The launch of the Australian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is likely to provide one of the more politically charged events at Beef 2012 in Rockhampton next month, where industry leaders are set to face heated questions about their engagement with the World Wildlife Fund in the development of a global beef industry sustainability program.
Some of the biggest players in the international beef supply chain, including McDonalds, JBS, Cargill, Walmart and Merck, have been working with the World Wildlife Fund for the past 18 months to develop a sustainability plan for the global beef industry.
The process was born out of a meeting convened by the above players and other beef supply chain participants in Denver, Colorado, in November 2010, which was also attended by cattle producer leaders from various countries, including Australia.
The global alliance says its mission is to find ways to feed a projected population of nine billion people by 2050 with less farmland, with fewer and more precise inputs, and in a way that satisfies increasing environmental and animal welfare scrutiny.
It is effectively working to build consensus around the key global environmental impacts of beef production and to develop a sustainability plan for the industry.
What that process will ultimately mean at paddock level, and whether it will lead to new forms of regulatory or certification burdens on producers, is a key question for industry members.
The World Wildlife Fund has campaigned aggressively to impose stringent environmental controls on agriculture in the past, and was a key player in the development of restrictive vegetation management laws in Queensland in the early 2000s.
Property Rights Australia has criticised the Cattle Council of Australia this week for its dealings with the WWF with respect to a sustainability program.
“By delegating the responsibility for formulating the definition for ‘sustainable beef’ to WWF, they have turned over one of the pivotal functions of the industry’s sustainability programme to an anti-capitalist, anti-profit, anti-farmer organisation,” PRA chair Joanne Rea said in a press release issued yesterday afternoon.
She said suggestions by Cattle Council of Australia chief executive officer David Inall that any future sustainability program must be voluntary were ‘a waste of time’.
“WWF have perfected the technique all over the world of promising enough co-operation to get a foot in the door and then altering course to achieve whatever it is that they wanted, up to and including lobbying the government for introduction of legislation,” Mrs Rea said.
“WWF has suggested that beef production should be carbon neutral.
“To attempt to impose a condition such as this is unreasonable, not required of any other industry and should have been dismissed out of hand.
“There is no activity in our modern lives that is carbon neutral.
“From going to work or the supermarket to eating even a vegetarian diet, carbon emissions are involved. Beef has been saddled with more than its fair share of blame for carbon emissions.”
Mrs Rea said information on WWF websites that relied upon data from the Livestock’s Long Shadow should be removed and retractions printed, after the report was discredited by one of its own authors.
“One of the authors of this paper has himself conceded that the methodology used to compare the emissions of livestock industries and the transport industries was not comparable and severely disadvantaged the livestock industries,” she said.
“There are organisations whose responsibility it is to ensure that negative claims made about the beef industry are based on science and are not over exaggerated.
“They have failed in this and as a result the industry is being drowned in a vortex of dishonest publicity by conservation groups and self interested parties.
“CCA’s solution is a partnership with the disseminators of this poor publicity based not on respect but fear.”
For its part the Cattle Council of Australia says that with many of the global beef supply chain’s most influential players driving the sustainability plan, it is imperative that producers maintain a strong voice in the process.
CCA executive director David Inall said it was both incorrect and irresponsible to say that the council had delegated responsibility for formulating a definition for sustainability to the WWF.
“This is a baseless claim,” Mr Inall said.
“The WWF is but one member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Australia. Other members include JBS, McDonald’s, Teys Australia and Merck.
“It is important to recognise that the global roundtable and then the Australian roundtable were born from the beef sustainability conference in Denver, Colorado, in November 2010.
“Both JBS and McDonald’s were key players in the Denver conference, as were Cargill, as were Wal-Mart.
“The clear objective of Cattle Council’s involvement in Denver was to ensure that the cattle producers’ voice was heard, loud and proud. I am confident that we successfully achieved this objective.
“I am confused why this issue has distilled down to only being about a Cattle Council and WWF relationship.
“The wider supply chain is engaged in this debate, so it is critically important for beef producers to be at the table and charting our own destiny. Walking away and leaving this to others is simply not an option.”
Mr Inall said the beef industry should not be afraid to discuss and debate sustainability issues with all members of the community.
“When we look outside Australia, it is abundantly clear that there is a growing presence of the words ‘food production’ and ‘sustainability’ in the same sentence. Should the Australian beef industry collectively move on this issue as a national priority? The answer is a resounding yes in my view.
“Now is the time for Australian beef producers to unite and stay ahead of this debate, not fight in the press. All producers are welcome to discuss and debate this at Beef Australia.
The fact that some members of our industry choose to name me personally as being a part of the problem only serves to heighten my eagerness for the Beef Australia Forum.”
• The Australian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef will be held at Beef 2012 on Thursday 10 May from 1.30-3pm.