SHEEPMEAT industry heavyweight Roger Fletcher has warned against following calls by Victorian farmers that could destabilise an upcoming move to change the national lamb definition policy.
“How can one state backflip on five or on the whole industry?” the Fletcher International Exports managing director asked.
Mr Fletcher and other leading sheep industry figures have spoken out in response to recent media reports suggesting the Vic Farmers Federation was unhappy with the move to align Australia’s lamb definition with New Zealand’s standard.
Sheepmeat Producers Australia recently released survey results that showed 83 per cent industry support for the change, after a nine-week public consultation phase conducted across the sheep supply chain.
The only state where the majority of producer survey respondents did not support the change was Vic.
Once the new definition is adopted, lambs will be classified as “young sheep under 12 months of age or which do not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear”.
Among the concerns raised by VFF president Leonard Vallance was a plea to allow the complete rollout of objective carcase measurements in abattoirs before the definition was changed.
“We need this technology in place to underpin our world class product; we’re concerned about the integrity of the lamb brand,” he said.
“The reality is that very few sheep producers will benefit from this change.
“It’s for the processors to have an advantage in the export market, whether or not those returns will flow back to the farmgate remains to be seen.”
Mr Fletcher queried whether the Vic response should have much impact.
“They have a right to have their say but unfortunately the majority of industry is backing it – full stop,” he said.
“This will be of a benefit to the industry and the sheep farmer and we will have a better quality lamb because people can keep them on feed to finish them that little bit better.”
WAFarmers Livestock Council member and former Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Jeff Murray backed Mr Fletcher’s stance, saying there had been a long lead-in time, underpinned by scientific research and industry consultation.
The policy change is expected to be introduced by spring 2019 but Mr Fletcher said it could be implemented immediately.
“The processing industry as a whole is for it, Sheep Producers have come together on it but then you’ve got one splinter group that drops out,” he said.
Mr Fletcher said he did not understand Vic’s motives and did not accept an excuse related to the upcoming implementation of dual energy X-ray absorptiometry technology in meat processing plants nationwide.
“Making this change to the lamb definition is the right thing to do and the big winners will be farmers that don’t get penalised,” he said.
“DEXA measures meat, fat and bone content but it doesn’t do quality at all.”
Mr Fletcher said research proved that one of the most important ways to ensure tender meat was the nutrition in the final six weeks but presently farmers may be reluctant to finish on feed in case lambs cut their teeth.
“The industry as a whole will be a lot better and it brings us into line with the rest of the world but I think it’s more than that, we’re going to have a better product,” he said.
Livestock SA president Joe Keynes said despite the Vic reaction, the sheep industry in SA was “firmly in favour” of the lamb definition change and believed it would not have much impact on the marketing of Australian lamb.
"I think SPA consulted pretty widely and the feedback they've had hasn't suggested this is likely," he said.
Instead he believes marketing would become easier while also not disadvantaging producers.
“There is no change in eating quality between an animal with lambs teeth or a rising two-tooth but there is obviously a big price differential for those animals that have just cracked teeth,” he said.
He said SA’s Merino breeders could also benefit from these changes.
“A lot of Merino lambs are being finished, with breeders getting a fleece of them, which is very valuable, and selling lambs at the yearling stage,” he said.