AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK HARVEY-SUTTON

As the peak industry body representing Australia’s livestock export sector, the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) promotes the interests of the sector, including investments to improve animal welfare, encourages the adoption of best practice and advises members on challenges and changes to the operating environment.

ALEC’S members account for more than 95% of Australia’s annual livestock exports, they play a vital role in Australia’s export economy and in realising the Red Meat 2030 vision, which is to double the value of red meat sales by 2030. 

We caught up with ALEC CEO, Mark Harvey-Sutton to discuss the current climate and what the future holds for the Australian live export industry. 

RMAC: What was your involvement in shaping Red Meat 2030?
MH-S: ALEC has its own strategic plan, however there is an overlap between that and the whole-of-industry plan that Red Meat 2030 lays out, we were a signatory to that, participating in the workshops that took place to define the priorities. The intent was for Red Meat 2030 to be ambitious; to shape the future of the industry.

RMAC: Tell us what you currently see in Australia’s export market. How is it responding to the current climate?
MH-S:  The livestock sector plays a vital role in underpinning the price of Australian red meat sales and has a strategic role in key food security needs of our trading partners.
The global pandemic has proven our industry to be resilient, demand from international markets has been strong and we’ve continued to trade, which has built trust. There’s real capacity for growth. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been challenges.

RMAC: What have been the main challenges brought about by COVID and how has the industry met them?
MH-S: The obvious one is the reduction in airfreight, which has meant frozen and chilled meat cannot be exported by air and livestock trade by sea is in higher demand, so we’ve had to rise to the challenge of meeting that demand, amid much higher regulations. 

There are challenges with moving people and the industry has had to adapt  – for example vets and stock people are sometimes spending months at a time on vessels as they can’t return to Australia, whereas  pre-COVID they would leave the livestock vessel and fly straight back. This is an example of the calibre of people who work in the live export industry and their commitment to what we do and ensuring the livestock are well cared for.

RMAC: What makes Australia’s export market different to international markets?
MH-S: There are over 100 countries that expert livestock, but Australia is the only one that has animal livestock regulations right in to market, so exporters have to show traceability right up to the point of slaughter. And we’ve been able to continue to meet this Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) throughout the pandemic. 

RMAC: What tech or innovations are available to make that possible?
MH-S: Livecorp manages the R&D aspect of the live export trade in conjunction with Meat & Livestock Australia  to continually develop projects that look at innovative ways to best manage livestock during voyages. There is also a traceability and process program called LGAP (Livestock Global Assurance Program), which provides industry quality assurance on the supply chains in market. This is not a regulatory obligation, but instead meets needs through best practice. Good production practices translate to better outcomes for the livestock.

RMAC: How do Australia compare when it comes to biosecurity?
MH-S:
Our Biosecurity practices are strong – we’re vigilant that vessels returning from sensitive overseas markets are disease free. Australia has world-leading integrity systems that provide our market assurances. All insurances are in place when a vessel departs around animal health and biosecurity. 

RMAC: What part will the livestock sector play in boosting Australia’s economy into the future?
MH-S: COVID has taught us that Australian livestock trade has a big role to play in global food security. The traditional perception is that our product is high quality – and that remains true – the quality of our livestock is one of the attractions of our industry. We also should recognise going forward, that food security is going to be a huge driver of our trade globally, across all of industry. The industry needs to broaden its perspective in terms of trade relationships. There are opportunities globally, our biggest offering is reliability and this is more important than ever.

RMAC: What does the next 5 years look like for our livestock export industry?
MH-S: For the sustainability of the live export trade, we need to diversify and grow our international export markets – this should be a key focus. I can see a strong future for the trade, our customers tell us the quality, reliability and integrity systems in place put us in a strong position as a preferred source of livestock. That can only grow as the dynamics of world trade adjust over the next few years.