THE red meat industry must do more to counter negative messages from animal rights groups about red meat production.
This is the message from Meat and Livestock Australia's Samantha Jamieson.
Ms Jamieson said MLA research into community perceptions of the beef industry and the environment showed consumers were hungrier than ever for information but that a growing chorus of animal rights groups were - successfully - targeting consumers with misinformation.
This was despite the fact that consumers hold farmers in high regard, she told last week's conference, at the Angus Australia annual general meeting in Armidale, NSW.
While 57 per cent of Australian consumers surveyed by MLA said they had never been on a farm (and 67 per cent admitted they had little to no understanding of the beef industry), 89 per cent thought farmers work hard, 93 per cent thought farmers were ethical and 84 per cent thought children should be taught more about where food comes from.
"The basic needs of the consumer have been met well by the beef industry to date, but a storm is brewing," Ms Jamieson said.
"Consumer expectations are getting higher and the industry will be subject to more scrutiny."
The pork, poultry and dairy industries had all weathered their fair share of criticism in recent years and the red meat feedlot and processing industries were not far behind, she warned.
"Grain fed (beef) is perceived as high quality, until they (the consumer) see the feedlot and start to question the quality; they think it must be mass produced and therefore not ethically produced and a cheap product."
Producers, she said, are part of the solution. "We are using producers as industry 'heroes' to tell their story of what they are doing on their property to reduce their environmental impact."
Director and founder of the Inverell NSW-based abattoir Bindaree Beef, John McDonald, is one of these stars.
In a 10-minute video, Cattle Abattoir: Entire Process, on YouTube, Mr McDonald and other staff members talk about the operation of the abattoir, including its rules regarding traceability, animal welfare, food and safety standards and quality control.
Already, the video, part of a series From Farm Gate to Your Plate, has had more than 41,000 views.
"Anybody can be telling their good story and putting it up on the internet," Ms Jamieson said.
"We will be providing guidelines in next 12 months for producers who want to do that. Don't just sit back and think it's MLA's job to do this. We are all responsible."