Host: Yarrie Station
Written by Annabelle Coppin – Owner, Yarrie Station.
Building a stronger connection across our complex supply chain.
After two weeks of living in the stock camp this month it easy to become quite separated from the rest of the world, to even what is happening in our own cattle industry. The days are long and busy but somehow camping out in the bush just brings everything back in to perspective and reminds me why we love and choose this life. We always pick a nice place to camp and have all our own areas to roll out our swag and unpack our bags into the scenery. My last area was a beautiful place on the edge of the creek with a rock bar as a shower floor dressed with a billy can for hot water and a fire close to keep warm.
When you have to return the 70km back to the homestead it almost feels like you have hit a town with the phone going off and the adjustment of being in a building again. This week when I reluctantly flew in for a teleconference, I was hit with the new media frenzy targeted over the cruel slaughter footage taken of Australian cattle that had leaked out of our regulated system in Vietnam. It’s a quick reminder that living in the bush can take you from one extreme to the next. Even in the middle of the Outback there is no hiding from the evolving ‘social licence’ required to produce food for the world.
No matter what our circumstances, we all became immediately emotional with the recent breach of animal cruelty – no matter how many animals or where they are from in the world, for me it is disappointing and frustrating. Even with my background and travel in the live trade industry my initial feelings are pure helplessness and the normal questions then start to go through your head. Including why do people carry this out and how can we continue to work on preventing this from happening in the future? We then have to face the challenge of the waving anger against our supply chain and the damaging misinformation that crashes through social media. None of this tsunami is doing anything tangible to improve global animal welfare and everything to damage our general reputation and general relationship with the rest of the Australian people.
In 2006 I first applied for Nuffield Farming Scholarship in hope to be able step off the family property and travel abroad to personally investigate the future of what our family business and livelihood is so heavily reliant on – breeding and supplying live animals to the world for food. As a 21 year old I made it to the National finals to be knocked back for being too young. So I simply applied again next year, I was determined for the opportunity and see for myself where the trade was heading. I was then privileged enough to receive the Scholarship and given an opportunity of a life time (just another perk for a career in agriculture).
Most of 2008 was taken up in travel right across the world looking at global agriculture with a particular focus on my personal topic. Then in 2009 I was given an opportunity to work in the Live Export Program run by the Australian industry across the export supply chain in the Middle East region. For over two years I was able to continue travelling the world, working, breathing, living the live export market at the opposite end of the producer’s gate. I had much time to dwell on the future of the trade, it’s current position and future direction. This was before the live export ban to Indonesia and the subsequent implementation of the current Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) by the federal government.
I produced a rather large report (possibly why not a lot of people read it!) from my travels “Sailing Ahead – The Australian Livestock Export Trade” with one of my strongest findings being:
“Despite expanding global economies and urbanisation, there will always be international demand for Australian live animals. This is because the three clear market sectors of frozen, chilled, and fresh meat present strong and unique selling points. These sectors mostly complement one another in meeting red meat demand in Australia’s export markets.”
Which was closely connected to the next two findings:
“Australian livestock stakeholders have significant influence in determining the trade’s future direction. In order to motivate a more responsive industry, there is a need for greater appreciation of all factors affecting their livestock through the entire supply chain.”
“A pivotal factor in the trade’s future is for the Australian industry to lead by example with a consistent message that the supply of any Australian livestock is dependent upon acceptable and solid livestock welfare practices being applied and embraced in destination markets. This approach will raise the level of awareness of animal welfare which also contributes to raising net global animal welfare standard.”
Our industry was clearly already working hard at this with the support of funds through producers, exporters, and government in the Live Export Program and there were many other schemes set up by many passionate people over the years. But despite all those amazing changes and stories, when the ‘Bloody Business’ ABC 4 Corners program was put to air, our industry and lives were still sent into turmoil.
I feel that most Australian producers were and are still not linked closely enough to the rest of the live export supply chain. Since returning home full time I’m now guilty of it myself, I can hardly find time to write this blog. You become so focused on managing the land, business, cattle, and team that you fast run out of scope to remain strongly connected with the current supply system. I believe that the most powerful change is when producers and importers will have stronger ties and feedback systems up and down the chain. ESCAS has been another stepping block to build a more robust system to keep improving standards and welfare, despite some of its logistical flaws I strongly support the scheme. Like most things in business and life we must keep changing and improving our industry to enable us to move forward. I feel the newly industry proposed Livestock Export Global Assurance program (www.livestockglobalassurance.org) will be the next stepping stone for us to continually improve welfare standards of exported animals in the future.
I wrote the next paragraph in my report after a frustrating day in a Middle East trying to implement what I saw as the simplest changes to make the biggest difference to animal welfare outcomes (I also will note that many of my days were not at all frustrating and just totally rewarding).
