CONCERNS are mounting about the trade risks posed should a new beta agonist drug be registered for use in the lot feeding sector.
Producers believe the production gains afforded lot feeders from beta agonists, which act as a growth promotant, are short-term and don't outweigh the potential for long-term damage to the industry should overseas markets close.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Association is currently considering the approval of Zilmax, a drug which uses the beta agonist zilpeterol as its active ingredient.
NSW Farmers is urging producers to make their opposition to its registration known.
Lot feeders do not appear to be actively lobbying for its approval but the sector's peak organisation says it will look to APVMA to provide assurance the product, and the proposed systems to control its use, are safe for humans, livestock, the environment and trade.
The Australian Lot Feeders' Association said the Australian supply chain had appropriate industry systems and regulations in place to ensure the product, if approved, would be used appropriately and in accordance with APVMA and label requirements.
Australia, through these systems, has a proven track record of being able to deliver product integrity that meets customer and country requirements, it said.
But producers say it would be impossible to convince a market that has a zero beta agonist requirement that Australia is able to manage it out of the product it supplies that customer.
NSW Farmers' cattle committee chair Derek Schoen said the issue was not about how well managed the drug's use was in Australia.
"It only needs one leakage and we could be locked out of valuable markets, with huge ramifications to all in our beef supply chain," he said.
"It might only take one opportunistic feedlotter - a farmer who only occasionally feedlots and is not aware of the implications of its use - and the consequences affect the entire industry."
Australia's biggest market by volume, China, has banned zilpeterol, along with our highest value per kilogram market, the European Union.
The Russian Federation, Egypt, Taiwan, Turkey and Vietnam also do not accept beef from countries where it's use is permitted.
Behind those moves are perceived human health concerns and a general dislike among consumers for any additives used in beef production.
"Because most of our key trade markets have a zero tolerance to beta agonists - not a minimum residue level but a zero policy - approving their use is an unacceptable risk to Australia's meat export industry," Mr Schoen said.
He said the shutting of market access to beef on the grounds of the drug being identified could also lead to other animal protein products from Australia being locked out of the same market.
Last year, China banned all Canadian meat exports for five months because a beta agonist was detected in pork imported from Canada, Mr Schoen he said.
Producers were not challenging the science supporting the potential benefits of Zilmax to feedlot efficiency, he said.
"We recognise the productivity gains on offer, but when we are all working to supply the same market short-term gains in one sector can do irreparable damage to others," he said.
"Our reputation for producing clean and safe food is valued both at home and abroad, so we need to be careful to maintain it."
The Australian Meat Industry Council has also advocated alongside producers to oppose the registration, although did not wish to make further comment.
Mr Schoen said Australian beef exports were worth almost $10.5 billion in 2019.
"If we want Australian agriculture to become a $100 billion sector by 2020, we cannot jeopardise the profitability of one of its main contributing industries," he said.