‘Meat’-ing the Needs of a Changing Industry

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

It has been said many times, and in many different ways, that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. The quote, from world renowned scientist and Nobel laureate Albert Einstein, remains true today and applies to many situations, especially public relations. The speed and message with which a company, institution or individual chooses to deliver and react to a potential PR crisis often determines future public perception. History is full of stories about businesses unwilling or unable to work with a predicament, letting problems that could have been fixed grow to the point that they couldn’t be salvaged. Then there are others that choose to address issues head-on, and serve as solid examples of what needs to be done in the face of adversity.

Thirty years ago, a crisis in Australia’s meat industry was felt not only in the nation itself but globally when it was revealed some meat products, such as beef, had been substituted and sold with meat from horses and in some cases, kangaroos. The products had not been labeled as containing meat from another animal, and when the substitution was discovered, it caused a major shutdown of Australia’s meat industry. For a country that remains one of the world’s largest exporters of meat products, the negative press closed the doors to many countries at the time. As a result, Australia lost access to many of its traditional markets until the government and industry stepped in to resolve the issue.

In September of 1982, a Royal Commission into the nation’s meat industry was called. The government at the time suggested more meat inspectors, while the industry’s response was to allow them to take over responsibility for trade descriptions, truth in labeling, quality management systems, and other areas. In time, the Authority for Uniform Specifications – known today as AUS-MEAT Limited – was created.

The Formation of AUS-MEAT

“AUS-MEAT started out of a crisis, and like all crises, some good comes out of it,” says Ian King, Chief Executive Officer for AUS-MEAT. “Nobody really envisaged how much time, effort and energy would have to go in to changing the culture of the industry.” The organisation – which incorporates AUS-MEAT Standards and AUS-MEAT Commercial Services – is responsible for establishing and maintaining national industry standards for meat production and processing. Wholly owned by Australia’s meat and livestock industries, AUS-MEAT Limited not only represents the nation’s meat industry, but also offers a wide range of services, including management, auditing, training, consultancy, accreditation systems and standards, quality management systems, livestock production systems, export regulatory requirements, auditing and training, and a great deal more.

“We’re not the normal widget-making type of company making huge profits,” says King, who has held his position as AUS-MEAT’s CEO for the past 19 years. “We’re more industry-oriented at delivering the integrity of programs, and underpinning the Australian image worldwide.”

Respected Globally

Today, the global perception of Australia’s meat industry is truly second to none. As the nation’s premiere standards management and certification body, AUS-MEAT uses internationally-recognised quality management principles which benefit not only the Australian meat and livestock industry, but consumers as well.

Operating as a joint venture between Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC), AUS-MEAT is industry-owned, and remains respected worldwide for its Quality Management Systems (ISO 9001: 2008), disciplined business practices and standards, and efficiency. Corporatised as a separate entity in 1998 following a major restructure of industry bodies, AUS-MEAT operates as a non-profit company limited by guarantee that is wholly owned by its member bodies, MLA and AMPC. The organisation’s core objectives – the management of Industry Standards for trade description through the Australian Meat Industry Classification System (AUS-MEAT Language) and the AUS-MEAT National Accreditation Standards for AUS-MEAT Accredited Enterprises – have remained unchanged for the past 24 years.

“The real challenge for us was in 1998, when we became incorporated,” says King. “We had limited capital provided to us by the industry, but we had to survive on our own two feet. From there, we virtually used the one or two products that we had, which was our training and our meat standards, and used those skills to get our heads around, and get across, about 44 programs in the past 10 years, that we manage or provide certification services for.”

Known worldwide for its success in areas including meat and livestock, agriculture, and horticultural systems, AUS-MEAT remains true to its roots throughout the organisation. Staff have solid backgrounds in animal production systems, meat processing, horticultural processing, and other sectors. “We’ve managed to retain a very strong technical resource that is of little or no cost to the industry, fully based on cost-recovery services,” remarks King. “It was good to have the competition of realising you’re only as good as the next customer, or the services you provide. Each time you provide a service, you are judged on your performance, and you’re only good enough to get repeat business if you’re good enough to do it.”

