Lamb branding and marketing
This chapter focuses on key issues raised during the inquiry, in
particular, concerns about the substitution of hogget or mutton for lamb;
maintaining the integrity of the lamb brand; and differences in national branding
and marketing standards. It examines the various regulatory frameworks underpinning
sheepmeat production and processing in Australia.
The issue of substitution, or misdescription, of hogget or mutton for
lamb is set in the context of the Australian sheepmeat industry's agreement in
2002, reinforced in 2008, to strive to maintain national 'truth in labelling'
for the lamb category. The Sheepmeat Council of Australia stated that:
"Truth in labelling" of the lamb category was sought primarily
because "Lamb" was a well-established brand; the "Lamb"
category was valued by end users and consumers; and there had been a
considerable industry investment over a number of years to promote the category
In the broader economic context, Meat and Livestock Australia noted that:
The Australian sheepmeat industry is one of the outstanding
success stories of Australian agriculture...It has doubled its contribution to
the Australian economy over the last decade...and it is lamb that has been the
driving force behind this growth.
The Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
One identifiable risk to the current success of the lamb
industry is the temptation to misdescribe other sheepmeat as lamb. The
description of lamb is a product quality issue. Hogget is traded at a price
discount in comparison with lamb, which attracts premium retail prices.
Mislabelling hogget as lamb would provide those engaging in the practice with
an unfair competitive advantage. Additionally, if hogget is labelled as lamb it
could negatively affect eating quality and undermine consumer confidence in
The committee heard that concerns about the substitution of hogget and
young sheep for lamb have been noted for many years by individual producers,
processors and industry bodies.
Mr Christopher Groves, President, Sheepmeat Council of Australia advised that:
There is no doubt that misdescription of hogget and mutton for
lamb occurs. This must be addressed and addressed comprehensively. This
misdescription risks reducing consumer confidence in lamb. It jeopardises the
investment of millions of dollars of producer levy funds spent annually to
promote lamb. It has the potential to place downward pressure on overall lamb
prices and places the vast majority of genuine meat processors at a significant
disadvantage, threatening their continued existence.
The commercial advantages in substitution are significant. The committee
heard from NSW processors that, at the saleyard level, an unscrupulous buyer
may purchase pens of lambs and hoggets and onsell all as lamb.
He might have paid $4.00 [per kilo] for the lambs; he might have
paid $3.00 [per kilo] for the hoggets. So you can see the advantage he has on
someone who is selling the correct article.
There is a lot of growers' money that is going in – the levies
are virtually $1.30 to $1.50 a head on lambs and 20 cents on mutton, which is
correct because there is no promotion of it. But if these hoggets can go
through into the lamb trade, they are saving themselves $1.30 a head or so. I
do not think this is quite fair on the decent lamb grower who is trying to grow
At the processing stage, one submission noted that the commercial
advantage that would accrue to a wholesale processor 'if he substituted say 20
percent out of a 2000 kill or even 10 percent out of a 2000 kill with the
weight and skin value of the mixed categories being equal' would be $60,000 or
$30,000 per week respectively. These figures are based on carcase values of $50
for hoggets and $80 for lambs.
When asked why it has taken until now to focus on concerns from a
national perspective, Mr Groves stated that:
I think the changing demographics of the sheep industry have had
a bit to do with it. Sheepmeat is now being produced by a large range of
producers, not just in the traditional prime lamb areas. There are a lot of
people using meat sheep over merinos – traditionally a wool breed. They are
producing sheepmeat as well. Some of these animals are harder to finish, harder
to get to a saleable state than the traditional meat sheep. So the changing
demographic of the industry has brought the thing to a head – as well as the
fact that we have all had a go: the Sheepmeat Council of Australia and AMIC on
their own. It got to the stage where it was getting very serious and we all had
to sit down together and make sure we had a united voice, a united front.
