Consumers want clean, green and ethical meat products and maintaining the integrity of the sheepmeat industry is a challenge the Institute of Agriculture at The University of Western Australian (UWA) is successfully addressing.
Growers, researchers and industry representatives recently attended a clean, green and ethical industry forum at UWA to discuss innovations in animal production to meet consumer expectations, with a strong focus on the sheep industry.
UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Professor Kadambot Siddique said consumers no longer wanted only nutritious and quality meat products, but those from animals raised in sustainable, animal friendly environments and not fed antibiotics or artificial hormones.
“As product choice increases, intangibles, such as whether they are clean, green and ethical, matter more,” he said.
“Market differentiation depends on these intangibles being addressed so the industry can remain globally competitive.”
Australian lamb and sheep meat exports are worth $1.6 billion a year and with this expected to increase to $2.5 billion in 2015, addressing animal welfare issues is vital.
Professor Siddique said UWA School of Animal Biology researchers were vigorously addressing ways to improve animal welfare standards.
Meat and Livestock Australia supported UWA researcher, Dr Dominique Blache and his group, for example, pioneered techniques to select for temperament in sheep, which improves their welfare, productivity and ease of handling and management on-farm.
“Selecting for calm sheep improves production by lowering costs and improving lamb survival and colostrum production when nutrition is limited in autumn and winter,” he said.
“Growers will therefore be spending less to maintain their animals and more of their feed investment will go to production and disease resistance.
“When sheep are grazing, it’s impossible to differentiate individual temperaments. This can only be done when they are exposed to stress.
“Calm sheep react less to stimuli, express decreased flocking behaviour, don’t fear humans and cope better when separated from the flock,” Dr Blache said.
UWA Institute of Agriculture Animal Production Systems Program Leader, Professor Graeme Martin, also presented at the forum and said it was increasingly likely that future sheep producers would need to prove their management was clean, green and ethical if they wished to export meat products to premium markets.
“All links in the meat production chain, including abattoirs, processors and livestock transporters, will need to show they are behaving ethically in every aspect of their operation, since ethics applies to more than animal welfare, but to the integrity of the whole business,” he said.
“The alternative is the distinct possibility that wealthy, educated consumers will boycott their products.”
Professor Martin said the continued upward trend in lamb prices paid to producers in recent years, driven by lamb exports, was due largely to new products with a focus on quality.
“However, the next hurdle in the quality image will be the clean, green, ethical challenge to avoid hormones in food and excess fertiliser use and reduce greenhouse gases and waste disposal from feedlots,” he said.
“These new challenges don’t change the necessity for universities, such as UWA, to do good research, despite the obvious difficulties researchers will face trying to objectively measure ethical issues.”
“This means researchers, similar to producers, must change their thinking and practices to meet clean, green and ethical integrity demands, while maintaining capacity for world class research,” Professor Martin said.
Professor Graeme Martin 61 8 6488 2237
Dr Dominique Blache 61 8 6488 3587
Professor Kadambot Siddique 61 8 6488 7012 / 0411 155 396