Farm representative bodies are behind their opponents in terms of money and message.
Farmers struggle against a range of hurdles, from the challenging climate to our exposure to the uncertainties of global markets.
Despite these pressures, Australia’s agricultural sector produces enough to feed 60 million people worldwide.
We can do this by being global leaders in many areas, such as high efficiency in converting limited rainfall to produce.
Meat and livestock comprises one of Australia’s largest agricultural industries, and high levels of animal welfare are essential if a farmer is to be productive in animal agriculture.
While the motive for having a livestock enterprise is monetary, the overwhelming majority of Australian farmers have a deep passion and true concern for their animals.
Farmers will regularly work on a Sunday or late at night in all weather conditions to ensure no harm comes to their animals.
They treat them with respect and expect the same care to be displayed throughout the supply chain.
This is why farming is regularly polled as one of the most trusted professions.
However, livestock farmers do have their opponents.
The largest and most influential opponent of livestock production is Animals Australia, a charity that carries out investigations, campaigns, and advocacy mainly focused on animal agriculture.
One of the group’s stated aims is to reduce the number of animals in the food system.
“Alleviate suffering on the widest possible scale by reducing the number of animals in food systems and the suffering of animals who remain in food systems,” Animals Australia says.
The organisation is at loggerheads with livestock agriculture in Australia and overseas.
It is primarily responsible for wholesale change to the live export industry after footage was released detailing rare occurrences of poor animal husbandry practices.
The first of these was the Four Corners episode on live cattle in 2011, which resulted in a ban on exports to Indonesia (later ruled unlawful).
The most recent win by Animals Australia was the introduction of a moratorium on sheep exports from Australia during the Northern Hemisphere summer.
This was as a result of footage from the Awassi Express showing poor conditions.
Significant resources are required by groups seeking to combat the livestock industry, and Animals Australia is not a shoestring operation.
Successful recent campaigns have boosted Animals Australia’s fortunes dramatically.
Its 2020 income was $20.7 million, up from $13.9 million the previous year and an average of $6.3 million about six years ago.
Animals Australia now has a war chest capable of disrupting the livestock industry.
The majority of income raised by the organisation’s marketing team comes from donations, a large part in the form of bequests in people’s wills.
Animals Australia has been able to raise funds and support from a cross-section of society through emotive campaigns.
While most livestock participants are not fans of Animals Australia, they should learn some lessons from its growth and influence.
A business or industry not examining its competitors will quickly become unstuck.
The equivalent bodies that represent livestock have substantially lower incomes than Animals Australia.
For example, the Australian Livestock Exporters Council had an income of $6.1 million in 2020.
This state’s largest farming lobby group, WAFarmers, has been averaging $1.6 million in recent years.
While Animals Australia has an almost singular focus, these two bodies have substantially lower income and widespread concerns: from research and development in new welfare practices to advocacy on behalf of beekeepers.
These bodies have a great message emanating from the good work our farmers undertake daily.
Still, it’s hard to get that message to the nation (and policymakers) without money.
That money will not come from wider society but will have to come from farmers.
Supporting industry bodies is the only way to protect animal agriculture.
While a significant focus has been on live export and intensive farming, the aim of Animals Australia (and others) is larger than these industries.
Farmers who believe that the rise of Animals Australia won’t affect them should be wary, and those who like a steak should be concerned.
Andrew Whitelaw is a manager of commodity market insights at Thomas Elder Markets (TEM)