The extent of substitution
The committee sought information about the extent of substitution or
misdescription. While industry witnesses were unable to provide definitive
data, Mr David Thomason, General Manager, Marketing, Meat and Livestock
Australia, noted that:
According to our data...it suggests that it is not massively
widespread. But that should not be interpreted as saying that it does not have
a significant impact, particularly on producers and processors who are doing
the right thing. Where that is concentrated into particular saleyards, the
prices for the producers who are supplying those saleyards would be lower
...because there can be a significant holding-off by buyers till the hoggets come
through rather than lambs. It can also have a significant impact in....the
wholesale sector supplying butcher shops or food service outlets...So it may not
be high in terms of quantity, but it is certainly significant in terms of
financial impact on processors and producers.
Mr Scott Hansen, General Manager, Corporate Communications, Meat and
Livestock Australia noted that:
What we are talking about here today is not fixing up a rampant
problem and the erosion of consumer confidence; it is about providing a
platform for further strengthening that demand and strengthening consumer
confidence in the product.
AUS-MEAT, the national industry-owned standards organisation responsible
for the uniform description of Australian meat and livestock and for conducting
audits of all AUS-MEAT accredited abattoirs, advised that 'in over 12 years of
records, we have had nine instances of what I would call major non-compliance, as
far as branding is concerned'. These occurred in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland
and covered both export and domestic-only AUS-MEAT accredited establishments.
On a state-by-state basis, the committee heard from three state
authorities that reports and provable incidents of substitution in recent times
have been relatively uncommon. The Western Australian Meat Authority noted that
'in the past, there were some fairly big [cases of misdescription]. With the
powers of our regulations we were able to detect those offences and take
appropriate action against the offenders'.
The NSW Food Authority advised it was currently investigating one case of
misdescription relating to a New South Wales processor, but had received a
further six complaints concerning sheepmeat sourced from Victoria.
SafeFood Production Queensland advised it was aware of two cases of
misdescription since the authority's establishment in 2002.
The Department of Primary Industries and Resources South Australia did
not provide a formal submission to the inquiry but Mr Geoff Raven, Manager, Food
and Plant Standards advised that:
In terms of reports, of mis-branding product as lamb there is
often conjecture and it's hard to say when the last report was received by this
office, not for quite some time. Where a report is received it is fully
investigated, but unfortunately the allegation is not usually supported by any
Similarly, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water did
not make a formal submission but Mr Chris Lyall, Manager (Food Safety), advised
that 'the matter of lamb branding has not emerged as a major concern in Tasmania'.
The Victorian Department of Primary Industries advised that:
PrimeSafe is the Victorian Statutory Authority that continues to
actively implement agreed national standards for meat processing and meat
branding. I am advised that PrimeSafe is not aware of any evidence of a breach
to labelling conditions.
Mr Nigel Ridgway, General Manager, Compliance Strategies Branch, Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission noted that:
We have had only one complaint in the last two years that I know
of relating to this sort of issue. Although we pursued it to some degree, there
was just a lack of evidence to substantiate it.
While the evidence available to the committee indicated that, on an
Australia-wide basis, proven incidents of substitution would appear to be relatively
infrequent, witness and submission perceptions remained strong that the
practice is most prevalent in Victoria. The committee heard from the Sheepmeat
Council of Australia that:
We are very concerned about the way the lamb brand is regulated
in Victoria. We believe there is a lot of misdescribed product coming out of Victoria....In
New South Wales, we have the NSW Food Authority, which does a fairly good job
of making sure that the product that comes out of New South Wales plants is
actually what it is branded as. We believe the relevant organisation in Victoria,
PrimeSafe, does not have the resources and does not put the effort into
enforcement that the body in New South Wales does.
In relation to the Victorian allegations, Dr Brett of AUS-MEAT noted
I can only provide information on the AUS-MEAT accredited
plants. The number of instances that we find is small in comparison to the
volumes of stocks that are traded through those plants. We are not present on
plants that are not AUS-MEAT accredited, so we have no more information than
anyone else does about those plants.
The committee made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain PrimeSafe Victoria's
direct input into the inquiry.
