Levy bites into farm profits

It’s a small levy designed to give ­consumers safe, mouth-watering beef but the cost quickly adds up.

COSTS ADD UP: Millers Forest grazier Allan McLean says the $5 cattle levy may be designed to give consumers mouth-watering meat but the costs soon add up.

The $5 cattle levy applies to every head of beef cattle sold in saleyards across Australia including Maitland to Singleton, but takes a bite out of profits and is under review.

The fee helped to establish the Meat Standards Australia beef grading to help consumers select the best cuts of meat for their needs and implement a trace-back system in the rare event of a ­disease outbreak.

The levy is also used to fund research to help increase beef yields from the development of better pastures.

“The biggest waste is that it doesn’t fund the research for long enough,” Millers Forest grazier Allan McLean said.

Often research is only funded for three years.

“It should be funded for 10 years so that we can get an outcome,” Mr McLean said.

Beef processors pay the levy which is factored into the price of every steer, heifer and cow sold.

Eversons Processors which distributes beef, lamb and pork to butchers across the Lower Hunter through its Thornton coolroom has concerns about the levy’s effectiveness.

“As far as what the government does with the money, I don’t think they use it to the best possible extent,” Sam Everson said.

“I don’t think they work with the producers or retailers as well as they could.”

MSA grading until recently was only applied to the best quality beef, but lower grade cuts can now wear the seal of approval if the meat is cooked appropriately.

Mr Everson said this had confused shoppers who could now end up with rubbery meat.

“It was a really good system but they’ve opened up the standards,” he said. “They will say its MSA graded as long as you put the chuck steak in the slow cooker for eight hours.”

MSA-graded beef is sold to butchers in boxes with a numerical system that represents eating quality.

“The butchers themselves don’t even know how to read the codes,” Mr Everson said.

“I don’t know how the average mother is meant to know what they are buying.”

Bowe and Lidbury livestock auctioneer Michael Easey said the levy protected consumers in the rare event of a disease outbreak such as mad cow disease, which has affected the UK in past years.

The levy funds an electronic ear tag system that allows disease experts to trace cattle back to an infected property and quarantine it.

“It helps out and keeps the Australian agricultural industry as good as what it is,” he said.

“Our meat quality is right up there, but what it really means is that we can respond quicker in an emergency.”

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