Serving the Nation

Today, AUS-MEAT Limited has 53 full-time employees and 55 contractors, a much-needed number due to the widespread nature of livestock farms across Australia. Many of these contractors working for AUS-MEAT are experienced in areas such as business and veterinary studies, and provide services to the organisation. In the past, the main focus was on inspection; today, AUS-MEAT has developed, and incorporates sophisticated Quality Management Systems that meet – and often exceed – national standards. The result, says King, is that the entire workforce is part of the process, which has tremendous benefits.

Quality meat products from Australia and New Zealand can be found in about 90 countries worldwide, including Japan, Korea, the United States, Canada, and Europe, including Russia. A good amount of NZ lamb goes to Europe, and surprisingly, a number of specialised cuts are exported to Brazil, the largest country in South America and itself one of the globe’s biggest meat producers.

“Meat is an international commodity. China is becoming quite a large market for red meat as well,” says King, who has spent most of his professional life in roles relating to the meat industry. His considerable experience includes 27 years with the Auckland Farmers’ Freezing Co-operative (Affco). Initially an industrial chemist, King took over managing one of the largest Australasian meat processing plants at a young age, and provided technical services across a suite of meat processing companies for what was the largest meat processing company in New Zealand. Involved in a number of development programs, he has served as a technical manager, led initiatives into areas like chilled beef, the introduction of lamb products to Europe, and beef products into Asia and Hong Kong, and served as an industry representative negotiating market access and programs before being invited to join AUS-MEAT, with the view of incorporation, and moving it one step away from the quasi-government regulatory organisation that it was in those days.

At the forefront of product description and labeling, meat products from Australia and New Zealand come from animals that are treated humanely. AUS-MEAT Limited and the Australian industry have a number of safeguards in place, with animals being identified electronically under the national livestock Identification Scheme NLIS, with traceability and other systems in place which can be traced back to precisely the farm from which the animal originated. Additionally, AUS-MEAT has helped to internationalise the language of meat, which benefits not only the nation but other countries worldwide. “We changed the mindset around to saying, ‘The way in which we describe these animals, using the anatomical terminology and everything, is a very clear-cut way for both buyer and seller to understand what they’re dealing with,'” says King. In addition to acting as an independent, third-party body providing services to the meat and livestock industry, AUS-MEAT also provides services to the government in technical areas they no longer have the resources for, “and ensuring that all export product leaving this country is scrutinised under programs that are administered and run by AUS-MEAT.”

AUS-QUAL

In addition to AUS-MEAT, the organisation has AUS-QUAL (http://www.ausqual.com.au), a wholly-owned subsidiary of AUS-MEAT. A certification body accredited by JAS-ANZ, AUS-MEAT provides conformity assessment services for quality management and food safety (HACCP) management systems, along with Product Certification Systems for Australia and New Zealand’s agricultural, horticultural and secondary processing sectors. Like AUS-MEAT, AUS-QUAL is highly experienced with Quality Management and Certification programs, and has business activities in Food Production, Processing, and Industry training, and offers solid technical and commercial expertise.

The Future of AUS-MEAT

Never one to stand still, AUS-MEAT is currently reviewing its five-year plan. As in the past, CEO King says the organisation’s present position is where it wants to be, and the result of years of careful, deliberate planning. “The essence of our success has always been centred on the process, and we just going through that process again,” says King.

King says public expectations of AUS-MEAT are different today than they were in the past. Decades ago, consumers didn’t necessarily care for as much information as they do today; now they want to know more about social accountability – such as fair wages and safe working conditions for farmers – animal welfare, effects of meat production on environmental assets such as water, and more.

“For the more discerning customers that are out there around the world, food safety, product description, and truth in labeling are almost a given,” comments King of the industry, which will see AUS-MEAT not only keeping pace with the expectations of consumers, but ensuring standards and systems are in place that meet or exceed their expectations. New programs will continue to grow as fresh demands arise and people want to know more about the animals they are consuming, not only where they were raised, but what they were fed, and how they were treated. “Our focus over the next few years is to consolidate what we’ve got in place, but also to develop or adopt suitable programs to keep our industry informed of the developments as they occur around the world, but more consumer and customer-orientated.”

For Ian King, he says his greatest passion comes from years of working in the meat industry and from the people he’s met and worked alongside over the decades. “My rewards haven’t come from monetary things, but looking back and saying, ‘We’ve managed to make significant changes, not only in the way we do things, but to the way we treat animals in terms of animal welfare, and the way that we now produce a whole raft of very sophisticated products that we all have confidence in. I have no regrets at all.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:13 AM AEDT