According to the Sheepmeat Council of Australia, a proportion of the
allegations of misdescription can tend to be seasonal in nature, appearing more
at times when older lambs are being phased out as new lambs come on to the
Mr Thomason advised that Meat and Livestock Australia, together with the
Sheepmeat Council of Australia and the Australian Meat Industry Council, is
currently carrying out a study into lamb branding which is designed to find out
'whether [substitution] is very isolated or regularly occurring in some
How substitution occurs
The committee sought clarification as to how and when substitution or
misdescription occurs. It would appear that it is most likely to take place at the
saleyard and/or the abattoir or slaughterhouse. According to one NSW processor:
We have seen evidence of it in the saleyards...you can see a buyer
come in there, he buys pens of lambs, he buys pens of hogget, he shandies them
up, as we call it, and then they...come back into the....market as lambs.
The committee heard that it can be difficult to establish the status of
animals bought at saleyards and on-sold to abattoirs. A farmer may sell his
sheep as hoggets at the saleyard. The buyer (new owner) must complete a
National Vendor Declaration (NVD) which accompanies the stock to the abattoir.
If the animals are classified as 'lamb' on the new NVD, the abattoir has no
jurisdiction to trace previous ownership. Dr Brett noted that, in the case of
...the animals come onto the plant with an NVD. That is the piece
of paper that is on the plant so that I can see where the animals come from. To
go back further on the paper trail would need the previous owners, who are not
involved in the accreditation with us – they are a third party outside of the
The committee noted AUS-MEAT's concerns of apparent failure in the
system whereby inspectors are, in certain cases, unable to identify the source
of sheep, lambs or hoggets presented for slaughter. The committee noted also AUS-MEAT's
desire for a system which provides for reliable tracing of stock.
At the slaughtering and processing stage, the committee heard that the
decision to mark an animal as a lamb (or hogget/mutton) is made at the very
beginning of the chain, that is, misdescription occurs at the time of the first
'tagging'. This is at the point immediately after the animal has been 'mouthed'
(for identification as lamb or mutton), the head has been removed, and the tag
attached. This identification tag remains with the carcase on the same shackle
right to the end of the processing chain where there is a weighed-label grading
person who will put another formal ticket on it.
Dr Denis Brett, General Manager, AUS-MEAT Standards and Technical
Operations advised that, in the case of AUS-MEAT accredited establishments:
We have no authority past the abattoir gate. The company have
bought the animals in, and they have an obligation in the yards to determine
whether they are putting them up as hoggets or lamb. On an AUS-MEAT accredited
plant, every animal has to be mouthed by trained personnel on the chain. Those
that are identified in that group that may not be lamb – they might be hoggets
that have cut their teeth in transfer or have been missed – need to be labelled
as hoggets on the chain. That is part of the normal process. You are not going
to get 100 per cent of every mob that is sold as a lamb from the saleyard
without some animals cutting their teeth along the way.
Hogget may inadvertently be branded as lamb, for example, where abattoir
staff are inadequately trained, or skilled personnel are absent from work or difficult
to recruit (particularly in regional areas). Where AUS-MEAT detects such breaches,
'and there is no evidence for prosecution in a court of law where you can show
intent of misdescription', inspectors increase the frequency of audits to
verify that the company has addressed the matter.
Processing lamb for the export
The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) regulates export
meat processing works and has primary responsibility for the accurate
description of the ‘basic categories’, being Lamb, Mutton and Ram. Under a
Memorandum of Understanding between AQIS and AUS-MEAT, AQIS meets its
obligations to verify accuracy of trade description through AUS-MEAT taking
day-to-day operational responsibility. AQIS remains responsible for taking any
legal sanctions under the legislation where required. Licensed meat exporters
must be AUS-MEAT accredited.
Export lambs are branded with the approved AQIS 'Australian Inspected –
Lamb (A1) brand'; roller or strip brands used for the domestic market must not
The committee understands that the current concerns about lamb
substitution are limited to the domestic rather than the export market.
