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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1749

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - The objective of the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Bill 1971 is to provide for the extension for a further period of 3 years, from 1st January 1972 to 31st December 1974, of the special levy on livestock slaughtering in order to provide finance for the operations of the meat industry service and the investigation section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. It is noticeable that the rates of levy are to remain unaltered. As honourable members will know, the work carried out by the CSIRO in the various laboratories with respect to meat services has been of very valuable assistance to the cattle industry and the meat exporting industry as well as to the domestic meat industry over the years. The Opposition supports this measure. In terms of research work on quality control, sanitation, hygiene and various aspects of meat inspection, this service is of interest and of benefit to the meat industry in Australia.

It would seem that the beef cattle industry is the industry which has the best prospects of all major primary industries in Australia, if one can judge from its history, particularly in the post-war years, and from trends in production and consumption in the major consuming countries of the world. In fact, it would seem that world beef prices, which are the main determining factor for the level of prices in Australia, will continue to increase despite the fact that there is a very large swing in Australia towards beef production, particularly in the southern States. But, of course, as everybody knows, beef cannot be produced overnight. With a cash crop such as wheat, production can be increased relatively quickly. But it takes 9 months to breed a calf and possibly another 2i to 3 years before that calf is turned off in killable condition.

Mr Giles - Only in Queensland, surely.

Dr PATTERSON - Well, in general 2i years to produce a beast is a pretty short period on the average in Australia. Not many States can produce a carcase of 5i to 6 cwt dressed weight in that period, except in parts of Southern Australia where producers do not experience the periods of seasonal distress that are experienced in the major areas of beef production in Australia.

Dealing with science and technology in this field, the matter which I am concerned about and which should concern most honourable members in this House, is the possibility of the introduction of synthetics. It would seem1 that the combination of science and technology in the field of synthetics could become the greatest threat to the future of important established primary industries in Australia. I am referring now particularly to the beef industry. Science, having mastered the production of synthetic fibres as substitutes for wool, cotton and silk, is now concentrating its attention on the efficient production of synthetic foods, particularly meat. At present, the No. 1 challenge for science in the highly industrialised countries is to find a method of producing an effective substitute for the high priced commodity of beef. The remarkable achievements of science which have provided tremendous benefits to various primary industries, including the beef industry, throughout the world could in the end be responsible for the death of some of these major industries. Honourable members may say that this statement is an exaggeration, but we can recall, and see from the evidence now available to us, what happened to the wool industry when synthetic fibres were produced. The paradox of benefits and costs of synthetic achievement is in fact seen with telling force in the way in which synthetic fibres have contributed to the eroding or even the smashing of the economic viability of wool.

Tremendous research has been carried out in post-war years in industrialised countries into polyesters in particular, nylons and acrylics. I believe that these advances are a living example of the threat posed by future synthetic production, particularly as it affects livestock products such as the dairy industry and the beef industry.

We know, the history in respect of synthetics as a substitute for butter. Already scientists in Japan, the United States and Western Europe quickly are mastering the production of synthetic meats through the texturising of the high protein soya bean through processes of thermo plastic extrusion and fibre spinning. Experimental evidence already shows that the simulated meat products, including substitutes for the higher priced cuts from, say, the hind quarters, have nutritive values at least equal to that of beef. We know that the protein value of the soya bean, whichever way one measures it, is higher than that of natural meat. When these products are mass produced it is obvious that the prices will be significantly lower than those for natural beef. In fact, the prices for artificial meats arc already lower than the prices of cuts of the lower priced meats.

In addition to the extraction of edible protein from, say, the soya bean I think we have to worry a great deal about the scientific breakthrough in the production of synthetic protein by bio-chemical means. The major raw material for synthetic protein produced by this method comes from the fuel industry, from the by-products of oil in particular, lt would seem that the breakthroughs in regard to fungal yeast for example, with respect to by-products of oils, are such that this product could supplement the edible proteins in this manufacturing process to produce a commodity which could be the basic raw material in the future for a substitute for natural meats.

