Tough beef with Coles on HGPs

27 Feb, 2012 07:00 AM

AS IS well known, Coles strongly promotes the fact that none of the beef it sells comes from cattle that have received hormone growth promotants (HGPs).

What most people don’t know is that, as a result, you are more likely to buy tough steak at Coles than from retailers and butchers that continue to sell beef from HGP treated cattle.

Allow me to explain.

The most tender steak in the world, Japan’s famous Kobe and Wagyu beef, comes from cattle that are kept in pens their entire lives and pampered with a highly nutritious diet and, in some cases, a daily massage. The aim is to encourage fast growth and for their muscles to become well developed but not well used.

Australian producers, who do not benefit from the subsidies and protection provided to Japanese producers, grow their best steak in feedlots where cattle are held in pens for about three months and similarly fed a nutritious diet, albeit less exotic and more affordable.

Before entering the feedlot the cattle are treated for parasites, vaccinated and trained to eat from a trough. Once in the feedlot all they have to do is eat and put on weight, with little need to exert themselves. Provided transport and slaughtering procedures are up to standard, feedlot beef is pretty much guaranteed to be tender.

Steak from cattle raised on pasture is highly variable. When the cattle are surrounded by knee-high pasture, especially something like lucerne, the end result is not much different from a feedlot. Gaining weight under such conditions requires very little effort.

But if the cattle need to walk long distances to obtain water or grass, or are chased by dogs, motorbikes or similar, their muscles become more “athletic”. Moreover, most pastures are nowhere near as nutritious as the diet provided in a feedlot, so their growth is slower. This further reduces tenderness.

The association with HGPs comes from the fact that all feedlots use them to increase productivity. It is simply not economic for a feedlot to purchase, pre-condition and feed cattle without them. The boost to feed conversion efficiency and weight gain caused by HGPs, around 15 per cent, represents the difference between break even and profitability.

Coles’ ban on buying HGP-treated cattle means none of the animals it sources for its supermarkets come from feedlots. Coles will not pay a 15pc premium for the cattle it buys, and no feedlots will forego HGPs to supply Coles because it would mean they made no profit.

As a consequence, Coles is buying cattle from a diverse range of pasture-based sources. At the moment, with conditions pretty good since the end of the drought, most of the cattle it buys have led a placid, well-fed life.

But not all of them. Some have had to work harder to get enough to eat or drink, while others will have had to deal with various kinds of harassment. And once conditions return to something like normality, there will be many more that do not enjoy the inactivity and fast growth rates of feedlots.

One of the ironies about all this is that Coles’ ban on HGPs is driven by a desire to play on consumer fears, based on the experience of two of its senior executives from the UK. Cattle producers in the UK, and the EU in general, are not permitted to use HGPs due to those fears.

The thing is, there is not a shred of evidence that HGPs pose the slightest risk to consumers. Indeed, the World Trade Organisation disputes panel has found the EU’s ban to be contrary to international trade rules because it lacks a scientific basis.

There is also little evidence that Australian consumers share the bias against modern agricultural productivity tools that is so widespread in Europe, especially now that so many European countries (including the UK) are verging on bankruptcy because they have failed to maintain a competitive economy.

On the other hand, it is well known that consumers are reluctant to buy steak if they suspect it may be tough. Before feedlots became popular, it used to be a lottery. Now, steak competes on equal terms with lamb, pork and chicken.

Given the lush conditions in much of the country, consumers buying beef from Coles may not experience any nasty surprises for a while. But in due course more and more of them will find they have purchased tough steak. And when that happens, it’s a sure bet they won’t be thinking about HGPs.

David Leyonhjelm works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services.

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


27/02/2012 2:12:33 PM

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is so loosely written it is mis-leading or just plain wrong. More homework needed please!
27/02/2012 4:32:06 PM

I really don't know how much notice you can take of this blokes opinion and statements. He seems to be an advocate for hire for anyone who wants someone to promote their position. I googled his name and it was most educational.
john from tamworth
27/02/2012 6:07:22 PM

Coles beef sales are apparently growing at double digit rates.Not a bad acheivement in a mature market.The proposition that cattle have to be grain fed and treated with HGPs to produce tender meat is a nonsense and demonstrates a very shallow understanding of beef production.COLES will likely adopt MSA grading in the future and that will put an end to the slander that their meat is tough.Surely ALFA can find some a better source of propaganda.
28/02/2012 3:43:02 AM

What absolute rubbish! Obviously David makes a living out of flogging HGP's. Firstly, Coles sources a significant proportion of their beef from lot fed cattle - I am a coles supplier and all of our product is lot fed, HGP free. Secondly, there are numerous research results that show that use of HGPs can reduce eating quality. Thirdly The nutritional benefits of grass fed beef are also well established in scientific fact (high in omega 3 etc) Shame on QCL for publishing such blatant propaganda!.
John Newton
28/02/2012 5:28:38 AM

So the ban on HGPs in Europe is not justified - do you really think so. It's not just HGPs we have to be concerned about in feedlot cattle,but the indiscriminate use of antibiotics which, it is becoming increasingly obvious, is leading to antibiotic resistance as the antibiotic residue gets into the water supply and elsewhere. I have teeth. I'd rather use them to chew on a piece of full flavoured beef which has grown up eating what it was designed to eat - grass - than a softy, mushy fatty piece of beef having been confined and force fed unnatural food and chemical additives.
28/02/2012 5:48:46 AM

I cannot believe this rubbish that David writes. We supply cattle to both Woolies and Colesand meet the specs and grade appropriately in both systems. There no HGPs in cooee of our place. If you breed the right cattle HGPs are not necessary. Who does this guy work for Woolies or some HGP Supply company!!!!!
Western Worrier
28/02/2012 6:01:49 AM

Do people get paid to write this sort of drivel? Wake up David & get yourself a proper job.
Diane Teasdale
28/02/2012 6:15:36 AM

One in nine women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime in Australia. More men die of prostate cancer than women die from breast cancer. It is known that eostrogens contribute to this problem. What is wrong with these people? Too much education at University and not enough independent research and common sense I suspect.
28/02/2012 6:21:38 AM

While some cattle has to 'work hard to find their food' other lucky cattle is 'pampered with a highly nutritious diet and, in some cases, a daily massage....Once in the feedlot all they have to do is eat and put on weight, with little need to exert themselves...." !!! Who is this person who is treating the readers as complete morons? And why is a reputable paper like this allowing such utter rubbish to be printed?
28/02/2012 6:26:12 AM

Another biased and commercial self interest article to promote feedlots. Whose payroll is this moron on.
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