Revolt over beef imports

CATTLE farmers declared war on their industry’s leaders on Saturday over today’s lifting of the nine-year ban on beef imports from countries with mad cow disease.

At a forum at Armidale that attracted more than 1000 cattle producers from as far a field as Darwin and including about 100 from around Kyogle, farmers accused the Meat and Livestock Association and Cattle Council of quietly agreeing to lift the ban without consulting them at a time the industry was fighting for survival.

At the often heated meeting hosted by Sydney shock jock Allan Jones, farmers voted on a five-point plan to revive the ailing cattle industry that employs more than 200,000.

The meeting voted to call on the Federal Government to set up a Rural and Regional Development bank using the nation’s $1.14 trillion superannuation savings, which would be used to help “repopulate” regional Australia.

It also wants the introduction of zonal taxation, with companies and employees west of the Great Dividing Range to pay lower rates than their city counterparts.

The third plank of the plan calls on the Federal government to cover the cost of quarantine inspections and the operation of the National Livestock Identification Scheme.

The forum also called for the introduction of a comprehensive beef grading system so consumers can purchase meats of consistent quality.

Lastly, the meeting voted to appoint a “producer run” taskforce, saying both the Cattle Council and MLA were unrepresentative and no longer worked in the interest of farmers.

Against the backdrop of a 20 per cent collapse in beef prices over the last two decades and a dramatic drop in domestic consumption, speakers said unless drastic action was taken the industry would collapse.

Earlier in the week the Cattle Council of Australia president Greg Brown branded the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee as “mischievous” and attacked senators for raising the mad cow issue.

National Senators Bill Heffernan and Barnaby Joyce, who were at the forum, hit back on Saturday.

“The Cattle Council should be sacked,” Senator Heffernan said to thunderous applause. “The only way to stop this (the importation of mad cow beef) is to rise up.”

Sen Heffernan said once the first cow was imported from a BSE affected country, Australia would lose its trade advantage of being regarded as a clean and green country.

Australia’s chief vet Andrew Carroll told the Senate Committee last week that there is no test to rule out mad cow disease in a shipment of imported beef.

National’s senator John Williams, who is also a pig farmer from Inverell, said his industry was devastated, despite government assurances, when the ban on pig imports was lifted.

“The general consensus was there was nothing to worry about because there won’t be much imported,” he said.

“Well in 1999 we imported 49,000 tons of boneless pork. Last year we imported 219,000 tons and last Christmas 75 per cent of hams were imported.”

Late last week Woolworths and Coles said they intended to shun beef imports, although they couldn’t control what beef went into processed foods, such as meat pies.

However, Senator Williams told the forum they should not believe the word of the giant supermarket chains.

He said the same pledges were given to the pork industry, yet both supermarkets now sell imported pork.

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