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Beef Industry Addresses Consumer Concerns About Environment, Animal Welfare

11 May 2018

AUSTRALIA - Beef producers are using innovation to address rising pressures from environmental and animal activists about how the industry operates.

According to ABC Online, the growing demand for transparency and ethically, socially and environmentally sustainable food has been one of the topics up for discussion at Beef Australia 2018, the industry's biggest expo.

Meat and Livestock Australia, a producer-owned red meat industry research, development and marketing organisation, has used virtual reality to try to educate consumers about the supply chain.

The virtual reality experience follows an animal on a cattle station being moved into a feedlot and on to processing at an abattoir before landing on the plate in a restaurant.

Community programs manager Fiona Young said the virtual 'paddock to plate' experience had proven an effective way to address misconceptions about the industry.

"It certainly does crack open some of those assumptions and stereotypes," she said.

"It's fully immersive. So once you've got the headset on and your headphones on you're completely surrounded by the footage, so it allows you to feel that you're actually there.

"You're actually up in the helicopter, in the cattle yards, on the truck with the cattle and you're really experiencing what perhaps a farmer or producer or someone else in the industry would be experiencing."

She said in the future the technology could be used to allow consumers to virtually visit the farms their food came from.

"The industry is becoming more and more technologically advanced in their communications tools and I think certainly that could be the future of beef," she said.

The beef expo has attracted delegates from more than 30 countries around the world, many who are facing similar external pressures as the Australian industry, but also internal ones such as falling profitability and consumption, rising regulatory restraints, and trade volatility.

Indigenous contribution recognised

OBE Beef managing director Dalene Wray was keen to point out that not all innovation was based on technology.

The small Queensland company is one of only four Australian agribusinesses to have a reconciliation plan, which she said was its own kind of innovation.

"Our plan is a reflection plan, so reflecting on what contribution we can make," she said.

"Things like acknowledging the contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have made and continue to make to our supply chain.

"It's also internally, we reflect on the contribution we can make during NAIDOC week … 12 months ago if you asked me what the theme of NAIDOC week was I wouldn't have been able to tell you."

Ms Wray was named the QCL Beef Industry Achiever at the event, acknowledging the broad impact her company's innovations have had on the industry.

"As a consumer I want animals that are raised humanely and food that is clean and safe for my children," she said.

"Innovation affords us the opportunity to provide the proof that consumers are looking for.

"We need to do that in different ways certainly around looking at animal wellbeing and looking for better outcomes, looking at ways to be more transparent."

Tech already in the paddock

While some of the innovations on show may be years away from implementation, others are being tested in the paddock right now.

Like a virtual fencing, a GPS technology developed by the CSIRO that has the potential to do away with one of the toughest and often most dreaded jobs on the farm.

Tech company Agersens is producing a collar worn by livestock that emits a sound and delivers an electric pulse if they wander outside of a designated virtual paddock, training them to stay within the non-existent fence.

But CEO and founder Ian Reilly said the real value was about more than reducing the time and cost of fencing.

"It's actually from the ability to control stocking rate and pasture utilisation and increasing that in a way that's sustainable and avoids over grazing and land damage," he said.

"A lot of our producers are very concerned about the environment and the sustainability of their operations.

"This offers a wildlife friendly, flood and fire-proof way to keep cattle off rivers and water ways … and to help prevent run off onto the Great Barrier Reef."

He said there were animal welfare advantages as well when compared to traditional fencing methods, such as the electric fence.

"You can't get tangled up in eShepherd and be repeatedly shocked if you're an animal and we intelligently use it to train the animal, we don't punish them," he said.

"It effectively trains them to respond to an audio sound and therefore turn them around in the same way that you might train a dog to respond to a command or something like that."

Beef Australia will next be held in Rockhampton in 2021.

TheCattleSite News Desk

Top image via Shutterstock



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