New direction in red meat production

The meat industry is repositioning itself as a meat and genetic material exporter in an attempt to unlock the full financial potential of the industry.

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Dr Michael Bradfield, CEO of Breedplan SA, explained that SA red meat prices were roughly a third of what was achieved in First world countries, despite local meat being of high quality. “Prices are more in line with what is attained in developing countries, such as Pakistan and India, that don’t have a feedlot industry or are unable to produce meat of the same quality,” he said.

Bradfield identified Russia, Pacific Rim countries, Europe, South Korea, the US, and especially China, as offering great export opportunities. “While Chinese economic growth has slowed down, the demand for red meat is still growing. Meat prices in China have increased 800 % over the past decade due to a growing middle class,” he said.

Gerhard Schutte, CEO of the Red Meat Producers Organisation, said the decision should not be seen as a threat to the country’s food security:

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“By exporting meat, we would be able to enhance food security by increasing income security of commercial and emerging farmers. It is primarily higher value cuts that we are thinking of exporting.”

“We have a totally unique meat classification system, so meat is sold at a ‘younger’ age with a lower fat content than in most other countries. South Africa also has a well-stablished feedlot system that helps to ensure a uniform product. On top of this our sheep is raised on veld and they receive hardly any hormones, which would especially appeal to health-conscious consumers in first world countries.”

It is estimated that meat production will have to double by 2050 to meet rising demand. This means that good market opportunities exist for South African livestock, semen, and embryo exports.

Schutte said South Africa already had protocols in place to export meat to 42 countries and that the organisation was currently working with government to unlock more of the top-end markets. “Producers realise that government doesn’t have sufficient resources to drive this change. If we want to become a leading exporter of meat, we would have to help government to help us,” Schutte said.

Bradfield said that a negative perception of a country’s health status was usually an obstacle to red meat exports.

“Countries, such as the US and Australia, often use this to keep the developing world out of lucrative markets. We would have to find a way to appease fears about the risk of zoonotic diseases, such as foot-and-mouth, by implementing sound management and prevention strategies.”

He added that the industry would eventually have to develop a traceability programme, as was the case in Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland. This was easier said than done, as South Africa had a lot more animals than those countries.

The issue was further complicated by the fact that more than 40% of cattle were in the hands of emerging farmers, who often found it difficult to adhere to global best practices for controlling the movement of animals.