Lives could be at risk as a Queensland company struggles to fulfill orders for critical heart valve replacements for critically ill patients.
Most important points:
- Labor shortages have impacted Nolan Meats’ ability to export life-saving beef by-products
- Gympie company usually flies daily cleaned pericardiums from cows to the US for artificial heart valves
- It is now 150 workers shortage
A beef byproduct, which uses the fat attached to a cow’s pericardium, is used in transcatheter aortic valve implantations (TAVIs) in heart patients with aortic stenosis, who suffer from narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve due to built up calcium or cholesterol.
Nolan Meats is one of many Australian companies to be accredited to supply bovine pericardial tissue to medical manufacturers in the United States.
“We’re flying that out every night and it’s going over to the US and they’re making heart valves for transplant back into people, so you’re actually saving lives by collecting that product,” said director Terry Nolan.
“But some days you don’t pick them up because you don’t have the people to pick them up.”
The delicate fabric is expertly removed to ensure it is not damaged before being carefully cleaned, packaged and air-freighted to California.
ABC Rural contacted the Australian Medical Association and Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane to ask if there was any impact on Australian surgeons’ ability to obtain the TAVIs.
Mr Nolan said his family’s meat factory employed two-thirds of the workers it needed, and despite paying above the allotted wages, their Gympie factory had 150 vacancies to fill.
Patrick Hutchinson, CEO of the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC), said that, like many other sectors, meat retailers, processors and small goods manufacturers were battling crippling staff shortages.
“If you look at our supply chain, from the moment the truck leaves the yard, pasture or farm, we’re short of about 10,000 people — right through to red meat and pork processing, cold storage, logistics, wholesale, value addition, supermarket prep, butchers and small scale manufacturing,” Hutchinson said.
“People think we’re scamming people trying to sell Wagyu ground beef. This isn’t what we’re all about.
“We don’t waste anything. It’s not just about meat, but also about medical components, cosmetics, food ingredients, clothing and sustainable energy.”
Nolan said his family had worked hard to do business in overseas markets that were often difficult to access, and their ability to supply beef casings, a delicacy in some Asian markets, had also been compromised.
“That’s quite disheartening when you see valuable products just being made because you don’t have the people to process it,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Mr. Nolan said he was working with 500 to 550 employees.
He said cowhide prices had also fallen from about $78 to $8-10 due to labor shortages around the world.
“If you don’t have that income contribution, then of course meat prices have to rise to cover that.
“We don’t want beef prices to become more expensive. Our wish would be to try to make beef prices cheaper for consumers, to encourage more consumption.”
To improve its prospects of attracting and retaining workers, Nolan Meats has purchased five houses near its meat processing plant, has applied to build accommodation with Gympie Council and is considering other housing options for its staff.
This week, the company joined the Pacific Labor Mobility Scheme (PALM) to try to fill the vacancies.
“We’ve always paid above the allotted wages, and it doesn’t really matter how much you pay, some people don’t want to do this job,” Mr Nolan said.
Hutchinson said the industry has “struggled” to kill six million cattle a year and that better seasons are expected to increase cattle, sheep and goat numbers by as much as 30 percent in the coming years.
“It’s a vicious circle. It will all be for naught if we don’t have the capacity to handle it. We need people, if we could wave a magic wand, we’d have 10,000 more people,” he said.
“We now need skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled people.
“What we want is an international workforce program that fills the supply chain gaps and provides worker protection, provides pathways to permanent residency, which in turn provides positive benefits to regional communities.”
Posted † updated
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