CATTLE breeders will be the big losers from Coles supermarkets' decision to sell only hormone growth promotant-free beef.
That is according to southern feedlots contracted to the chain.
"The decision means less competition in the yards for those lighter cattle," said one Coles' supplier who, because of a confidentiality contract, didn't wish to be named.
This week Coles declared it will be the first national retailer to sell only HGP-free beef.
Coles general manager of meat, Allister Watson, said the supermarket giant would progressively convert to selling HGP-free beef from January next year.
Mr Watson claimed that neither customers nor suppliers would be financially disadvantaged by the move to better-quality meat.
"We've agreed with our suppliers that Coles will absorb any additional production costs that arise from moving to HGP-free beef and will ensure that Coles on-shelf beef prices are not affected by this move," he said.
Coles has acknowledged that they would be adjusting their pricing grid for suppliers who switch entirely to HGP-free.
The Queensland-based chief executive of Australian Country Choice, David Foote, said the move was positive for both customers and suppliers because it created a new supply opportunity for cattle producers.
However, southern feedlots who specialise in finishing lightweight steers and heifers for the domestic market - including Coles - had a different view.
These feedlots in recent years have been very prominent buyers of heifer weaners, which are backgrounded, before receiving a $4-$6 oestrogen-based implant and then grain-finished to produce a minimum 220kg carcass.
The feedlots claim the implants lift growth rates by 25-30 per cent, while at the same time keeping in check fat coverage.
At this week's National Farmers' Federation forum in Melbourne Coles merchandise director John Durkan said the decision was about meeting customer needs.
But NFF chairman and former chairman of Meat and Livestock Australia David Crombie said he was disappointed.
"I can understand the need to take note of what the customers want, but Coles, like other retailers, had a responsibility to educate consumers about new technologies which can lift productivity," Mr Crombie said.
To justify its decision Coles referred to the Meat Standards Australia grading system which showed that meat quality or tenderness was significantly better without the use of HGPs.
However proponents of MSA believe this tenderness problem can be corrected with additional ageing in the chiller rooms.