THE concept of minimum marbling standards for Wagyu was explored at this year’s association conference against a backdrop of debate over how to describe beef with less than 100 per cent breed content.
Fast food chain McDonald’s Wagyu burgers, sourced from first-cross cattle with 50 per cent Wagyu content, had been under the spotlight in the lead-up to the Australian Wagyu Association conference in Mackay.
Keynote speaker Don Mackay, from the Red Meat Advisory Council, said the industry needed to make decisions around what constituted Wagyu at a retail and food service level.
“I don’t think we should sell low marble score product to the consumer and call it Wagyu - it will cause problems across the industry,” he said.
Mr Mackay said there was no problem with Wagyu demand, but how the quality and quantity is managed was the industry’s challenge.
He suggested four scenarios for where Wagyu fits into the future of Australia’s beef industry: fullblood and purebred production, first-crosses, a longer-term program to establish a high-grade herd and improving meat quality in crossbreeding.
“The challenge and the opportunity will be understanding which of these strategies you are targeting,” he said
“But no matter which path you choose, if you put Wagyu on your box you have to deliver the brand promise.”
What is the brand promise of Wagyu?
For the customer, an exceptional eating experience - marbling, tenderness, flavour, expensive but worth it, according to Mr Mackay.
For feedlotters and brand owners - marbling, hardy animals, low mortality, easy to feed.
For first-time Wagyu producers - more profitability, fertile, hardy, performance in many environments and, of course, a lift in meat quality.
The bottom line is don’t breed Wagyu unless you are connected to a supply chain.
According to Mr Mackay, that message extends to the entire beef production sector.
“If you’re not part of a brand supply chain you will be a price taker forever,” he said.
There were a number of features underpinning that, he said.
“Our Integrity systems are vital, they provide certainty for consumers,” he said.
“As a high quality, high cost producer, we have to learn how to make that an advantage for us.”
Some of those integrity systems created anxiety when introduced, he acknowledged.
But the reality was it was what sets us apart and so it is important we embrace it and understand why it is there, he said.
“Be bold and make the Australian brand promise difficult or unattainable for competitors,” he said.
Social license is real
WITH the threat of a live sheep export ban firmly on the doorstep, Mr Mackay also spoke about the risks of not taking social license seriously.
“I was a latecomer to the concept of social license,” he said.
“I believed governments issued licenses, not the public, and certainly not vested interest groups.
“But I’ve woken up. Social license is real. We are seeing every day the influence of the public can facilitate enormous change.
“It can put you out of business. It can make you wealthy.
“We have to accept it and understand how we deal with it.”
Live export remained an important part of the Australian cattle industry, Mr Mackay said.
“I’ve spent the last three weeks defending our industry against some pretty severe attacks,” he said, in reference to the live sheep trade footage on national commercial television.
“Yes, it’s sheep and yes it’s Western Australia but if you lose one fight, the next one moves to your doorstep.”
Everyone needed to make sure they continued to improve animal welfare standards in their operations every day, Mr Mackay said.
Equally, however, was the need to fight back. If we fall to fundamentalist views, all is lost.
“There is a significant difference between welfare and liberation,” he said.
“We are all driven by the welfare of animals but at end of day they are production animals.
“The fundamentalist agenda of animal activist groups is about taking your horse away and your dog out of your home.”