Processing lamb for the domestic
Individual state food or meat authorities are responsible, to varying
degrees, under state legislation for the maintenance of the lamb definition
within their state. Licensed establishments generally must apply in a
prescribed way an approved lamb brand to all lambs, and it is an offence under
state legislation to apply a lamb brand to product that does not meet the lamb
AUS-MEAT accredited export establishments which also supply lamb to the
domestic market require independently audited and approved quality management
systems to ensure the integrity of product description. These establishments
use AUS-MEAT Roller Brands only when supplying lamb to the domestic market. The
brand is applied in a prescribed way to each side of the carcase.
AUS-MEAT accreditation for domestic-only establishments is entirely
While domestic market enterprises that are AUS-MEAT accredited are therefore subject
to a level of scrutiny which may be considered nationally consistent, the
oversight of those which choose not to be accredited will vary according to the
state regulations and standards operating in their particular jurisdiction.
The committee noted that there is 'a significant number of lambs being
processed for the domestic market by non-AUS-MEAT accredited establishments
(around 50% of lambs in NSW)'.
AUS-MEAT advised that 83 sheep slaughtering or boning enterprises are
accredited Australia-wide, while 95 enterprises slaughtering sheep for the
domestic market are not.
The Lamb Brand
The committee heard from a number of witnesses and submissions of the
significance of the lamb brand.
Australian lamb is renowned as a high value, high quality
product. The lamb brand is one of the key brands that underpins the marketing
strategies in Australia's export and domestic markets.
The committee noted the significant financial investment by individual
producers and the industry in promoting and maintaining the lamb brand. The Department
of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry noted that:
The sheepmeat industry has worked to improve the consistency of
lamb eating quality and actively promotes consumption in both domestic and
export markets. The 2007-08 MLA annual operating plan identifies overall
marketing expenditure of $7.5 million for domestic sheepmeat promotion and a
further $1.6 million in sheepmeat export trade and consumer promotion. This is
a significant recurring investment that is predominantly funded by statutory
levies imposed on sheepmeat producers.
There is a standard Australian definition of lamb for both export and
domestic markets. This is set down under AQIS Export Meat Orders, and is reflected
in the AUS-MEAT Language:
a lamb carcase shall be derived from a female, castrated male or
entire ovine animal that shows no evidence of eruption of permanent incisor
Australia's definition mirrors that of the International Standards
Organisation, publication ISO 3974-1997, which defines lamb as 'an ovine
animal, presented for slaughter, of which none of the permanent incisor teeth
This definition aligns also with the United Nations Economic Commission for
Europe Standards, which cover fifty-five member countries. Australia, through
AUS-MEAT, played a significant role in developing these standards.
New Zealand, Australia’s key global competitor in lamb and sheepmeat
products, defines lamb slightly more flexibly as:
a young sheep under 12 months of age or one which does not have
any permanent incisors in wear (that is, the incisors have not reached the
height of the remaining immature teeth).
The New Zealand system 'offers a slight advantage to producers in that
animals dispatched from a property satisfying the dentition criteria for lamb
which subsequently cut a permanent incisor prior to slaughter can still be
described as lamb if the incisor is not in wear'.
The United States of America, Australia’s largest lamb export
destination, uses the degree of ossification of the break joint in the fore leg
– the ‘break joint’ method – to classify an animal as lamb. This method
measures the animal’s physiological maturity, as distinct from chronological
age (dentition). The Sheepmeat Council of Australia notes that this measure has
'advantages and disadvantages. Recent science has been indicating that it is
quite variable as well. It may be actually not as accurate as the dentition
measure that we use'.
The committee heard that the use of dentition as the sole determinant
for classifying an animal as lamb can facilitate or exacerbate the incidence of
substitution or misdescription.
As dentition is the method for determining the lamb definition,
the removal and disposal of the animal's head at slaughter creates challenges
for follow-up auditing of compliance.
This issue is recognised by industry and has been incorporated into the Lamb
Definition Working Group project plan set up by the Sheepmeat Council of Australia
and the Australian Meat Industry Council. Element 1.4 of the plan focuses on 'the
degree to which extending the lamb standard addresses the current
mis-description issues' by examining:
- how AMIC's proposal (moving the current standard of lamb from no
permanent incisors to a two-tooth standard) could assist addressing the issue
- what degree the AMIC proposal will affect the incidence of mutton
being substituted as lamb, as distinct to only hogget; and
- whether extending the standard created other mis-description
In addition to shortcomings in the use of dentition for lamb
identification, a number of submissions expressed the view that dentition alone
is not a reliable indicator of eating quality.
