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TAS Country : September 16th 2010
32 Tasmanian Country Friday, September 17, 2010 OPINION The meat in the sandwich DYING BREED: Once there were 500 independent butchers' shops in Tasmania. Now there are are only about 80. CHEWS theFAT David Byard 'If one considered how many cattle the Powranna feedlot buys and compared that with what the supermarkets would buy if they opted only for Tasmanian cattle, then probably the supermarkets would treble what the feedlot takes.' PRICE CHECK: The biggest supermarket chain is buying fewer cattle. LOVE or hate the two large supermarket chains operating in this state, the fact is they have enormous influence on not only the rural producers but society as a whole. When supermarkets first moved into retail meat they brought an enormous amount of pressure to bear on retail butchers. They could simply make meat a loss leader and absorb the cost. Other meat retailers simply couldn't match the prices the supermarkets charged. There were 500 butchers' shops in Tasmania at the time. Now we have about 80, and we find the supermarkets are genuinely setting the price not only for meat but also the livestock the meat comes from. In the early piece, the biggest supermarket chain was buying in excess of 500 cattle a week. Now it is buying about 100 a week. The other large supermarket doesn't buy any cattle in or from this state. If one considered how many cattle the Powranna feedlot buys and compared that with what the supermarkets would buy if they opted only for Tasmanian cattle, then probably the supermarkets would treble what the feedlot takes. I can see the headlines if the feedlot decides to leave, but the supermarkets have been progressively killing off our livestock industry. Last week, they contacted one producer to tell him they would not be killing any more lambs and pigs in Tasmania. But, by the end of the day, they had changed their minds. This of course has an enormous effect on competition for livestock and the jobs of the people who process those animals. At a rural conference recently, Woolworths announced it was bringing in a label for Tasmanian meat. At the time, the company spokesman said it was buying 6000 cattle from Tasmania a year and the meat from these animals supplied 80 per cent of its beef requirement for Tasmanian consumers. I was more than a little puzzled by these figures. They didn't add up. To get 80 per cent of their needs, I would have thought it would take more like 30,000 cattle (dressed weight 220kg/ carcass) to fulfil that need. I would certainly be happy for Woolworths to show me my sums are wrong. While they are at it, perhaps they can tell us how the independent audits are done. Coles has just announced its new HGP-free strategy for the whole of Australia, saying it will not buy HGP- treated cattle from next year. I am puzzled by this as Tasmania has banned the use of HGPs for a decade, yet Coles has not been buying Tasmanian cattle for some time. The other interesting point is that Coles says it will compensate producers for the non-use of HGP. This seems incredible, when HGP use is quoted about $70-$80 profit per beast to the fattener. How can Coles do this and continue to tell people like the ACCC that it only makes 2-3 per cent on meat? Again, I would like somebody from Coles to tell me and the readers where I am wrong. The importation of meat, vegetables and fruit is one of the greatest threats to Tasmanian agriculture. Even when people assure us they are selling genuinely Tasmanian product, it may not be the case. Retail meat is a great example. How many people put up notices saying we only sell Tasmanian and stock meat from interstate because of its price. There is no audit and my guess is 90 per cent of the claims are fictitious. A very complicated process, but maybe there's a simple solution. When we bring in fruit, vegies, meat, whatever, we could make a mandatory system so all manifests are recorded on a central database. That way, with one keystroke we could know who is importing what. This could be funded by a small fee, which could be levied on importers. I don't think this could be classed as a restraint of trade between states. Certainly some of the information supplied to a succession of Senate and ACCC inquiries should not have been taken as gospel. On radio the other day, I heard a processor claim cattle prices are better in Tasmania than interstate. One could argue and there are many abattoirs putting prices out. But when I compared apples to apples, I found the processor in question, though having an Aus-Meat licence, does not have to abide by the Aus-Meats trim specification. He has some sort of deal with farmers to say he can trim what he likes off their carcasses before the scales. This seems to be a unique arrangement by this company and though Aus-Meats does audit them, unlike other companies they appear not to audit them for their trim. The only problem is that suppliers who have signed with this processor have no idea how much is trimmed before the carcass goes on the scales.
September 9th 2010
September 23rd 2010