Around 700 delegates representing over 35 countries gathered recently in Brisbane, Australia for the 16th World Meat Congress and discussed everything from international trade and nutrition research to regional consumer surveys and worldwide marketing studies.
The event drew not only a huge assembly of international meat experts, but also a handful of animal rights protestors. Although the world's meat situation has not changed significantly for U.S. processors since it was turned upside down in 2003 by BSE, countries like Australia, New Zealand and Chile have found their supplies inadequate to meet a burgeoning demand. How each nation's meat sector is faring depends on that country's economy, trade policy and how much producers there are embracing new identification policies.
Despite the relative health of the processing industries in countries like New Zealand, Australia and Chile, huge supplies of product remained trapped in parts of North and South America due to BSE and other disease concerns. There is also the relatively unique situation in Argentina currently in which the government has banned beef exports in a bid to control high inflation.
What today's consumer wants
Trade protections worldwide remain highest for beef, and World Trade Organization talks continue to flounder. Delegates despair of there being any new international agreements in sight.
Although the theme targeted by the congress was meat in the year 2020, the reality that settled over the meeting was a hard look at the consumer of today and what this consumer has evolved into. While it can be widely agreed that there is no single answer to that question and that tastes and interests will continue to vary enormously around the world, the bottom line is that today's consumer worldwide believes food makers and sellers control the health of their supplies and that concerns them.
Gary Johnson, senior director for worldwide supply chain management for McDonald's Restaurants, said that trust is more and more dictating the consumer's behavior. As a practical matter, for example, he said that "traceability is a non-negotiable foundation" to trust and will therefore be an absolute requirement of the future.
In one way or another, other speakers echoed Johnson's reasoning. Trust is now an essential and is obtained through a food chain's integration towards the goal of assuring consumers of the integrity of products and providing consumers the transparency needed to see how that assurance has been created.
Yoshikiyo Fujii, who represented Japan's Nippon Meat Packers, Inc., described in detail how his company has arranged for this transparency of source with its Australian suppliers. Every piece of beef sold by Nippon Meat Packers at retail in Japan can be traced if desired by a Japanese consumer via a website all the way back to its herd of origin, even if that herd is in Australia. Information on the website includes details of tests on grain fed to the animal, as well as vaccination information.