AN attempt by an animal activist group to put roadblocks in front of a western Queensland feedlot development proposal has had little substantive impact, apart from delaying the application process and costing both parties a considerable amount of money.
Animal Liberation Queensland and St George’s Kooroon Pastoral Co late last year reached an agreement following an appeal via the Queensland Planning & Environment Court of Kooroon’s feedlot development approval.
The case may be the first example where activists have attempted to challenge the legitimacy of feedlot operations (and arguably, the broader beef industry) to the extent of engaging in legal action. Previous activity has included organised protests like this farm invasion at a feedlot in 2017.
While Animal Liberation Queensland is claiming a series of wins as a result of its challenge over the feedlot proposal, when examined in detail these are insignificant in any practical sense.
Animal Liberation Queensland gained some prominence in 2021, protesting outside the main gate of the Beef 2021 industry event in Rockhampton.
ALQ issued a statement this week which clearly signalled that its underlying agenda through the court action was to minimise the number of cattle exposed to ‘cruel, unnatural confinement and suffering’ in a feedlot, rather than any specific environmental or animal welfare issue to do with the project.
The Australian Lot Feeders Association said it was disappointed, but not surprised by this latest attack on the Australian agriculture sector by radical animal activists seeking to shut down livestock production and eliminate meat from our diets.
Balonne Shire Council originally approved a 2021 application by Kooroon Pastoral Co, to build a lamb and beef feedlot at Westmar, near St George. The original development approval gave Kooroon Pastoral permission to build a 10,000 standard sheep unit (SSU) and 50,000 standard cattle unit (SCU) feedlot. Like most feedlot projects, it was never Kooroon Pastoral’s intention to build a 50,000 head yard from scratch – instead stage one would be for around 5000 head only. Many Australian feedlots have approvals far larger than their built operating capacity.
ALQ claimed the feedlot application should never have been approved.
It built its case around water security issues and associated animal welfare risk, and environmental run-off risk, both of which have been easily resolved following the Court mediation process. At one point, ALQ’s counsel argued that the project would ‘restrict water intake’ among feedlot cattle housed in the yard.
ALQ launched its campaign in July 2021, saying 1800 ‘members of the public’ had lodged objections against the feedlot development. In contrast, it’s understood that Balonne Shire Council itself received just two objections.
In a statement, ALQ claimed the appeal process had resulted in “a significant increase in the operator’s water requirement estimates and has ensured better protections for the environment.”
The activist group said it was concerned with the “significant risks and cumulative impacts that this feedlot posed to the Murray Darling Basin, including threatened biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as the unnatural confinement and suffering of tens of thousands of animals,” listing a range of subjective, biased and ill-informed views on the conditions found in a typical Australian feedlot.
“The East Kooroon Feedlot had been approved despite significantly under-calculated water requirements, along with poorly planned effluent utilisations areas which encroached onto flood-prone areas,” ALQ campaign manager Amanda Holly suggested.
As a result of the mediation process, Kooroon Pastoral and ALQ were able to resolve the appeal on ‘improved conditions’ for the development, which “satisfied the appellant’s concerns regarding water and pollution, based on input from groundwater, engineering, and expert advice.”
The settlement included a minor adjustment to water requirements, a groundwater investigation to ensure no runoff risk to waterways, and a superficial amendment to the proposed feedlot’s effluent utilisation area.
It also included a staging requirement for the development, and the applicant to have legal and reliable access to the required amount of water for each stage. Both of these were always part of Kooroon Pastoral’s intentions.
Both parties have a somewhat different view on what the adjustments to water requirements mean for the feedlot’s future.
ALQ claimed that based on water availability, it was now confident that, with the requirements of the new staging, “the feedlot is unlikely to be able to expand beyond 30,000 head.”
“For us, this is a significant win for both the environment and animals,” Ms Holly said.
“This is potentially 20,000 cows every year that won’t be forced to be confined to the cruel and unnatural living conditions of a factory farm feedlot,” she said.
“It will also ensure better protection for the environment and surrounding wildlife. The cows that are located at the feedlot will now have a substantially increased water supply available to them.”
ALQ argued for a minimum of 24Ml of water access per 1000 head at the site. All previous studies on the topic of water requirement have ranged between 14Ml to an extreme case of 22ML – but that includes all water use for washing cattle and equipment etc.
The mediation ultimately agreed to a figure of 20Ml/1000 head, but that does not stop the Westmar project securing more water beyond what is currently available, if it should choose to expand beyond 30,000 head.
ALQ said it had “been monitoring and objecting to factory farm developments for several years, and we continually see water requirements and other environmental impacts underestimated.”
The organisation claimed to have lodged 15 submissions against “new or expanding factory farms” in 2022, after the original Kooroon Pastoral action.
Brothers Bob and Wal Brown from Kooroon Pastoral reject any suggestion the project is now capped at 30,000 head capacity in any practical sense – even though it is not their intention to build the first stage anywhere near that size.
“Technically, in order to go above 30,000 we would have to buy more water – but that’s not impossible, and we would have to do it anyway, because you obviously cannot have cattle in a feedlot without water,” Bob Brown said.
“Their main argument was about water security, but we’ve always known we’d need more water if it was to go above a certain size.”
Mr Brown said the challenge process had been both costly and time consuming, involving both legal and environmental specialists.
“We certainly did not see this coming – we didn’t give it a thought when we made the application. On face value, it looks like it is really about obstructing livestock production.”
The Browns suspect that their project may have been targeted for the action because it was in a more remote location where feedlot regulation is less developed, and unlike a larger pastoral company, they represented a smaller target.
The Australian Lot Feeders Association said it was disappointed, but not surprised by this latest attack on the Australian agriculture sector by radical animal activists seeking to shut down livestock production.
President Barb Madden said ALFA supports the sustainable growth of the feedlot industry and is constantly striving to improve animal welfare and environmental outcomes.”
“We know that agriculture is consistently asked to do more with less, and feedlots are no different. With new technology and production efficiencies, feedlot water use, relative to production capacity, is expected to reduce into the future,” Ms Madden said.
“The Australian feedlot industry is committed to a wider sustainability plan known as the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework. The Framework aims to create a thriving industry that improves the wellbeing of people, animals and the environment. It answers the high accountability the red meat industry has to Australian consumers and the community.”
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