A CLAIM that Australian sheep producers use hormones that give them a cost of production advantage over United Kingdom farmers has been rejected by the peak body Sheep Producers Australia.
Australia commenced negotiations on a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom last month, seeking greater access to the country beyond the current quota limitations.
In an ABC story this week, the National Farmers Union’ director of EU exit and international trade Nick von Westenholz said Australian farmers can use hormones and veterinary medicines that are not allowed in the United Kingdom.
“And that gives them a cost of production advantage compared to UK producers,” he said.
However, SPA chief executive officer Stephen Crisp said Australian sheep meat producers do not use hormones and the veterinary products they allowed to use are strictly controlled by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
“The fact is, Australian lamb and mutton have been shipped into the UK since shipping methods made it possible.
“Australia already meets all the requirements of the UK market, (and the EU) which have always had strict conditions,” Mr Crisp said.
“We have had no issue meeting their high standards to date, and are under no illusions that we will need to keep meeting those standards no matter what access we have.
In the ABC piece, an Essex family farmer and lamb producer Christy Willett said she would be concerned if Australian farmers could “undercut us massively, of course it is going to have a big effect.”
However, Mr Crisp said Australia currently has a record low flock, with no prospect of it growing rapidly given the competition for land use.
“The price of both mutton and lamb would be considered very high any standard.
“You can have shortages in any market that will lead to an increased demand for imports and at other times imports will find it difficult to compete,” he said.
“One thing they can be assured of, is that Australian product is a premium product which is priced accordingly.
“It is not discounted or subsidised in any way, so they should have no issue competing with Australian product on price given it needs to shipped to the other side of the world,” Mr Crisp said.
Mr Crisp said Australian sheep production is still dominated by family farms.
“The vast majority of operations are not as large as often perceived or corporate in nature.
“When you combine that with our geographic disadvantages (shipping), along with our high cost of processing (energy costs etc.), there seems little validity to use our landscape against us when we have other significant disadvantages,” he said.
EU/UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce chairman Andrew McDonald defended Australia’s production standards.
“If anything we are raising the average price of red meat products in the market,” he told the ABC.
Mr Crisp supported this and said there is no doubt that with sheep meat demand the way it is globally, it is raising the average price of red meat products.
“It has been trending for years and the per kg consumption rates have been falling as a result.
“We can hardly be accused of increasing market share anywhere due to a cheap product,” he said.
Mr Crisp said the possibility of Australian producers gaining greater access to the UK market causing casualties among heavily-subsidised UK farmers was not a significant concern.
“The ability of governments anywhere to maintain subsidies given the unsustainable levels of debt being incurred worldwide, means industries will need to stand on their own everywhere, in the long term.
“With red meat demand rising and flocks shrinking, there will be room for Australian and UK producers in a high price red meat world,” he said.