Sheep producers have long had to deal with the fact that when selling lambs that take longer to ‘finish’ to a sale-ready weight, they run the risk of the animal being a lamb on day, and a hogget the next if a permanent incisor has broken through the gum. This has led to wastage in the supply chain, lamented by both producers and processors. It has also increased the risk in purchasing store lambs, and optimising their value. Australia has also been seen to be at a disadvantage to New Zealand as they have a different definition of lamb, not converting to a hogget until a permanent incisor was deemed to be ‘in wear’.
SPA has adopted the policy of changing the lamb definition to be in line with that of New Zealand, reducing waste in the supply chain. The new definition was introduced on 1 July 2019 and is as follows:
‘Young sheep under 12 months of age, or which do not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear.’
The live export of sheep has been under very close scrutiny in both 2018 and 2019, with regulatory reviews covering all aspects of the trade. The trade is largely based in Western Australia, with a smaller proportion of sheep sourced from South Australia. Sheep producers in these areas rely heavily on the trade as it fits well into the production systems of Western Australia, greatly assists the viability of the sheep industry, and is a large employer of people in regional areas. Sheep producers are also aware that the trade is only sustainable if animal welfare standards can be maintained at levels acceptable to all involved in livestock production in Australia.
SPA supports the review process involving the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) as well as those involving heat stress. SPA supports a sustainable trade based on regulation which is supported by evidence-based science and further supported by both the Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) for Australian livestock, and the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) which pushes for a lifting of global standards. SPA also supports the continued program of research and adoption to allow the trade to expand in a fully sustainable manner.
The issue – non-tariff barriers
As with all industries that have a significant export exposure, the sheep industry supports the Australian Government pursuing FTAs to enable greater market access. If a FTA is not in place, efforts to reduce trade barriers are supported. However, the trend to reduce tariffs has seen a rise in non-tariff barriers such as processor accreditations, customs controls, expiry date restrictions and a host of other measures that impair Australia’s ability to export sheepmeat.
The issue – new agreements
Australia is currently in several negotiations that are important to the future of supply of Australian sheepmeat products to global markets. These include the European Union FTA and United Kingdom FTA (presumably post-Brexit) as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (which includes ASEAN nations plus China, India and New Zealand). The negotiations can be seen to be slow paced, with meat products always seen as a sensitive issue and not dealt with until the very end of the negotiations. There are also agreements that have been reached but have yet to be ratified, the most recent being the Indonesia – Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (IACEPA).
SPA maintains constant contact with the trade negotiators at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to ensure that sheepmeat is seen as a non-negotiable commodity when negotiating in vital regions of market access. SPA supports the negotiation of the reduction in trade barriers, where those negotiations do not involve any compromise to Australia’s high standards of biosecurity. SPA encourages the Australian Government to ratify trade agreements as soon as possible, once negotiations have been completed, to allow the tariff reductions to come into force.
SPA appreciates the difficulties the sheep industry has experienced in grappling with mulesing as a procedure. The primary issue is producers being able to deal effectively with flystrike, recognised as a major welfare problem in itself, as well as finding viable alternatives to mulesing.
SPA encourages sheep producers to phase out mulesing as soon as practical, however recognises that until this can occur, best practice must be promoted when mulesing, which includes pain relief. SPA is committed to advocating that a range of suitable pain relief options must be available to enable producers to follow best practice pain management. SPA supports further research into pre and post local analgesic options for husbandry practices undertaken by sheep producers. SPA is monitoring the development of new products from research bodies and industry, and will continue to work with WoolProducers Australia, state farming organisations and other relevant bodies. SPA will review its policy as further developments become commercially available.
Sheep reproduction is an important factor for producers to manage and can have significant impacts on the economics and profitability of enterprises. In particular, lamb survival is a unique challenge that poses a significant supply chain constraint as well as animal welfare concern for the industry.
SPA is partnering with key industry stakeholders to develop the Sheep Reproduction Research, Development & Extension (RD&E) Strategy. The strategy is focused on boosting on-farm lamb survivability through improved uptake of current extension tools and identification of any knowledge or research gaps.
There is a lack of national consistency in footrot management, contributing to increases in prevalence, mainly in the intermediate strains. This inconsistency is largely due to differences on definitions of footrot between jurisdictions, and differing methods and capabilities to manage the issue.