Eversons Food Processors believe that 'dentition has nothing to do with eating
This view was supported by MC Herd Pty Ltd and Normanville Meats, who stated
that 'the current definition of lamb is too arbitrary...the science is there to
back up the expansion of the lamb definition'.
The committee acknowledged concerns with the current definition of lamb,
but noted the practicalities involved in making any changes at this point. Meat
and Livestock Australia advised that:
It is important that we have a definition that differentiates
high-quality product from perhaps more variable product – not necessarily lower
quality. When it comes to what sort of rules we need around that, it has got to
be pragmatic. We can be very theoretical, based on all our learnings from our
work on sheepmeat eating quality, but how do you apply that in a saleyard where
real prices are being paid for different quality animals?....The best system
that we have at this point is the current dentition approach. This does not
mean that we should be closed to further developments in being able to identify
higher quality animals and higher quality meat from lesser quality animals and
lesser quality meat, but we do not have that system yet.
Mr Peter Day, Manager, Audit and Compliance, NSW Food Authority, advised
the committee that:
The authority acknowledges criticism of identification of lambs
by dentition and is of the opinion, as is NSW DPI, that it is currently the
most accurate and practical method of determination available. Any changes of
lamb category will be unlikely to deter those in industry who are conducting
This view is supported by AUS-MEAT Ltd, which concluded that:
Currently there is not available a system that offers a more
objective assessment of a carcase's eligibility to be described as Lamb than
that which is at present being used within the Australian Meat Industry.
Research and technology
The committee heard that the industry is proactive in investigating more
effective ways of classifying lamb and improving eating quality.
The NSW Food Authority 'supports research into...technology such as a
mobile organoleptic test to determine age and put some science behind lamb
Such a test 'would be useful in reducing sheepmeat substitution'.
An organoleptic test measures sensory qualities such as appearance, aroma,
taste, and texture. The Authority envisages the:
development of a mobile organoleptic test to detect the age of
sheepmeat within one or two months, that could be used on both carcase and
denuded cuts at any location. Combined with the retention of the strip brand
(on carcase meat) this would allow detection of misdescription and of the
abattoir where the carcase was processed. For denuded cuts, carton labelling
would allow tracing to processing location.
Meat scientists at the Victorian Department of Primary Industries have
developed a new improved objective method for differentiating lamb from hogget
and mutton using Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR). Interim results indicate
that it achieves an accuracy of 99 per cent with regard to correctly
classifying carcasses to their correct age class.
NIR is used in the food industry to measure and importantly pay suppliers on
the quality attributes of their products. Grain growers and sugarcane farmers
are paid on NIR estimates of protein and sugar content respectively.
AUS-MEAT notes that:
With advances in technology there...exists the potential to
provide an exact age on an animal through individual identification. This is
still in its infancy in the sheepmeat industry and the infrastructure could be
developed both on farm and in abattoirs which in the long term would provide an
objective means of determining an animal's exact age.
Since 1998, Meat and Livestock Australia, research partners and industry
have been undertaking research and development into better understanding the factors
influencing lamb and sheepmeat eating quality.
This research has been funded by lamb and sheepmeat producer levies. The
Sheepmeat Eating Quality (SMEQ) research has identified the key factors
affecting eating quality from 'paddock to plate':
The sheepmeat eating quality research, and commercialisation
through the MSA [Meat Standards Australia] Sheepmeat program, will increasingly
complement and reduce "failure" rates in the lamb and sheepmeat
categories, as currently described in dentition.
