Production of Australian Beef
Cattle are raised in all states of Australia over an area extending across nearly half the continental landmass.
Australian cattle breeds are divided into two main groups: temperate breeds (Bos taurus), which are derived from British and European stock, and tropical breeds (Bos indicus), developed from strains of the Indian Zebu, commonly known now as Brahman (Australia) or Brahma (U.S.). Geography plays an important role in herd selection. Temperate breeds are largely confined to the high rainfall districts of southern Australia, while tropical breeds are well suited to the extremes in temperature of the north.
There are basically two kinds of beef cattle production carried out in Australia. In the north (Queensland, the Northern Territory and upper regions of Western Australia), cattle are run extensively on large cattle stations, grazing on native pastures at very low stocking densities. The main products of this sector of the industry are manufacturing beef destined for the United States, lot-fed beef and live cattle exports. Australian Beef cattle are tailor-raised for the large variety of markets supplied (grainfed, grassfed, organic, breed specific [Wagyu or Angus]) and market specific (live export, manufacturing, domestic, high quality [Japan, U.S.]).
In the south, cattle are grazed more intensively on smaller farms sown with introduced pastures and fodder crops. The industry here supplies small, young animals chiefly for the Australian domestic market and high-quality stock for the Japanese market and other chilled beef markets around the world, including the United States.
While pasture-fed production dominates the Australian industry, the use of feedlots has developed dramatically since the mid 1980s. Feedlot production involves feeding cattle high energy feed for periods ranging from 60 to 300 days to achieve specific market requirements. Feedlots exist in both the north and the south of the continent, close to grain-growing areas. This sector provides high-quality marbled beef aimed primarily at Japanese consumers, with some shorter-fed beef also suitable for the domestic market. Australia now has a feedlot capacity of over 1 million head.
Australia’s reputation as one of the world’s largest exporters of meat and livestock is even more impressive when you consider that Australia’s 27 million head of cattle is only around 2.5% of the total world cattle herd of over one billion.
Australia is internationally recognized as free of all major livestock diseases. The Australian meat and livestock industry has had a long-term commitment to food safety, product integrity and traceability, and its product quality complements Australia’s focus on responsibility in meeting the demands of its international customers.
All cattle raised in Australia are covered by the Australian Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program, which provides certification and verification systems that can be used to instill confidence in on-farm food safety practices.
The National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is the food safety document that underpins the LPA program in Australia. It shows the history of how the animal was raised.
The Cattlecare quality assurance program is incorporated into the LPA. Cattlecare is an independently audited LPA program for on-farm management practices including chemicals. It is based on HACCP and ISO 9002.
In addition, all Australian feedlots that export beef must operate by, and be independently audited to, the standards established in the Australian National Feedlot Accreditation System (NFAS). These standards guarantee the welfare of animals, care of the environment and product integrity.
The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia’s system for the identification and tracing of cattle biosecurity, food safety, product integrity and market access. It was developed by the Australian government and the red meat industry and became mandatory in 2006.
The Property Identification Code (PIC) is the core basis of Australia’s livestock traceability system. It underpins Australia’s NVD and the NLIS programs. The PIC system was introduced in the late 1060s and identifies each property with an eight-digit alphanumeric code. The code is issued by state governments and identifies the state, region and location of the property.
The NLIS for grassfed and grainfed cattle is based on a “whole life” electronic ear tag on individual cattle, which utilizes radio frequency technology and enables individual animal transactions. The system facilitates trace-back to the property of birth. This information is transferred to a central database, allowing the tracing of cattle from the farm to the point of slaughter to occur swiftly and efficiently. This is one attribute that distinguishes the NLIS from other traceability systems around the word and ensures that red meat from Australia is always safe and reliable.