FOOTAGE of dead and dying sheep on live export shipments would damage Australia’s brand as a clean, safe and ethical food producer and push more people to vegetarianism, Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton conceded to a Senate Estimates hearing today.
Under intense questioning from senators from the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, Mr Norton admitted he was shocked by the 60 Minutes footage of sheep suffering or dead from overheated and crowded conditions on Middle East shipments.
“Would this incident have an issue for a brand ‘Australia’ in global markets? Undoubtedly it would be naïve to suggest not,” Mr Norton said.
He said industry tells the MLA to ensure that Australia’s red meat brand is globally “at its fullest and most trusted that it can be.”
Mr Norton said he had never seen footage like that portrayed on 60 Minutes and it highlighted a “problem” and “major issue” for Australia’s industry.
“I don’t know how you could not be shocked by it at any level.
“I completely agree that industry had a big problem from those events, absolutely, and MLA’s role is to provide data and information back to industry around the impact of these situations,” he said.
Live sheep incidents would promote vegetarianism
Responding to a question from Justice Party senator Derryn Hinch, Mr Norton accepted that the live sheep export footage would push more Australians, especially young consumers, to vegetarianism.
“Absolutely, and I’ve got no doubt that it makes my life and my challenge to meet such a goal in how we give advice to people around strategies to achieve those goals much more difficult, there’s no doubt in the world.”
Mr Norton said industry had a major issue in re-affirming back to the Australian consumers that “please don’t punish Australian farmers in this situation”.
“By punishing Australian farmers it will have a negative income (impact) on the Australian community.”
He said the first round of consumer insight data domestically after the last (live sheep) incidents showed that Australian consumers understood what had happened “and perhaps understand that there is no point punishing Australian farmers.”
Mr Norton resisted efforts to drag him into discussions about MLA and the balance of live animal vs processed meat exports from Australia.
“The market forces determine the balance of the trades,” he said.
Mr Norton said it was MLA’s role to undertake levy fund project expenditure, marketing and provide consumer data and support market strategies as directed by the respective red meat sectors, but it regularly gives advice on industry risks.
Mr Norton said the Australian industry moved to a position of saying that farmers were “not at fault here.”
“The Australian farmers is appalled by what they saw on the TV as much as anyone else.
“MLA’s role is to assist industry as they see fit for MLA to assist.”
Mr Norton said the bulk of MLA’s off-shore marketing funds go into development of the chilled and frozen meat exports.
“The live export sector doesn’t quite have the availability of those funds.”