Why is this happening? Many primary producers in Australia are asking this question. The greatest encouragement for the production of synthetic fibres and food is given by the periodic occurrence of high prices for primary products. We know that the extraordinarily high prices of wool in the early 1950s resulted in the major wool importing countries and wool using countries spending tremendous amounts of money in orientating programmes of research designed to produce a substitute for wool. Of course, this process was already taking place. However, the high price of wool in the early 1950s gave this tremendous impetus to scientists to produce an effective substitute. When we study the output and price of acrylics and polyesters we see the downward slope of the average cost curve with respect to these commodities.

As I have said before, I believe that beef prices will increase on world production and consumption trends. There are some people who might argue that beef prices now are too high. From a national point of view it is good to have beef prices at a high level. This stimulates employment and earns export income. On the other hand, this situation will lead to exactly what happened in the case of wool. It will add greatly to the encouragement of scientific research in places like Japan, the United States and Western Europe. In particular, this research will occur in places such as Japan which are faced with an almost perennial import bill represented by high prices for meat, particularly beef. High prices for meat will encourage their scientists to introduce a substitute for this high priced commodity.

Already there is ample evidence that large amounts of money have been directed towards synthetic meat processes in those highly industrialised countries. Therefore, although on the one hand we have the advantage of having high beef prices - and this promises an excellent future for beef - there is the danger that this position will promote among our customers, which are the higher industrialised countries, the impetus for accelerated research into the utilisation of edible synthetic protein in the manufacture of meats.

Up to the present most of the production of synthetic meats has been in what we would call the lower priced cuts - the forward quarters in particular. These meats are used in the manufacturing process of sausages, meat loaves, stews and so on. Evidence to date indicates that from a palatability point of view one cannot distinguish between synthetic or natural meats of this type. I have mentioned before that from a nutritional point of view synthetic meat is equal to or if not better than natural meat because the manufacturers can inject and regulate the various proteins they want. It does seem, however, that scientists have not yet mastered palatability in the higher priced cuts of beef that we are used to eating such as the rumps, T-bone steaks or the eye of fillets.

Palatability, of course, is one of the most important aspects of consumer choice. However, all evidence suggests that if scientists have been able to master marbling, selvage, colour and presentation of meat they will be able in the end to master palatability. Some housewives, for example, like a pink cut of meat while others like a blood red cut of meat; some like cream fat while some like white fat. Scientists have already mastered the art of producing these differences. However, as far as we know they have not yet mastered palatability of the higher priced cuts. They have mastered tenderness and some laboratories have been experimenting with artificial bone by using plastic and putting this product into the higher priced cuts. In other words, we can see a pattern developing in the highly industrialised countries for the manufacture of a substitute of which I believe we have to be extremely careful in Australia.

It is no good ridiculing the production of meat by synthetic means. I could give plenty of quotes as to what was said 20 years ago with respect to the wool industry. People said at that time that what we are seeing today would never happen. The thing is that science and technology is increasing at a phenomenal rate, particularly in the fields of plastics and biochemical research of by-products. As I mentioned before, research is being undertaken into the use of the by-products from the production of oils and fuels. I believe that a very serious problem will confront us in the future. I do not want to be accused of being a pessimist or a prophet of doom. I am not attempting to be that. I have always been one who has been the greatest optimist in regard to beef. I can show honourable members plenty of papers that 1 have written in the last 20 years on this matter. I have always believed that the beef industry would have the best future because really there is no effective substitute for this product in natural meat, except other types of meat such as lamb, mutton or fish. As standards of living increase people like to eat more beef.

I would now like to talk about the price of synthetic beef. It is obvious that when meat is mass produced by the very large industrial factories around the world the price will be significantly lower than the present price of natural beef. Will the history of synthetic fibres relative to natural fibres be repeated? The Australian cattle industry is caught in a dilemma. On the surface the prospects for beef are excellent but the threat of synthetics must be faced; it must be challenged. I am not one of those who believe that we should outlaw synthetics. This is a defeatist attitude. We have to challenge and defeat synthetics, if necessary, in other ways. But by outlawing them here we will not outlaw them on world export markets. AH we might do is preserve some of our home markets but we will get into the same problem we had with margarine and butter. We have to face this problem early and, if necessary, defeat it.

Some might ask: Why defeat it? It depends upon which way we look at this, I suppose. My colleagues on both sides of the House can argue logically and validly that we should be supporting the food that will provide the same nutritional value at the cheapest price, whether it is synthetic or not.

Mr Barnes - What about labour?

Dr PATTERSON - What 1 was about to say is that already we have an established industry throughout Australia. Already the cattle industry occupies the greatest proportion of land used in Australia. Towns and work forces have been developed throughout Australia. We have meat works and so on. There is a tremendous infrastructure and this cannot be ignored. What does the cattle industry do? On the one hand it has this dilemma resulting from increased costs and it is no good asking the industry voluntarily to reduce its prices. After all, it is a world problem. There is a world demand and costs are going up at an alarming rate which means that the industry has to increase its prices to cover these increased costs.

The other point I want to make with respect to meat concerns the Northern Territory. I feel there is a serious injustice to the Northern Territory in the uniform policy relating to third quota or third grade manufacturing meat having to earn market or diversification ratios. The amount of beef which can be exported to the United States is dependent on an exporter's ability to exploit other markets. In my opinion all third grade beef produced in the Northern Territory and the Kimberleys for export should be completely free to move to any world market in which it can be profitably sold. If the most profitable market for third grade beef is the United States the present inhibiting policy of earning ratios for markets other than America should not apply to these remote northern areas because of the special production and marketing problems involved. The Federal Government's reluctance to use its constitutional power to allow third grade meat from the Northern Territory to move freely on world markets is an example of bureaucratic indifference to the important problems that are to a degree exclusive to this part of Australia.

One can understand the attitude of the Australian Meat Board because it is obviously dominated by members from eastern and southern States. Their job is to look after the interests they represent. One can understand, for example, beef producers in central Queensland and southern Australia saying there should be no concessions to the diversification scheme in favour of the Northern Territory. On the other hand the Commonwealth, which has complete jurisdiction over the Northern Territory, should step in here because the production problems in the Northern Territory are markedly different from those in the more favoured beef producing areas in the eastern and southern States. Involved here are factors such as climatic conditions, the harsh periods of seasonal or nutritional distress over September, October and November until the early storms break. This is a period when the nutritional level of pastures is greatly reduced and when cattle simply lose weight unless they have some supplementary feeding. In the main they lose weight and it is not until the grasses start to grow that their weight gain commences again. Other factors are the relatively high rate of mortality due to the large areas and the type of country involved, and the remoteness of the area as regards fattening properties. All these factors mean there must be a considerable quantity of third grade manufacturing beef produced in the Northern Territory and, consequently, the diversification policy applying to third grade meat from the Northern Territory should be abandoned. It should be abandoned on other grounds also because Australia cannot even produce enough third grade beef to meet the American quota. American cattlemen are not resentful of the importation of third grade meat into the United States.

I want to deal now with a third matter and it will take no more than 3 minutes. I am concerned with the importation of foreign meat into this country. I would like the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes), who is at the table, to convey my concern to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) because cattle producers in the north are on my hammer almost every day regarding the stocking of foreign canned meats in northern grocery shops. I have brought into the House 2 such cans of beef, one from Argentina and the other from Paraguay. Here in Australia we. are trying to promote as much as possible an increase in the per capita consumption of beef in Australia due to a tremendous potential for beef production here and yet we are importing beef. I would concede that if we did not have sufficient quantities of beef perhaps we should import it. But I find it very strange that a country like Australia, one of the biggest beef exporting countries, cannot manage its own affairs sufficiently well to avoid having to import from Latin America beef in cans. The Minister for External Territories would appreciate the concern of cattle producers when this type of thing happens.

Because this matter has not been brought to my attention very much except over the last few months I assume that there is not a great quantity of imported beef involved but it is the future with which we must be concerned. If there is to be a continuation of the importation of foreign canned beef into Australia it is time the Parliament was informed a little more about it. I cannot see the logie in trying to promote the consumption of Australian beef in Australia, particularly in view of the problems we have, when at the same time we allow the importation of beef into Australia in canned form. That is all I have to say on that matter. I hope that the Minister will convey my remarks to the Minister for Primary Industry because I would like to know the answer to some of the queries I have raised. This matter is of concern to cattle producers who cannot understand this paradox. I cannot give them an explanation except the economic one that perhaps we do not have enough beef.

Sitting suspended from 12,49 to 2.15 p.m.

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