AUSTRALIAN sheep producers, processors and researchers will this week start working on the world’s first national sustainability framework for sheep and wool.
Chair of the Sheep Sustainability Steering Group Professor Bruce Allworth today said the national sustainability framework is underway, with the appointment of a steering group to identify priority issues related to Australian sheep production.
Professor Allworth said the committee will meet to discuss priority issues and its direction on October 24.
The first meeting will be followed by consultation across the sheep meat and wool value chain, and with stakeholders, including customers, government, interest groups, technical experts and investors. The framework is expected to be delivered by June 2020.
“It is critical that we consider the concerns of all our stakeholders in designing the framework.
“Close engagement will also support their understanding of what the industry is doing to become more sustainable,” Prof Allworth said.
“Overall, I believe the framework will build trust in, and the resilience of, the industry.
“It will help us identify areas for improvement and stay on the front foot with regards to emerging issues,” he said.
Framework will cover sheep meat and wool production
The focus of the framework is on-farm, covering sheep meat and wool. Professor Allworth said the sheep framework would be similar to the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework launched in 2017.
“It’s all about letting the consumer understand what’s going on on farms, increasing transparency and through that building trust.
“Our customers must be confident that the food and fibre they purchase has been produced responsibly,” he said.
“This means being transparent about our performance in key areas of interest such as animal welfare, occupational health and safety, environmental impact and economic resilience.”
Professor Allworth said the framework’s definition of sustainability will include the four pillars of environment, animal husbandry, economics and people welfare.
“There is absolutely no point in having the best environmental standards in the world if the farmers are all going broke, equally if the farmers are all making money and are not looking after the animals and the environment, or the workforce, that’s not sustainable,” Professor Allworth
“It will look at what does the industry need to be sustainable and what do consumers see as appropriate so that they can support a sustainable industry.
“The materiality work that is behind these frameworks shows that (animal) welfare is number one, environment is number two, economics if three and looking after the workforce is a distant four,” said.
“So there is absolutely no doubt that within the sheep sustainability framework there will be animal welfare and environmental priorities, guaranteed.”
He said the sheep framework environmental priorities would almost certainly be the same as for the beef sector.
Professor Allworth said the aim of the sheep sustainability framework is not to influence sector or government policy.
“But if the framework in identifying what we are doing highlights issues then that may further down the track influence – this isn’t about policy, this is about letting consumers know what they want to know and how it will be best measure.”
Steering group members come from research, production and processing
The skill-based steering group has a strong representation across regions, and the wool and meat value chain. The members are:
- Prof Bruce Allworth (chair) – director, Fred Morley Centre, Charles Sturt University, NSW
- Will Barton – CEO, Gundagai Meat Processors, NSW
- Dr Will Bignell – producer, Thorpe Farm, TAS
- Andrew Blanch – managing director, New England Wool, NSW
- Michael Field – producer, Jugiong, NSW
- Johnny Gardner – producer, Cavendish, VIC
- Deanna Lush – managing director, Ag Communicators, SA
- Emily Stretch – producer, Kojonup, WA
- Mark Wootton – producer, Jigsaw Farms, VIC
Professor Allworth said the sheep framework would aim to celebrate the sector’s strengths, “those areas of production where we are best practice – and identify areas where improvements can be made.
“It will enable industry to better understand its opportunities, challenges and impacts, to define sustainable sheep production and track annual performance using a series of indicators,” he said.
“If we can measure our performance and provide solid data, we can demonstrate that our farming practices are in line with the expectations of our customers, and build their trust.”
Professor Allworth is a veterinarian by training, and also runs a mixed sheep and cattle property near Holbrook, New South Wales. He leads the Fred Morley Centre at the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Charles Sturt University and also has a consulting background in sheep and beef production.
The initiative is led by Sheep Producers Australia and WoolProducers Australia, with Australian Wool Innovation and Meat & Livestock Australia providing funding, and strategic and secretariat support.
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