OUTGOING Victorian Farmers Federation president Andrew Broad has fired a parting shot at unrealistic consumer demands.
Consumers could not expect to put more pressure on farmers to meet unrealistic animal welfare expectations while paying less for their food as supermarkets drove down prices, Broad warned.
In his final address as the VFF's leader, at its annual conference in Bendigo, Mr Broad said the expectation that consumers could have cheaper food while demanding higher animal welfare standards was unrealistic.
"The consumer cannot have both," he said. "You can't keep squeezing food prices, and putting expectations on farmers and expect there to be a long-term sustainable industry."
During a heated debate on welfare issues, Melbourne University Animal Welfare Science Centre's professor Paul Hemsworth said studies showed it was questionable whether consumers would pay any more for higher standards.
A small group - between five and fourteen - of activists also protested outside as the debate went on.
National Farmers' Federation president Jock Laurie said animal welfare was one of the biggest issues facing farmers.
More than ever farmers should support their lobby groups to ensure policies were balanced and their voices were heard by governments, he said.
Farmers had not been pro-active enough on animal welfare, Mr Laurie said, and should employ professional marketers to lift the sector's profile, or risk a "barrage of legislation".
Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes said farmers had a responsibility to their animals post farm-gate sale. She was backed by the RSPCA's Maria Mercurio.
Ms Oogjes also said the Australian live cattle export industry was too slow to produce improvements in animal welfare and that it took her organisation's activities exposing the treatment to create change.
But outgoing VFF Livestock chairman Chris Nixon said farmers were paid less now than a decade ago, so producing first-class animal welfare outcomes was harder.
Mr Nixon said Australia was the only country that spent money and time going to other nations to try to help them lift animal welfare standards.