The vast majority of submissions received and evidence taken by the
committee supported maintaining the integrity of the lamb brand through strict,
nation-wide enforcement of dentition identification. There were, however, a number
of submissions supporting alternative approaches, including deregulation of the
industry. The submission from MC Herd Pty Ltd stated that:
It is our view that the lamb brand is an outdated legacy system
that has previously used the rough guide of dentition to describe lamb and
differentiate sheepmeats sourced from older sheep. Perpetuation of the lamb
brand has more to do with industry politics than any reference to lamb quality
attribute. It is also our view that regulated branding should not be a
government matter but rather a commercial matter for companies to brand product
as they see fit within the parameters of truth in labelling.
MC Herd Pty Ltd notes also that:
No other food group in Australia is forced into regulation in
the same way as the lamb brand. These other food groups, including competitor
meats or horticultural products or processed foods, have varietal and or
quality descriptors or specific brands to guarantee quality. Quality cannot be
guaranteed with the lamb brand. Equally, the lamb brand regulation is not
uniformly applied across the various State jurisdictions in Australia, making a
mockery of the perceived need to perpetuate this dated and outmoded product
descriptor...By deregulating the system, people are rewarded for producing an
above average product and inferior product is discounted accordingly.
Dardanup Butchering Company states that Western Australian meat
processors are regulated by 13 different rules or authorities: 'The only
regulator our industry does not have is the Keystone Kops and they cannot be
too far away. Processors are tired of regulation and the resources required to
satisfy it. They are bewildered as to how competing industries get to operate
in a much deregulated system'.
State authorities have increasingly indicated their desire to deregulate
lamb branding provisions, viewing them as a quality standard for industry to
manage, and not in line with their perceived primary role of food safety and
State authorities responsible for meat processing in Queensland and Tasmania,
in particular, focus primarily on food safety issues. AUS-MEAT advised that:
In 2002, the NSW Parliament passed legislation supporting the
deregulation of lamb branding: this was scheduled to come into effect on or
before August 2003...As a result both Victoria and Queensland also indicated that
they intended to follow suit. This deregulation [in NSW] did not proceed.
Mr Groves told the committee:
In the past, the Sheepmeat Council, in conjunction with its
state farmer organisations and industry colleagues, has strongly resisted
pressure from state meat authorities to deregulate lamb branding. Of
significant concern is the fact that the Victorian lamb branding provisions
under the state government's meat regulations sunset in 2010, after which time
there will be no regulatory oversight in Victoria. The solution: there needs to
be one set of rules across the country that all regulatory bodies would follow.
The regulation of meat processing establishments in Australia servicing only
the domestic market, including the accurate description of product from them,
is the responsibility of states and territories. The Australian Quarantine and
Inspection Service has no authority to regulate trade descriptions in these
establishments. Although it is not a requirement under state/territory law,
many domestic meat processing establishments are AUS-MEAT accredited and use
the AUS-MEAT Language.
The committee heard evidence that differences in state regulations and
standards applying to the meat industry can facilitate or exacerbate
substitution of hogget and mutton for lamb.
The Sheepmeat Council of Australia notes:
There is currently a range of different regulatory and
compliance systems across federal and state jurisdictions that underpin, to
varying degrees, the practice of lamb branding. Each federal and state
- operates under different legislation, with varying
- requires different approval systems for their licensed
- has different branding/stamping provisions;
- has varying inspection and compliance schemes;
varying degrees of success in exposing operators who are mis-describing
- has different penalties in place.
The Council notes also that:
It is currently very difficult to compare the robustness of
various jurisdictional approaches to enforcing the accurate description of
lamb. This in turn encourages accusations being levelled at one jurisdictional
approach over another.
There are a number of checks in place to monitor the trail of livestock
from the producer through to the processor, retailer and consumer.
From the farm gate to saleyard
and/or the abattoir
National Livestock Identification
Stock holdings and movements in Australia are recorded under the
National Livestock Identification System, which is the national system for the
identification and tracing of livestock. It is a permanent, whole of life
identification system that enables animals to be tracked from property of birth
to slaughter for food safety, product integrity and market access purposes. The
NLIS database is developed and administered by Meat and Livestock Australia.
