City meats country on beef

The article is riddled with errors, much of it sourced from animal rights lobbyists...

THE perception that city people do not understand agriculture will not have been helped by the February issue of Choice magazine.

A four page article by Elise Dalley purports to inform consumers about what they need to know about beef. The problem is, it appears Dalley has very little idea herself. The article is riddled with errors and misinformation, much of it sourced from animal rights lobbyists and promoters of ‘biodynamics’.

The first mistake is an attempt to distinguish between “sustainable” and “industrial” beef production. These are terms used by anti-farming activists in an attempt to denigrate those aspects of modern agriculture of which they disapprove, beginning with anything bigger than cottage-size scale.

Dalley’s definition of sustainable production is decidedly flaky. She suggests it involves animal tracing (or provenance), certain approaches to animal treatment (unspecified but presumably organic), together with rotational grazing. For reasons not given, she believes this is resource intensive and results in higher production costs.

Industrial production, she says, involves feedlot finishing using high protein diets, no provenance, and the use of fertilisers to encourage pasture growth. For some reason she thinks this results in lower quality grass and even questions the nutritional quality of the beef.

Feedlots come in for particular criticism, supposedly because they place weight gain ahead of quality and ignore climate and rainfall. (How or why this matters is not explained.) Animals Australia's concerns about feedlots, particularly shade, get a big mention.

The article includes some serious howlers. It claims grain-fed beef has a “rich flavour” while pasture-fed beef is known for its “intense beef flavour and firm texture”. The inadvertent take home message - they taste the same but pasture fed beef may be tougher – is probably the only useful information in the whole article.

Then there is the ridiculous notion that feedlot production is cheaper than pasture production. In fact, the only thing that would make Dalley’s version of ‘sustainable’ production more expensive than feedlots is a failure to use modern chemicals to control parasites. Worm and lice infested cattle tend not to grow fast.

As for grass quality, this is determined by the availability of plant nutrients, not whether those nutrients come from rock phosphate or animal manure. And it is just too silly for words to suggest that beef quality varies according to the source of fertiliser.

Finally, nobody seems to have told her that pasture rotation has long been common practice in areas where it helps with grass quality and worm control, well before it was adopted as part of biodynamics.

No doubt Elise Dalley did the best she could. She is young and has only just finished university. Perhaps her position at Choice is her first professional role, although she has written for the left-wing website Crikey and an anti-business piece for Global Environmental Journalism Initiative.

But when you consider the objective and professional way in which Choice evaluates so many other products, especially things like electrical goods and insurance, it is hard to understand why they would present consumers with such utter nonsense.

It also shows that the gap between the reality of food production and the largely ill-informed perceptions of city-based, self-appointed experts, has never been wider.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at
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    David Leyonhjelm

    David Leyonhjelm

    has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    28/02/2013 5:34:19 AM

    David - where is your evidence to suggest your claims are equally as valid? Trials have been conducted comparing taste of grass vs grain fed beef and there is a perceptible difference which consumers notice. There are also measurable physiological differences in grass which has been fertilised with one fertiliser over another. Its not so far fetched as you say to conclude that livestock raised on such pastures would develop differently, even if you just looked at marbling. You may be correct, but you call for Elise to present her facts better. Where is your evidence sir?
    28/02/2013 5:42:20 AM

    What a shame that Leyonhjelm doesnt seem to know a lot more than the poor girl he criticises for getting her facts so wrong in the Choice article. they could both have done the beef industry a huge favour by researching their subjects. then again, we have a journo and a consultant involved, the results are hardly surprising!!
    john from tamworth
    28/02/2013 7:50:30 AM

    The Choice article is an absolute piece of crap and DL has done good job of exposing the misinformation.Cattle dont eat fertilizer they eat grass.The fertiliser used in pastoral,temperate regions is single super and apart from naturally produced manure nothing else.
    CQ beef girl
    28/02/2013 9:47:56 AM

    Unfortunately the mainstream media will not delve into the finer points of comparing the various beef production systems. It's simply too technical for their readership most of whom aren't that interested anyway - they are only looking for key `take home messages'. At least David is keeping abreast of some of the misinformation that is being published and attempting to publicly counteract some of the claims - positively promoting our industry is something producers are traditionally very reticent in doing and need to do better.
    Jen from the bush
    28/02/2013 9:53:48 AM

    But David she must know - after all she has paper 'education'.
    28/02/2013 9:54:34 AM

    Good article DL I wouldn't take any notice to the criticism of the 1st two comments above they are just nit picking dills. What you write is long established practice in the industry which is proof aplenty. Another notch down for Choice which seems to be heading further down the green goon path.
    28/02/2013 11:26:40 AM

    Well said, ando! A journo + consultant = BS by any other name. (Especially this consultant).
    fair go
    28/02/2013 12:54:31 PM

    David's patronising attitude to the journalist's previous work just shows his own lack of journalistic skill. The so-called anti-business piece from the Global Journalism Initiative, published in the SMH, merely questioned the use of the term "organic" in selling bottled water - it's illegal. Perhaps David would be happier with no questioning of corporate antics resulting in bottled water being more expensive than milk. And he has obviously never read Crikey's frequent criticism of Labor and Green politics.
    28/02/2013 4:09:38 PM

    Given the fact David is a vet from Sydney he would have to know everything wouldnt he? I just despair at the current agricultural journalism in Australia.
    Pro Freedom
    1/03/2013 3:24:10 AM

    The feedlotting industry had better take note! Many "internal" issues (like shade and this insane sustainability BS) are being driven by anti-animal agriculture groups who do not care about the environment or animal welfare. They just want us out of business. DL, thanks for continuing to shine light on the lies and half-truths.
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    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at


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