AUSTRALIA'S world-leading beef integrity and traceability systems are paying big dividends but there is work to be done to stay ahead of the game.
The chief executive officer of Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) new integrity and information systems company, Dr Jane Weatherley, delivered that message during a recent presentation in Adelaide.
Speaking at the red meat industry forum held as part of MLA's annual general meeting, she said the answer to taking integrity systems to a potential new level was in existing data and infrastructure.
"We have the data, infrastructure and mandate from industry to crack on with a value chain digital strategy and work in that space is starting now," she said.
The new company was formed to consolidate red meat integrity systems and manage them under one umbrella.
It has also been given the remit to drive a digital strategy for the industry.
Dr Weatherley used the United States' mad cow disease event to point to the benefits Australia's traceability system had delivered.
In 2003, when the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was detected in Washington State in a Holstein cow, Korea and Japan immediately banned US imports of beef.
"In Japan, Australia quickly capitalised on the US's loss and we went from having 50 per cent of the quota to 90pc," she said.
"In Korea, our market share increased by 80pc.
"The impact for the US was devastating - their export sales fell from US$3.8 billion to around $1.4b in just three years."
It wasn't until 2008 the US re-gained entry into Korea but that was met with considerable backlash from Korean consumers.
Dr Weatherley said the US had still not restored the level of imports they used to enjoy.
"This is a good example of the ability of Australia to capture opportunity via our integrity systems," she said.
The benefit of those systems has also recently been independently verified, with the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS), Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) and vendor declarations valued at $355m to the industry, in reflection of the key markets Australia trades into.
"The benefit of our clean, safe and natural image also delivers an additional $107 million, making the total value of our integrity systems around $462m," she said.
"For the $56m investment we make, that is a return of 8.3:1."
Dr Weatherley said it was critical that Australia did not become complacent.
"Foodborne illness outbreaks are occurring more frequently around the world and people want to know more about what they are purchasing," she said.
"Many food companies are moving toward improving traceability and wanting the ability to rapidly track product from farm to consumer.
"More and more in places like China there is an expectation among consumers of access to this type of information via QA (quality assurance) codes."
While Australia had led the way in robust integrity systems, other red meat producing countries are fast catching up.
Uruguay has just initiated the Never Ever program.
The guarantee is that beef with this label has never received antibiotics, hormones or proteins of animal origin.