Australia’s red meat industry will effectively ‘go it alone’ in deciding how to communicate its sustainability credentials to the world, after a consensus position was reached between major industry groups at last Friday’s ‘Square-table’ forum in Brisbane.
The forum was organised by the Nationals but that is far as political involvement in the process will now go, with an industry-led and comprised taskforce now to be formed under the auspices of the Red Meat Advisory Council to steer the Australian beef industry’s sustainability message going forward.
The Square-table forum was initiated by the Nationals in response to vocal opposition from parts of the production sector to Australia’s involvement in the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef process.
Under the GRSB, 53 major beef supply chain stakeholders and interest groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, have been meeting regularly to develop a uniform global definition for sustainable beef production.
Some Australian producers have expressed concern that the Cattle Council of Australia’s decision to sit at the Roundtable, which also includes the peak industry councils from the US, Canadian and Brazilian cattle industries, could threaten Australia’s ability to control how it demonstrates its commitment to sustainability in future, and could lead to costly third-party certification schemes.
That is a position the CCA has always rejected, arguing that its participation in the GRSB in no way surrenders Australian control over Australian cattle production practices or sustainability processes.
It has maintained that its involvement has been essential to ensure the Australian beef industry remains in touch with changing global expectations on beef sustainability and has the opportunity to influence the direction of how sustainable beef production is defined globally.
At last Friday’s meeting, all of Australia’s major red meat industry representative groups including CCA agreed that Australia should form its own taskforce to develop a sustainability framework that will be incorporated into the next Meat Industry Strategic Plan from 2015-2020, and which will be used to demonstrate the industry’s world-leading sustainability standards to global customers.
Given that Australia’s red meat industry has now collectively decided to develop and demonstrate its own sustainability credentials, the question is where that now leaves Australia’s ongoing involvement in the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
Red Meat Advisory Council chairman Ross Keane told Beef Central that RMAC itself will not be involved in the GRSB, but whether the CCA itself chooses to remain involved with the GRSB is an issue for the CCA itself.
Mr Keane said Australia had world leading sustainability systems and standards that were superior to any other country in the world, and that is why Australia should stand alone in developing its own sustainability credentials.
“We don’t want to want to lower ourselves to being a commodity with other countries and lower our standards, hence that is why we’re doing this ourselves and not being part of the global roundtable,” Mr Keane said.
“We have already got leading systems compared to our competitors, it is a case now of selling those systems.”
Mr Keane said he did not believe the Government, the WWF or other interest groups such as the RSPCA should be directly involved in the development of the industry’s sustainability credentials.
“All of our best systems in agriculture are the industry-led ones, like the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme and others.
“You obviously consult with all and sundry, but it is the industry that decides.”
Cattle Council of Australia president Andrew Ogilvie told Beef Central that Cattle Council believed the forum had arrived at the right outcome. He said Cattle Council would be a strong voice on the Australian taskforce, and would be “one of the main players at that forum” because CCA, through Meat & Livestock Australia, would be directing grassfed levy funds to the process.
Cattle Council would also continue to be involved in the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, a position that was supported by others at Friday’s forum, Mr Ogilvie said.
Representatives at the meeting were very firm that Cattle Council of Australia needs to be at the Roundtable Forum
“The beef industry representatives that were at the meeting were very firm in the belief that Cattle Council of Australia, on behalf of industry, needs to be at the Roundtable Forum so that we can put our credentials forward in that forum and also so we can come back from that forum and inform our new Taskforce of things that will be happening at the global level,” Mr Ogilvie said.
“They saw our participation there as very important to the industry.”
Mr Ogilvie said the Australian forum and the Global forum were not dependent upon each other.
“The Australian forum is going to be industry-led, and we will be doing things to suit our Australian industry, while the global forum is 53 different global participants and it is important for us to be involved at that level so we can keep abreast of that trends.
“Cattle Council’s position was always that Australia would do whatever the industry needed irrespective of what the Global Roundtable said.
“This reinforced it in a different forum, that’s all.”
In agreeing to develop an industry-led taskforce, the red meat industry had collectively taken the sustainability debate “to the right place”, Mr Ogilvie said.
“At the end of the day whatever our industry forum comes up with, it is going to be robust, it is going to be transparent, and it is going to be consultative.
“We need to satisfy our customers. That is the acid test for anything that we decide as an industry, it has to satisfy our customers’ requirements.”