Aussie beef: A steer in the right direction

Beef plays a crucial role in Australian households with most families consuming it two to three times a week. But it is also critical for Australian export markets –valued at more than $11 billion dollars in 2023-24.

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Michael Whitehead, ANZ’s head of Food, Beverage and Agribusiness (FBA) Insights, says despite its ubiquity on Australian dinner tables, most people are unaware of the growing sophistication of the sector.

"It has been said … that if you sit down and eat three Big Macs in America, one of them came from Australian beef.” – Michael Whitehead

“The beef industry is important for Australia on a number of fronts. First of all, it is a massive export industry,” Whitehead told bluenotes in a podcast. “It’s one of the largest export industries in Australian agriculture and it serves growing markets, particularly in Asia, but the US and globally as well.”

Australian beef is exported to around 99 different markets in addition to strong domestic demand, Whitehead says. Australia’s industry has an edge in producing a reliable supply of high-quality beef.

“The sector employs a huge number of Australians, on farms and at beef processing – where it's turned into all the cuts –right through to the retail and export level.”

Whitehead spoke to bluenotes in the lead up to the Beef2024 industry event in Rockhampton from May 5 to 11. Every three years all parts of the beef supply chain – producers, processors, retailers, scientists and even chefs – gather to discuss the outlook.

Increasingly sophisticated

Whitehead says technology and innovation are playing a far bigger role in the beef industry globally.

“Perhaps many don't understand just how sophisticated the industry is. That comes right through the supply chain from animal breeding, animal genetics, animal management,” he says.

Australia is focused on meeting the increasing sustainability demands, which includes using technology to produce higher-quality animals while running the land in a sustainable way.

“That sophistication includes how to get more cuts out of something with less labour, using robotics and automation. Right through to the packaging, to make it more sustainable in the long run.”

These moves are necessary for Australia to keep up with global standards, Whitehead says.

“We're going to have trade agreements that make demands. Whether it is asking for more sustainable packaging, more sustainable management of animals, more reporting on how the animals are run,” he says. “Australian farmers and the Australian supply chain are already very good at that.”

Changing consumer trends

The local industry must also be nimble enough to adapt as consumer tastes change domestically and globally – including in Australian where many people are already reducing their red meat consumption.

“Australians are having smaller portions or opting for chicken or pork. But the export market is growing,” he says.

This is especially true in countries that are emerging economically.

“The demand for Australian beef from consumers, particularly in Asia – as they become wealthier, as they look at the importance of red meat in their diet – continues to grow and grow.”

Australian beef suppliers have also been successful in finding niches in more developed overseas markets such as the United States.

“It has been said, that if you sit down and eat three Big Macs in America, one of them came from Australian beef,” he says. “Americans tend to use their own beef for steak, but they import Australian beef for what's called the manufacturing beef or the hamburger beef.”

Despite this period of success and growth for the industry, Whitehead says it should not take their competitors for granted.

“We are competing on a global scale, particularly with the Americans, but also with the Europeans and other markets who produce very good beef,” he says. “We want to make sure we have great trade agreements, a quality product and reliable supply.”

Beef Week

Whitehead says Rockhampton’s Beef2024 will address many of these themes, including how to continue improving the Australian herd and how to reinforce the  dietary benefits of eating “the best beef in the world”.

“The industry is always improving around increasing export markets and market access,” he says. “And very importantly, getting that message back to Australian consumers that red meat is a vital and fundamental part of their diet.”

Jeff Whalley is a Senior Journalist with bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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