Patrick Hutchinson is the CEO of the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC). He talks to us about the importance of advocacy, what it's like being considered a 'high risk' industry in the pandemic, and how seaweed can reduce methane emissions. This is part of a series where we interview the industry association leaders who make up our membership. Meet more of our members here.
How did you get involved in the meat industry?
I grew up in horse racing and we always had livestock. I studied at university, started in the industry in 1998 and had many and varied jobs, from running my own family cattle business to working for research and development, to even working in live export, retail, and marketing. There’s not one aspect of our industry supply chain that I’ve not been involved in over the past 23 years.
What does the Australian Meat Industry Council do for small businesses?
AMIC represents about 1500 individual retail butcher shops as well as small to medium meat processors and manufacturers. We provide support for our members in three key areas: people, product, and business. ‘People’ includes advice on human resources, industrial relations, and workplace health and safety. For ‘product’, we work with research and development companies and marketing companies on improving the quality of the product, whether it’s beef, lamb, chicken, pork, or even goat meat. On the business side, we advocate on behalf of our members to state and federal governments about specific business-related issues such as leasing and tenancy, and more recently on issues related to COVID-19.
Why did you join COSBOA?
The main reason AMIC joined, and that I encourage my staff to be engaged with COSBOA, is that COSBOA provides us an advocacy platform on specific business-related issues that we never had before. We’re an industry that has its own award, its own training package, its own association, and its own research and development organisations, but I felt like we lacked an advocacy cog. COSBOA is the absolute best place for us to be for advocacy.
COSBOA has been able help us get more recognition and exposure for the small businesses in the meat industry. People in other countries often talk about the massive power base of big meat businesses. What they don’t have is a small business structure – aka independent butchers – around them due to the dominance of supermarkets. But in Australia we have really stood tall in retaining our small business structure.
What is a small business advocacy topic you are passionate about and why is it important for the meat industry?
AMIC is very passionate about engaging the workforce in training and education, and most importantly in apprenticeships and trainee-ships. Our small businesses still struggle to recruit and retain a permanent workforce, and that’s across the board. We are very passionate around engagement of the workforce in areas such as training and education, and most importantly in apprenticeships and trainee-ships. On a small business level we still struggle to recruit and retain a permanent workforce across the board.
We’re also passionate about getting more recognition and exposure for the small businesses in the meat industry, which is something COSBOA has been able to help us with. People in other countries such as America talk about big meat businesses having a massive power base, and that’s because they don’t have a small business structure – aka independent butchers – around them. In most countries the number of small business butchers has been reduced due to the dominance of supermarkets, but in Australia we have really stood tall in retaining a small business structure.
How has the meat industry been impacted by COVID-19?
There have been positive impacts and negative impacts. We remain an essential service, and in the first national lockdown our independent local butchers reported an average increase in meat demand of 30%. But when they lost control of the virus in Melbourne last year, it got into our workplaces – much the same as it did many others – and that impacted us from a social standpoint. Our big corporate meat processors are now classed as high risk, and they’ve been required to reduce their workforce. For example, Victoria recently started requiring workplaces of 25 people or more to reduce their workforce by 25%. When processing becomes strained, the supply chain slows down and it impacts our small business butchers.
COVID-19 is a very complex issue for us with a lot to consider, such as mandatory vaccination, PPE, sanitation, managing employees, and more. It’s a moving beast.
What is something most people don’t know or realise about the meat industry?
I think one big misconception is the impact we have on sustainability. The meat industry has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% since 2005, which is more than any other industry in the country. We’re continuing to make huge leaps and bounds in that area. For example, there’s a project called FutureFeed that is promoting the use of seaweed as a cattle feed ingredient. There is a species of seaweed called Asparagopsis, which, when fed to cattle, can reduce their methane output by over 90%.
Another thing a lot of people don’t realise is how big our industry is in Australia. We had $30 billion in sales in 2019. Our supply chain has well over 82,000 businesses as well as 400,000 direct and indirect employees.
What do you love most about your industry?
What I love most is the many and varied aspects of our industry. We have a long supply chain from gate to plate, and a lot of it underpins rural and regional Australia. It goes from farming to transport to sale yards to feedlots, manufacturing, and independent butchers. It’s also one of Australia’s oldest industries and part of the legacy that’s been left to us from many, many generations. There’s a romanticism in that.
Read more about AMIC here.