Sheep and goats are recorded under the NLIS (Sheep and Goats), a
flock-based system which identifies and traces sheep, lambs and farmed goats. The
committee noted the difficulties in tracing individual animals under a flock
based system. Mr Groves stated that:
You are correct. The industry nationally has accepted a flock
based scheme for the national livestock identification scheme. Any producer has
the option of individual identification of their animals, if they so wish, for
management purposes, but the big problem is with collating that data. NLIS
would not be much assistance...because it is to do with the translation of data
from when the animal is actually born through to when the tag is put in. It
would be a huge problem to use NLIS as a tool to manage the data.
I would just add to that. If there are operators doing the wrong
thing at the moment with a flock based system, they still have every
opportunity to potentially do that with an electronic tag in the ear, For
instance, as we heard before, if that ticket does not go on the carcass when it
should, it will not matter whether there has been a 30c plastic tag or a $2.50
electronic ear tag in the ear.
National Vendor Declaration and
The NVD is a voluntary food safety declaration completed by the person
responsible for the husbandry of the stock. A waybill (or Travelling Stock
Statement) is required in most states to accompany stock movements. It relates
to ownership, description, source and destination of stock. The NVD/Waybill is
managed by SAFEMEAT, an industry and government partnership.
As indicated previously, the NVD presented with the stock to the
abattoir or meat processing works may relate to the current owner of the stock
rather than the producer.
At the abattoir and processor
Every abattoir has a licence issued by the state regulator. If they are
export regulated, they will also have a registration issued by AQIS. Therefore,
the state authority is fully responsible for any action against the abattoir
that could lead to a suspension or cancellation of licence.
Processors prepare meat for domestic markets under standards and
regulations set down by the relevant state government authorities.
New South Wales
The NSW Food Authority issues all brands and controls the application
through state legislation. The Authority is Australia’s first completely
integrated food regulation agency, with responsibility across the entire food
industry from production to sale. Under the Food Regulation 2004 (NSW),
all domestic abattoirs are also required to have an approved system within
their Food Safety Program outlining their lamb identification procedures and how
they will ensure that carcasses are accurately identified.
The NSW Food Authority also stated that:
The authority has specific legislation relating to misleading
conduct in the sale of food which includes misleading or deceptive labelling
and advertising. Lamb branding in New South Wales is regulated under our Food
Regulation 2004...All unannounced audits are conducted by authorised
officers from the authority. The authority maintains that, for effective
auditing of the lamb branding system to occur, the audits must include
examination of records, going back to farm saleyard, through the abattoir, post
abattoir and to wholesalers as well.
The committee understands that PrimeSafe Victoria issues licences to
domestic processors and controls the application of the lamb brand. PrimeSafe
does not issue its brands to export establishments, which use AUS-MEAT brands
when supplying the domestic market. As indicated previously, PrimeSafe declined
a number of invitations to provide firsthand information to the inquiry.
Safe Food Production Queensland deals only with food safety issues.
Stamping requirements are limited to identification of the processing
establishment for product traceability purposes. Fraudulent mis-description may
be referred under consumer affairs and fair trading processes.
Mr Geoff Gorrie, Chair of Safe Food Production stated that:
Food Production Queensland operates under the Food Production
(Safety) Act 2000 and its associated regulation. As the legislation’s key
objective is the production of safe food and it has been drafted with a focus
on outcomes, definitions such as lamb and quality aspects are not included in
our legislation, although an accreditation holder may include such definitions
in their own food safety program. The legislation does not include any
requirements relating to misleading conduct or misrepresentation.
The Western Australia Meat Industry Authority (WAMIA) is responsible for
regulating lamb and hogget branding in the state, under the Western
Australian Meat Industry Authority Act 1976 and the Western Australian
Meat Industry Regulations 1985. The authority is responsible for regulating
lamb branding to ensure that all product produced in the state and defined as
lamb must be proved to be lamb and branded accordingly.
The committee heard from WAMIA that:
In WA the regulations require that every sheep be mouthed and
that is done under the supervision of an inspector and only the carcasses that
correspond with the requirements for lamb can have the brand applied.
