging about the realities of the market, why don't you try to make the best of things? There's no law that says a cattle farmer can't change, or for that m atter any farmer. When my great-grandfather bought our farm it was 100% sheep. Then we planted wheat. Then we bred kelpies. At some point we raised pigs, grew mushrooms and avocadoes. Our neighbours have tried canola and cotton. We all now have saltbush for the sheep and grow chickpeas.

    Life is about change. The end of live export has been coming since the 1980s, and only the lazy and the greedy demand it remain. It's unethical, pure and simple

    Unless you want city folk to see us as cruel whingers, then stop your bellyaching and make the best of it.