Protesters fear trade deal
CLUNES beef producer Anne Thompson found plenty of support for her protest against beef imports, with 120-plus people demonstrating outside the Lismore Workers Club on Tuesday night.
The protest was directed at Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was addressing the Labor Party faithful at a gala dinner function.
Ironically, some of those guests, who paid $100 for the opportunity to hear Ms Gillard speak, were themselves tucking into locally-produced fillet steak, with wild mushrooms and a red wine jus.
Mrs Thompson organised the protest in response to a free trade agreement that will see beef imported from 22 countries from March 1.
Along with the loss of beef industry jobs there is the real risk imported beef infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, could damage Australia’s clean, green image in the international market.
This is especially the case for Northern Rivers producers, who produce some of the cleanest and leanest grass-fed veal anywhere in the world.
“We are shaking our heads in disbelief,” said Mrs Thompson, who helps manage 100 head of Charolais cattle.
“We have been advised the risk (of bringing BSE into the country) is minimal, but a minuscule risk is still too much.”
Mrs Thompson said other beef-producing countries were in awe of Australia’s national system of livestock identification.
Using ear tags, Australian beef can be traced from paddock to plate, but there will be no guarantee beef imported after March 1 will have the same traceability.
Neither the US nor Argentina have such a system, yet both countries will be exporting huge quantities of beef to Australia.
“This is just being done to appease the free trade market,” Mrs Thompson said.
Another area of concern was the fact that government advisor Dr John Mathews had just 18 days to prepare a report into the probable risk of importing beef from outside Australia. Based on estimated consumption, the importation would likely see the loss of 1000 jobs associated with beef production in Australia.