SPA strongly advocated for the reformation of the National Footrot Working Group to assess the current status of the disease and how to most effectively control it, including through the development of vaccines. In the long term, SPA is committed to pursuing a national footrot definition.
There is increasing pressure from the human health sector to restrict or eliminate antibiotic use in animals. There are currently no up-to-date antibiotic prescribing guidelines for Australian veterinarians working with sheep, and without them, continued access to these important treatments is at risk. This is a key reputational and sustainability issue for the sheep industry.
To address these issues, SPA has partnered with key industry stakeholders to develop Australian Antibiotic Prescribing Guidelines for Sheep.
Limitations with the current Regional Biosecurity Plan (RBP) framework, in particular any robust reporting and auditing structures, have been raised by key industry stakeholders.
SPA places great emphasis on the benefits of fostering regional collaboration between producers, and continues to see merit in the role of RBP in supporting a strong national biosecurity system. While SPA recognises the current RBP framework has limitations, in particular any robust reporting and auditing structures, we have always supported efforts to improve biosecurity in the regions through collaborative efforts
The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia’s system for tracing cattle, sheep and goats. Livestock traceability plays a key role in maintaining Australia’s competitiveness in the global market and underpins trust in our industry for customers and consumers. The rapid traceability of livestock is critical in order to facilitate swift responses by government and industry in the event of an emergency animal disease outbreak or food safety incident. Traceability systems are also used to verify the provenance of Australian red meat and helps to maintain Australia’s competitive advantage. Ongoing enhancement of NLIS is required to ensure that it continues to meet the expectations of customers and delivers performance that meets the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards.
The current national NLIS system for sheep and goats is based on a mob-based system; visually readable ear tags printed with a Property Identification code, movement documentation, and recording of mob-based movements on the NLIS database are used to trace sheep from property of birth through to processing or export. In 2017, Victoria commenced a staged implementation of an electronic individual identification (EID) based system for sheep and goats.
SPA supports enhancements to the NLIS for Sheep and Goats to meet the National Traceability Performance Standards. Key activity areas include:
SPA would like industry to achieve a road map for a robust national traceability system agreed to by industry and government and implementation commenced.
Objective measurement of sheepmeat is important to ensure a consistently quality product to consumers. Lamb is a premium product but the industry has to be able to prove that it is so measurement of quality is vital.
In addition, processors need to benefit by being able to direct product to the right customer, to create cost efficiencies and improve profitability. It also enables information to move along the supply chain showing the quality of the product and information and price signals can flow back to producers to help business improvement and profitability.
Recent research and development within the industry with technologies such as DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) to measure lean meat yield (LMY) and devices to measure IMF (intramuscular fat – a measure of eating quality indicating juiciness and flavour) has shown the potential of these technologies. However, adoption of these technologies has been slow. Lamb prices are good now but will they always be?
SPA endorses the evolution of industry value chains to support objective measurement and incentives for behaviour on-farm which increases the value of lamb and sheepmeat. SPA supports:
SPA would like to see the lamb industry measuring lean meat yield (LMY) as calculated by DEXA and IMF measured at chain speed during processing so consumers can be guaranteed a quality product; producers can adjust their ram selection for a balance between yield and eating quality in the lambs they produce; and processors can optimise boning, target specific markets and potentially reward producers.
Guaranteeing the safety and provenance of its products is of the highest priority to the sheepmeat industry and SPA because it underpins access to both domestic and international markets. SPA is committed to working with industry and across all levels of government to ensure the integrity of lamb and sheepmeat and assure our customers that these products are safe, ethically produced, and traceable throughout the value chain. SPA is actively involved in programs administered through SAFEMEAT, MLA and its subsidiary Integrity Systems Company, and the National Residue Survey. These programs have been developed to protect Australia’s reputation as a supplier of high quality, safe, hygienic product and demonstrate Australia’s commitment to meat safety through the rigorous standards and systems.
SPA works with the National Residue Survey (NRS) to deliver meat residue monitoring programs that support international market access and to validate industry quality assurance programs, such as the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA).
SPA checks the performance of service providers that monitor product safety and compliance (NRS), provide systems for meat safety and quality assurance (MLA, ISC) and ensure that industry and government requirements are met.
Other key activities include: