Australian meat industry warns of Christmas price rises due to Covid crisis | Australia news


The price of meat in Australia is set to continue to increase into the Christmas period, industry insiders have warned, as lingering effects from the drought and Covid closures stifle the industry.

The horticultural industry has also warned the price of some fruits will skyrocket because of labour shortages.

It has been a record year for some meats, with lamb and cattle prices peaking in August due to the national numbers of cattle rebuilding following two years of drought-induced decline.

The skyrocketing meat prices coupled with pandemic-imposed restrictions on abattoirs and processing plants have some farmers warning there could be pain for consumers’ hip pockets over Christmas.

The Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive, Patrick Hutchinson, said Covid restrictions could affect supply.

“There is enough meat in the country,” Hutchinson said. “The key thing is to make sure there are no artificial interventions to impact supply.”

Hutchinson called on the Victorian government to drop restrictions on abattoirs for fully vaccinated staff.

Ham and lamb are the two types of meat that could be most affected by the restrictions, with Meat & Livestock Australia forecasts showing if they remain in place 250,000 surplus spring lambs will not be processed.

The CEO of Sheep Producers Australia, Stephen Crisp, said that number could even rise to one million.

“Regional abattoirs have a plan in place for Covid,” Crisp said. “They don’t seem to be given any credit or common sense doesn’t seem to prevail.”

In Victoria, where a lot of Australia’s meat is processed, 80% of the workforce have been vaccinated, but there are concerns the mandate will affect the remaining 20% of workers’ ability to do their jobs.

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However, Peta campaigns adviser Mimi Bekhechi said the organisation was welcoming the impact of restrictions.

“Since the holiday season is supposed to be a time of peace and kindness, a meat-free Christmas is something to celebrate, not worry about,” Bekhechi said.

“What better gift could you give those you love than a cleaner, greener planet on which animals live without fear and pain?”

Christmas fruit and vegetable prices

For the past 12 months, horticultural industry groups have predicted doomsday prices for shoppers due to the shortage of migrant workers.

Last year the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance warned prices would jump by as much as 60% and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (Abares) said they would climb 29%.

Although the price of fruit and vegetables has gone up over the past decade, many shoppers have been enjoying a small slump recently because of oversupply.

Abares has said the cost of fruit and vegetables would rise 4% by Christmas.

Dr Michael Callaghan, lecturer in sustainability at Deakin University, said much of the hype around fruit prices was driven by some suppliers to create more demand.

There had been speculation that labour shortages would create an increase in the price of cherries.

But Cherry Growers Australia CEO Tom Eastlake said it was too early in the season to tell how prices might go, and that the industry had largely been protected from the labour shortage.

“The cherry industry had a lot of staff because we pay well,” he said. “We have a typical high-value crop, which allows us to pay more for our staff so we’re the first choice in the industry.”

Prices should be in line with previous years he said, and that conditions ripe for a really good season.

“We’ve had one of the best winters and spring so far. The growing conditions have been absolutely stellar.”



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