The red meat industry needs to urgently tackle a big communications problem with the wider community, says new Meat and Livestock Australia managing director, Jason Strong.
Mr Strong stepped into the new role on April 1 at a time when the livestock sector globally is under savage attack from publicity-seeking animal activists.
And other no-less-noisy critics are pointing an accusing finger at its contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
The industry risked community sentiment shifting against it without action to improve the sector's engagement with the public, he said.
Industry policy organisations needed to respond to the challenge or the sector could be lumbered with new rules and regulations.
Community engagement should target both meat lovers and "those who don't love us quite as much as we would like them to", he said.
Mr Strong, 49, who will base himself in Brisbane, comes to the top job at MLA after an extensive career in the livestock and meat industries working from the farm through to the end consumer in both domestic and international markets.
Some of his career highlights include stints as managing director of mega beef cattle company, AACo, and working with MLA through Meat Standards Australia and as its regional manager in Europe and Russia.
Mr Strong said the industry had to respond to the challenges posed by climate change including its direct impact on farm production and management as well as the broader perception about livestock's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
Alternative views around food and how it should be produced and what we should or shouldn't be eating were increasing at a fast pace along with discussion about the role of plant-based meat alternatives and lab-grown meat.
Mr Strong said the bigger debate was how the world was going to produce enough protein for the expected increase in population in the next 20 or 30 years.
"I think we (the meat industry) are going to need all the help we can get to do that. So rather than it being a meat versus veg (debate), I think it should be (about) how do we make sure we've got enough of the most appropriate protein for everybody?" he said.
The broader industry needed to find a way of getting "in front of" the animal activists by fostering a more rational and truthful discussion about its treatment and management of livestock, Mr Strong said.
"We've got to find a way, and very quickly find a way, to share with the broader community about what it is what we do, how we do it and why we do it."
Animal activists and other industry critics were misrepresenting farmers as people who were exploiting animals and the environment for their own gain.
"We've got to get in front of those easy-to-believe stories that misrepresent our industry. We are producers of high-quality meat for the world and also custodians of the land and the environment," he said.
On the export and trade front, Mr Strong said Brexit was a mess and the ongoing debacle posed uncertainty about the future of Australia's access to the UK market.
But he was much more positive about Australia's free trade negotiations (FTA) with the rest of the European Union.
He said Australia now had its best opportunity in a generation to achieve better access for our beef, lamb and goatmeat into western Europe.
Mr Strong was also not concerned that Australia's beef exports might now be focused on too few markets.
Large volumes provided the scale necessary for investment in market development and growth while history showed when sales to one market dropped, others stepped up to take the slack.
"Australia also has four or five smaller markets to provide extra diversity," he said.
Mr Strong said his management style would be collaborative and he was keen to work with the whole industry to get the most benefit for everybody.
He said beef producers had the tools to breed better cattle but gaining their full value through the supply chain was a major challenge.
Current supply chain fragmentation was one of the industry's biggest challenges and opportunities, he said.
"We should not shy away from an ambition like doubling or tripling our supply chain margins," he said.
"Prosperity will lie in realising the substantial investments already made in better understanding and getting closer to the consumer and in technology.
"Once we do that, making sure our product has access to the best customer will be the key."
And his favourite red meat meal?
"I'm a sucker for well-cooked lamb loin chops or an easy carve roast lamb leg. On the beef side, while I enjoy steak, in recent years I've gravitated to slow cooked product such as oyster blades and briskets."
The story Red meat industry must talk to the community, says new MLA boss first appeared on Farm Online.