Will red meat end up with a single voice peak body?

EFFORTS to reform the way the red meat industry is structured, to ensure both the advocacy groups and the research corporations are still fit for the job, ticked away throughout 2019.

It’s just one of the big ticket items at play in Australia’s red meat game featured in Australian Community Media’s Rare Vision publication, to be included in its agricultural newspapers this week.

The overarching red meat body, the Red Meat Advisory Council, has been overseeing a year-long review of the industry’s Memorandum of Understanding, the document which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the six peak industry advocacy bodies and the three service providers.

RMAC announced the review at the end of last year after agitation came to a head about perceived inefficiencies, duplication of roles and wasted levy money. RMAC pointed to the “enormous political, economic and cultural shifts” that had occurred since the MoU was created 20 years ago.

Many in the industry saw the fact the industry opted to get on the front foot with a review as a progressive move, given hints were coming very strongly from the Federal Government that rural innovation needed a serious overhaul and research and development corporations (RDCs) in particular had to be put under the microscope.

Of course, since then the government has in fact announced a review of all rural RDCs with a focus on getting more bang for buck.

The way the red meat business is set up in Australia has always been complex.

While there have long been calls from up and down the supply chain for this to be looked at, the other side of the argument is there is no simple way to organise representation of numerous sectors which often have differing – some would say at times even opposite – needs.

However, RMAC’s chair Don Mackay believes there is significantly more which binds the industry together than drives it apart.

The review process, chaired by one of Australia’s leading public policy review experts Jim Varghese and led by an independent and skills based nine-member taskforce, involved widespread and comprehensive consultation.

From the start of the year, the word was appetite for change was strong. Indeed, some of the submissions from key players advocated very strongly for significant change and large-scale resource combining.

However, when recommendations were released mid-year which called for three new streamlined and unified industry bodies to replace the current structure, there was very little immediate outright support.

The key recommendations were to create a single body to receive and manage all levies and to advocate for red meat, called Red Meat Australia, and for the combining of the three service providers – Meat & Livestock Australia, LiveCorp and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation – into one.

It seems the third body, the formation of a single integrity organisation, has fairly widespread support and it was actually included in the industry’s strategic plan for the next ten years, released towards the latter part of the year.

Cattle Council of Australia, arguably the key peak industry body given it represents grass-fed producers who supply the lion’s share of levies, has said no to combining advocacy functions.

Grass-fed producers simply were not willing to cede any share of industry representation, nor any say in how industry levies are spent.

Questions are starting to emerge about how such a comprehensive review process could wind up with recommendations not supported by a key player.

However industry commentators point out that could be explained if it turns out CCA is the only one against the idea of a single voice.

RMAC will provide an official summary of responses to the recommendations when it has heard from all peak groups and RDCs, expected before the end of the year.

The story Will red meat end up with a single voice peak body? first appeared on Farm Online.