LAMB producers across the state are adapting to delays at meat processing facilities, but the industry's peak body is warning that the delays could put an Australia Day tradition in doubt.
NSW Farmers has said the traditional holiday barbecue could be in doubt due to a lack of supply caused by COVID-19 disruptions to labour.
"COVID is hitting everyone, but vulnerabilities in our food supply chains are particularly concerning," said NSW Farmers president James Jackson.
"Farmers are telling us there are bottlenecks in the meat industry because of a shortage of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs), combined with changing rules around isolation, which is a real headache for processors.
"Of course we don't want people working while sick or infectious, and we need to avoid any further disruptions to the system at this time, but long term, this situation cannot continue as is."
Mr Jackson said years of corporate mergers and buy-outs in Australia's retail sector had led to a few major players dominating the market, which he said the federal government should address in a similar fashion to the United States government.
"President Biden is actively pursuing better competition in their meat sector, and I think it's high time our government acted on the many reports and inquiries that have recommended reform," Mr Jackson said.
"We have seen independent supply chains avoid the worst of the squeeze here in Australia, surely better competition would deliver better results for consumers.
"What we need is a two-pronged approach: more RATs today to get things moving, and real competition reform tomorrow to make sure this never happens again."
One such producer affected by the bottleneck of livestock to be processed is Garah sheep grazier Helen Carrigan, who said while the delays were understandable, they presented new challenges to producers.
"We had some lambs and some hoggets ready to go and we have put off twice already," Mrs Carrigan said.
"Initially, we were looking to kill before Christmas and following that we were supposed to have another load set to go on January 14.
"However, now we have been put off to January 27 and from what our agent has told us, that is purely because there isn't enough people that are able to come to work due to COVID-19.
"We're not the only ones in this boat. In fact our agent was telling us that he had heard of a producer who had about 3000 sheep booked in being turned around.
"It's totally understandable because there's COVID-19 everywhere and people are either unable to work because they've got it or because they have to self-isolate as a close contact."
Mrs Carrigan, whose family runs Dohnes, said the impacts of COVID-19 were largely unavoidable, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus.
"This is nobody's fault, especially not the abattoirs and processors, it's a bit of a fact of life now and it's just about dealing with it as best you can," she said.
"However, I think there really needs to be more clarity for these workers from the government because there is a lot of different information floating around and it can be difficult to keep track of what you're supposed to be doing.
"As well as that, I think there could also be more of an effort made at a government level to help overseas workers, who make up a significant percentage of the workforce in meat processing facilities, to better understand the guidelines around self-isolating and that sort of thing."
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