Prime Cut: The future for red meat is already here

Sunset/sunrise? Depends which way you look at it. Photo rgspencer

The time for navel-gazing is over, the future for red meat is already here and it’s time to get moving forward.

The sector is holding its breath on the cusp of the government’s signing of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with 10 other nations, representing 13.5 percent of global GDP, later today in Santiago, Chile. If all goes well, as NZ International Business Forum head Stephen Jacobi has pointed out, this will mean access for New Zealand’s red meat to four economies, Japan, Mexico, Canada and Peru, that we did not have access to previously.  It will help to tackle costly non-tariff barriers that hinder trade for our exporters and to ease trade in the digital economy which will help all those servicing the sector in IT, consultancy, transport, logistics, distribution or computer services. CPTPP includes specific commitments to make it easier for small firms to do business and sets up a framework of other rules, including good environmental practices and decent labour standards – which go further than any trade agreement to date.

Once access is gained, of course, the hard work begins or continues for New Zealand’s meat exporters in finding and making their markets within the markets. This will need to be balanced around impending changes around other trade agreements, most notably with the UK and the EU and also any changes to the US trading system and any prospect of a global trade war. Negotiating a path around this will take nerves of steel for the global trade community, NZIBF’s Stephanie Honey wrote this week.

Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ Ltd)’s release last week of its chunky report into the threat and challenges posed by alternative proteins makes interesting reading. There is no doubt that the consumer trend towards acceptance of alternative protein is increasing and its delivery is becoming more feasible too. Within five years, chief executive Sam McIvor says, it will be a reality. But the report has identified the main drivers for the trend are a move away from intensive factory farming practices and ‘big food’, both of which offer significant opportunities and prospects for the New Zealand beef and sheep sector.

“It’s vital we leverage our competitive advantage and rigorously protect it – grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free natural protein,” he says.

These concerns were echoed here in New Zealand in the latest research for the Ministry for Primary Industries by market researchers UMR. This involved a survey of 1,245 New Zealanders and nine focus groups. The work showed that, contrary to a media literature scan, there is no rural-urban divide in the minds of consumers with both rural and urban populations showing the most significant environmental issue is water quality, but there was recognition that farmers are working to do something about this. The biggest turn-off was intensification and pollution issues.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was pleased there was overall recognition of the importance of the primary sector to the New Zealand economy, “but more remains to be done to address sector impacts on fresh water and the environment,” he said, adding understanding the values and perceptions of New Zealanders is a critical input to the work of Government and industry.

New Zealand’s meat production systems are already responding – more rapidly than some commentators give them credit for as recent Statistics NZ figures have shown – to environmental concerns and moving towards a more sustainable future where quality of meat, including animal welfare, and its value matters more than quantity and volume.

It’s very evident from the alternative protein report that the Millennial generation has a very different view of the world to the baby boomer population currently exiting the workforce around the world. They will/are already shape(ing) the future. They are part of the drive for ‘clean’ meat, cultured from cells, centred primarily in the US, where promotions target the ground beef for burger patties and meatballs and chicken.

New Zealand is already a highly renowned source of animal products for medical use, because of our disease-free reputation, especially from BSE/scrapie. Could it not be for the same for clean, cultured/cellular meat sourced from the best herds and flocks? Which of the meat and/or bio-tech companies is already investigating the opportunities in those niches, I wonder?

Future meat challenges is just one of the topics that will be considered by the red meat sector’s meat scientists and technologists at the AgResearch Meat Industry Workshop on 14 March. More about that later.

The sector will need to be brave, nimble on its feet, truly innovative, and flexible enough to cope with this changing global trade environment.

We can do this!


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