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Business as usual despite BSE scare

THE Western Australian beef industry will play only a minor role in Australia’s effort to meet increased Japanese and Korean demand for Australian beef in the wake of the US mad cow scare.

Opportunities for Western Australia’s beef producers will remain limited due to the State’s relatively low beef cattle herd numbers compared with the national beef cattle population.

The increased demand in Japan and South Korea is expected to be short term, however.

Despite the expected spike in demand for Australian cattle, a rise in domestic prices is not expected as they are already at a premium, due to reduced cattle herd numbers following the drought.

Japan has banned the import of US beef following a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, late last year.

This has left a gap in the Japanese market, with debate continuing as to whether Australia can adequately fill the demand.

Meat and Livestock Association chairman David Crombie said it was too early to definitively assess the effect of the US BSE case on the Australian industry.

“In the short term there may be additional orders from Japan and Korea due to the temporary bans on US product entering these countries,” he said.

“However, Pacific Rim beef markets are complex and integrated.

“Disruption in one market affects all markets.”

The disruption has led to an increase in inquiries from Japanese agricultural officials on a visit to the east coast last week, during which they sought assurances that Australia could fill the demand gap.

“We have provided assurances that we do have the capabilities to supply them [Japan],” an MLA spokesperson said.

Japan is a major market for Australian beef with 235,571 tonnes, worth around $1.14 billion, exported to Japan between January and October in 2003.

Japan remains one of WA’s largest markets for beef along with the US, Indonesia, South Korea and Canada, which together take nearly 70 per cent of the State’s beef exports.

One of WA’s largest beef producers, Harvey Beef, is not expecting a huge increase in demand from Japan in the long term.

Harvey Beef CEO Garry Minton said WA’s contribution to the Japanese demand would remain limited due to the State’s relatively small herd sizes.

“WA herds are not large compared to the balance of Australian cattle herd sizes,” Mr Minton told WA Business News.

Australia has a beef herd population of about 26 million, with WA contributing just two million of that.

“Of the two million, every year about 750,000 cattle are either processed or go out live,” Mr Minton said.

“About 45 per cent are exported live and the rest processed in abattoirs for the local market.

“About two years ago Harvey Beef started to export to Japan and we have grown into the Japanese market since then.

“Our intention would be to maximise what we can without upsetting our existing and other markets, and when America resumes its exports to Japan, maintain some of that market.”

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