In order to ensure that carcasses continue to be correctly identified
throughout the processing chain, they are marked:
...before the head is taken from the body. Most works have a
system of identifying the carcasses. If you had a mutton carcass they might put
two cuts on the back leg or on a hogget one cut. So, generally speaking, the
lambs will be anything that has not been marked. The system differs from works
to works, but it is quite a rigorous system.
On the issue of enforcement of lamb branding legislation in Western
Australia, WAMIA advised:
We are also helped over here in that, because all lambs have to
be branded, that brand is also recognised as the health brand. If you start to
tinker around with that, it actually becomes the criminal offence of fraud and
we have quite close working relationships with the police department that
enable us to bring another regulator in. But, essentially, we believe that at
Western Australian works now there are very few problems. You might get the odd
problem at a retail level of someone trying to sell a leg of mutton as lamb,
but essentially we do not believe that there are any significant issues out
there. In the past, there were some fairly big ones. With the powers of our
regulations we were able to detect those offences and take appropriate action
against the offenders.
The South Australian Meat Hygiene Unit issues and controls the
application of marks and brands. The authority issues a stamp which designates
the carcase is fit for human consumption and a roller brand which identifies
the category. A company may also apply to the authority to use a company brand.
Primary Industries and Resources SA (PIRSA) advised the committee that:
The SA Primary Produce (Food Safety Schemes) Act 2004 and
Primary Produce (Food Safety Schemes)(Meat Industry) Regulations 2006,
specify a requirement for branding (or "Marking") of meat to identify
the product as being "safe and suitable". Meat is only to be taken to
have been marked as safe and suitable if it is marked in accordance with the
accreditation and the specifications for the marking of meat, including lamb,
are contained in conditions of accreditation. The maximum penalty for
non-compliance in this instance is $5K or an expiation of $315.
PIRSA advised further that:
The "Lamb" status is verified by the company
(abattoir) at ante-mortem through the checking and mouthing of livestock in the
yards, and again at post-mortem by checking and mouthing all carcases on the
slaughterfloor (with heads still attached). Previous assessments undertaken at
abbatoirs in response to allegations of substitution of hogget for lamb have
not identified any abnormalities, however, this is not to say it is not
occurring. As a result of the issues being raised PIRSA will focus on
identification, labelling and traceability of lamb during the next round of
audits of abattoirs.
Tasmania currently has no legislation in place pertaining to the
branding of lambs. AUS-MEAT accredited enterprises wishing to brand lamb may
apply and be issued with AUS-MEAT roller brands.
The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water advised the
Whilst there are false trade description provisions in our Meat
Hygiene Act 1985 which could conceivably be used to prosecute any person or
company offering hogget for sale as lamb, the Tasmanian Government prefers the
application of this Act to maintain a food safety focus. Hence, such breaches
are considered to be more appropriately dealt with under the Tasmanian Fair
Trading Act 1990...Consequently, the Department of Primary Industries and
water will continue to collaborate on enforcement issues in Tasmania with the
Department of Justice's Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Division.
The committee found that substitution, while not widespread throughout Australia,
is a legitimate cause of concern to the industry. The industry is currently
attempting to address these concerns. Claims of a higher incidence of
substitution emanating from buyers or processors based in Victoria were noted,
but were unable to be explored satisfactorily due to PrimeSafe Victoria's
decision not to participate in the inquiry.
The committee recognises that substitution or misdescription is
difficult to prove. First, there may be difficulties in tracing individual
animals under the NLIS (Sheep and Goats) flock based identification system.
Second, there may be scope within the National Vendor Declaration system for
discrepancies to occur and remain undetected. Third, given the sole reliance on
dentition to classify animals as lamb, the disposal of the head after slaughter
makes it difficult to prove deliberate misdescription. Substitution or
misdescription may be facilitated or exacerbated by different 'mouthing' standards
and/or different regulations applying in the various states.
The committee notes that as AUS-MEAT accreditation is voluntary for
domestic-only abattoirs, it is difficult to ensure that AUS-MEAT Language
standards are applied consistently to all sheepmeat destined for the domestic
market. While the majority of evidence supported the need for harmonisation of
standards and regulations throughout Australia, there were also individual
processors and state authorities who supported deregulation of the sheepmeat
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