Regional jobs and industry are at risk as water supply crises threaten several towns, according to the Australian Meat Industry Council, which is calling for immediate government support to counter the devastating impact of the 'Day Zero' water supply crisis.
AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said meat processing was a major employer in several towns on the cusp of serious water shortages.
"Without water, these businesses can't run, and that means jobs are in peril," he said.
Tamworth, Dubbo, Orange, Warwick and Narromine are among the towns approaching 'day zero' water supply restrictions. AMIC has members operating processing facilities in each of these areas.
"No water means our members' daily operational capacity diminishes. From washing stockyards through to sterilisers and hand washing to refrigeration and end of day cleaning operations, all will be at risk," Mr Hutchinson said.
Even with a strong focus on water efficiency, the sector simply cannot operate without reliable water supply, he said.
Some of the water use reduction strategies implemented by those in the red meat business include water-saving equipment such as low flow/high-pressure taps and hoses, sensors on hand and apron wash stations and automated clean-in-place systems. Many processors are already capturing wastewater to reuse or recycle, using steriliser and handwash water to wash stockyards, water landscaped areas or clean trucks.
"Red meat processors have invested a huge amount of effort and money in water efficiency and the industry has made great steps forward in terms of reducing water use and recycling water. But at the end of the day, every business within the meat supply chain relies on water to deliver dependable, safe meat to all Australian homes and businesses, " Mr Hutchinson said.
AMIC is calling on Water Minister David Littleproud to engage with industry as a matter of urgency, to end uncertainty around water restrictions.
"We're very concerned that if this is not dealt with swiftly, we may see processors forced to reduce production, leading to job losses and potential plant closures. Once a facility is closed it is very difficult to get it up and running again, which would be devastating news for regional areas which are already under enormous pressure," Mr Hutchinson said.