Is Casino's beef industry under threat from a new market player?
Is Casino's beef industry under threat from a new market player? Contributed

The frozen meat that could threaten region's beef industry

CATTLE farmers relying on beef and live export to Indonesia faced competition from a new, cheaper market player in 2016: frozen 'carabeef' from India.

Indonesian authorities lifted an import ban on carabeef - frozen Indian buffalo meat - in June and the ABC has reported demand for 80,000 tonnes by the end of the year compared to less than half that figure for import of Australian boxed meat in 2015.

Australian Meat Industry Council National Director of Processing Steve Martyn said he wouldn't "confirm or deny any of the figures but it's unlikely to be anywhere near that tonnage in the short term".

"It's a significant threat to Australia's market access into Indonesia," he continued.

"India is now the largest exporter of bovine beef in the world and beef and buffalo are substitutable at grinding level in Indonesia".

Last year Indonesian buyers sourced 80 per cent of the country's red meat from Australia, including more than 600,000 live cattle, which was more than half of the total Australian live export cattle available.

While many Indonesians preferred fresh Australian beef, carabeef was reportedly available to buy for almost half the price at some farmers' markets making it an attractive choice for poor people and for use in the nation's popular snack called bakso balls.

Markets in Vietnam and Malaysia have also been identified as at risk thanks to recent availabilities of carabeef.

"A lot of that cheap Indian meat goes into the middle east and Malaysia and throughout south-east Asia," said Mr Martyn.

"Our meat will always find the highest prices because Australia is a high cost supplier selling a high quality product [but competition with buffalo meat] will reduce the overall prices that are being paid.

"India has foot and mouth disease: in Australia we would never allow any meat to come into the country from a country that has foot and mouth disease."

Mr Martyn said the entry of countries with foot and mouth disease into the global meat market thanks to improved standards in South America and relaxation of import bans such as in Indonesia had "been a major issue for a significant amount of time".

A September quarter beef and veal report by the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources stated: "increasing competition in major export markets is expected to place downward pressure on the value of exports" but focused mostly on threats from Brazilian beef.

Jack Mullumby wrote: "Indonesia is forecast to be the largest market for Australian feeder cattle in 2016-17" without reference to Indian buffalo.

"Limited availability of local slaughter cattle in Indonesia and strong beef consumption growth are expected to support demand and therefore firm prices for Australian cattle" he wrote.

The self-proclaimed beef capital of Australia, Casino, was home to the Northern Cooperative Meat Company representing 1500 members but Chief Simon Stahl, who was also a member of the National Beef Export Council, declined to comment.

Mr Martyin said Casino was a "small part of a large industry" whereas Queensland contributed to around 40% of total live cattle export.