“The greatest challenges for the live export trade are tackling the mountains of bureaucracy involved with the livestock industry in the importing countries. Private and public organisations in these countries commonly hold the biggest key to achieving change for better outcomes. Commonly, the bureaucracy problems are worse in bigger organisations. Certain stakeholders without external influence and vision, do not at times correlate core areas such as animal welfare and profitability. Subsequently welfare as a priority can be lower than it should be.”
During my time I saw both very good practices and also bad. I’m quick to remind myself just as I would if I worked in a similar role in Australia. No system that involves animals and humans is perfect, this includes ownership of pets in Australia and why organisations like the RSPCA exist. It doesn’t matter what country we live in or what culture we are from we can all improve our practices, meaning just because we send animals overseas does not automatically subject them to cruelty. This is one of the most common points I use to those who think the trade should be abolished. To think how welcoming these importers were of having people like myself step into the depths of their operation for weeks at a time is a credit in itself. You can’t hide anything when you are working in the guts of it all for days on end (literally, there were a lot of nights in abattoirs!). I’m not sure how many producers, pet owners, or even parents in Australia would be as welcoming with the idea. People who receive our livestock are at times far more open minded than the Australians supplying it, very important point for our country to remember.
Myself and a feedlot vet. My role in the working overseas in the live export industry was highlighted by so many of the kind and open minded people, I was constantly humbled by their kindness and open mind for change. I think I would been challenged far more in Australia if a similar role existed here.
I went on to write:
“There is a clear need for the industry to keep improving the identified areas of unacceptable animal welfare practices so the standards of importing countries can be lifted to higher and more consistent levels.”
“Strengthening communication and feedback systems between all stakeholders in the livestock export supply chain will allow stakeholders to position themselves to smooth out many of the challenges in product specifications and supply patterns.”
The newly forming LEGAP program can provide a greater clout for change and assurance. It is something that all producers and even everyday Australians need to consider to support. I strongly see the need to continue to supply the world with the fresh meat that it demands and deserves. To do this there is no doubt where ever we are in the world we have to keep working on improving the welfare for that animal. There is no avenue to wipe our hands free of that responsibility and we should be proud of that. There aren’t many other global supply chain systems that offer such an ethical service.
I also wrote:
“There is legitimacy behind some of the pressure from animal interests groups in response to isolated but unacceptable animal welfare practices in the live export supply chain. Changes, even for the better, do not usually eventuate in any human culture without pressure.”
“Banishing Australian livestock will not magically improve animal welfare and slaughter practices as there is no evidence to support the claim that stopping live exports will have any positive influence on attitudinal change towards global animal welfare.”
“All Australian livestock producers should embrace quantifiable, scientific benchmarks and guidelines for livestock welfare to ensure the ongoing sustainability of their industry.”
I also recommended that:
“The Australian community should place trust and confidence in the Australian livestock industry and support its continued commitment to responsibly supply the world with safe, wholesome, disease free fresh meat in the form of livestock exports. Overall Australia’s fresh meats complement frozen and meat products in overseas markets and do so with both moral and commercial confidence.”
With prior experience I should have worded that first sentence a little differently. More like:
“Australian producers, exporters, and the importers need to build stronger connections with the Australian community so that they can place trust and confidence in the industry.”
In the past we have been very disconnected and misrepresented. For many people I can’t blame them for being against live export for many times all they see is biased campaigns and graphic pictures plastered on back of buses and taxi’s on their way to work. I believe we now have a huge opportunity with technology to connect with rational thinking people through social media and sites like Central Station. Many people simply have not had the chance or need to live and breathe our perspective on feeding the world by running a business from the land with the immense pride and passion we live for. If we make an effort to show them this I feel that many Australians will continue to support our legacy as it is an amazing supply chain that undoubtedly outweighs any of the negative exposure it does receive.
As I wrote reflecting on my scholarship “Overall, feeding the South-East Asian, Middle Eastern, and African population excites me far more than supplying the developed western world. In particular, as an Australian livestock producer, supplying animals to these people means complementing our advantages of having enough grass and space for animals to efficiently breed, by supplying fresh, safe meat to people who value it in their life and culture. This outcome must be achieved in conjunction with a comfortable profit and a consistent demand.”
I also should have written that one of the greatest hurdles as an Australian producer feeding developing countries is that Australian societies values, standards, and social expectations are now firmly stamped on that animal and or product. A new challenge for us all, keep feeding people responsibly who don’t necessarily always have the comfort of a wet throat and full stomach, whilst still having the support of a western world standard. It is now our responsibility to firstly keep improving our own livestock practices on property and also influence our beloved animal’s welfare beyond our own shores. We can continue to do it and improve it but only if the rest of Australia is there behind us.
ESCAS was a huge leap into these changing times and it’s now up to us as a nation to take the next step and lead the world with a commercial, solid, and professional Livestock Global Assurance System. This will also enable producers to connect far more effectively with all of the people and systems with in the supply chain, to keep it moving forward proactively.
Even out way out here in this paradise away from the people, we still need to connect with the rest of Australia, general social support is now a part of the complex global supply chain of safe, responsible cattle and beef.