Article by Matt Canavan on the week of National Agriculture Day, 2020.

Article by Matt Canavan courtesy of CQ Today

At the start of the pandemic panic, toilet paper shelves were the first to go bare. But not long later, mince and meat departed the supermarket shelves. However, there were some products that remained stubbornly resistant to the bunker mentality. Vegie burgers and tofu shelves remained well stocked.

There is a lot of hype about plant based protein but most people just prefer a big, juicy steak. Why then do so many in the beef sector play defence when there is massive support for their industry?

Last week the ABC’s Landline ran a story about beef’s “social licence”. A former industry leader claimed that beef is “emerging as agriculture’s coal equivalent”. This is a load of rubbish in terms of both substance and public support.

We need to discard the term “social licence”. The term originated as a description of why a major project, like a mine or property development, should get the support of those in the local community before being approved. That is common sense.

But social licence has now morphed into meaning that any vegan or climate change warrior apparently deserves to have their views listened to about the environmental impact of the grass fed beef industry. That is absurd. Local people understand the impact of a development on their local community so they deserve to be listened to. Activists that have never stepped foot on a farm don’t have any useful knowledge on the beef industry and should be ignored not pandered to.

As the empty meat shelves during the pandemic showed people love meat and they are not about to give it up anytime soon. Farmers consistently rate as one of the most respected professions among all Australians. Those that grow our food deserve to be ranked alongside those that protect our health and educate our children.

So why do so many in farming act like they must repent for some kind of original sin? There are a noisy few that want to attack farming, that want to stop building dams or stop clearing paddocks to grow food. There are even a smaller number who want to end all meat consumption and make us all eat lettuce.

The beef industry risks its future by pandering to the few and ignoring the many. When I talk to beef producers, the biggest risk to their future remains whether they can make consistent profits over drought cycles. Costs have been rising while prices have gone up and down over the past decade. There can be no sustainable future for the beef industry if you can’t make an income.

Yet just one of the six priorities in the industry’s Beef Sustainability Framework focuses on profitability. The other priorities are all defensive, seeking to bat back the attacks from the activists on animal welfare, deforestation or climate change.

And because they are on the back foot, they give ground to the activists. The Sustainability Framework accepts the notion that reduction in land clearing has helped the beef industry reduce its carbon emissions. This is rubbish given that a lack of land clearing just replaces some form of vegetation growth (trees) for another (grasses). But worse, how are we going to campaign to remove the ridiculous restrictions placed on land clearing today if the industry accepts that these laws are essential for them to meet an artificial net zero emissions by 2030 target?

It is time for the beef industry to get on the front foot. There is so much to celebrate in our world beating beef sector. I joined many beef producers in Kingaroy on the weekend to celebrate National Agriculture Day – an initiative launched by Ms Gina Rinehart who has heavily invested in beef in recent years.

Another opportunity comes next year when we celebrate Beef Week. Although it will be a much smaller event given the coronavirus, it is perhaps the ideal opportunity to get on the offensive, ignore the loud minority and say with pride how great an Aussie steak is and that is here to stay!