News

‘Deforestation’ in focus as 2020 deadlines near

James Nason, July 1, 2020

2020 is the year many downstream customers of Australia’s beef industry – and all beef producing countries for that matter – have committed to removing or reducing ‘deforestation’ from their supply chains.

The commitments have been made in a variety of global forums over the past five years including the New York Declaration on Forests, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Consumer Goods Forum.

This McDonald’s infographic includes Queensland as one of a number of ‘high forest cover sourcing regions’ for beef around the world. Click on image to enlarge.

Included is Australia’s single largest beef customer, McDonald’s, which has committed to eliminate deforestation from the supply chains from which it sources beef, among other products, by the end of this year, ahead of totally eliminating deforestation from its supply chains by 2030.

It’s clear most companies are not going to meet the 2020 deadline, but the commitments and the intent remain in place.

Beef Central has asked McDonald’s Australia to elaborate on how its work to meet that commitment is progressing but has not yet received a response.

Against this backdrop, the inclusion of a definition of what comprises a ‘forest’ in the last two ASBF annual updates has generated some angst in parts of the beef industry, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales, where landholder rights to manage vegetation have been subjected to increasingly more restrictive regulatory controls from State Governments in recent decades.

In the last two Australian Beef Sustainability Framework annual updates the following definitions for woodland and forest have been listed:

– woodland is “vegetation with 5-20pc canopy cover”, and,

– forest is “woody vegetation with >20pc canopy cover reaching 2m high with a minimum area of 0.2 hectares”.

The Sustainability Steering Group overseeing the Framework emphasises that it does not set policy for industry and that where targets or goals appear in its annual updates they reflect an agreed position of industry bodies.

It is not clear what the background is in terms of which red meat industry groups originally agreed to the definitions listed. Cattle Council of Australia has told Beef Central the definition is not one of its policies.

Some producers have voiced concern that the inclusion of a definition that classifies forest as an area with as little as 20 percent canopy cover, and just two metres high, amounts to their own industry bodies agreeing to or accepting restrictions on behalf of producers that will make it impossible to manage regrowth to protect grasslands and will in effect regulate them out of their own industry.

Queensland cattle producer and property rights advocate Ashley McKay highlighted his concerns about the forest definition in a letter to media last week, which he said overturned 200 years of interpretations on what constituted a forest by Collins, Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries.

“In this ‘new forest’ no eagle can build a nest, no koala can sit in a fork, no possum can find a hollow, no goanna can climb to safety, no bee can lodge it’s honeycomb and a rider on horseback sticks out the top,” he wrote.

“But if a cattle levy payer dares to clear this growth, within the laws of the Commonwealth or the States, then they are deemed guilty of ‘deforestation’ by our ‘green colleagues’ and can be banned from the cattle supply chain.”

However the Sustainability Steering Group stresses it does not set industry policy and that information around woodland and forest has been included for the purpose of addressing the persistent movement between vegetation classes.

So far, the data shows woody vegetation in Australia’s grazed agricultural lands overall is increasing, not decreasing.

Over the last decade, it shows Australia has also seen a general increase in the density of woodland areas through a transition from woodland to forest.

Trends in the primary woody vegetation removal have declined by more than 90 percent from 1990 level.

Since 2009 the national annual removal rate has been less than 0.3pc. These losses include fires and commercial forestry on private land, so overestimate annual losses from grazing enterprises.

It is understood the definitions for woodland and forest included in the 2019 and 2020 ASBF annual updates align with prior definitions developed by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Since that time FAO has reclassified its definition of forest to just “10pc canopy cover”.

Source: sustainableaustralianbeef.com Click to enlarge

The steering group says the ABSF has not applied that new FAO reclassification and remains consistent with the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment.

The 2020 annual report notes that since 2019 the steering group has been working with a specialist agricultural data analytics company (Cibo Labs) to analyse publicly available satellite imagery and to develop the capability to measure and monitor changes in tree and grass cover.

“By continuing to demonstrate that productivity and healthy landscapes coexist, the industry can work towards minimising regulation,” the update states.

It says more than three decades of publicly available satellite imagery can now be drawn upon is readily available.

As explained in this deeper dive article on the ASBF website, the aim is to ensure “every producer has equal access to key data being compiled by government agencies on their properties; access to the latest publicly available satellite data; and most importantly, the tools to bring the information together to support on-ground and strategic management decisions for individual producers and the broader industry”.

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Comments

  1. Michelle Finger, July 6, 2020

    ““By continuing to demonstrate that productivity and healthy landscapes coexist, the industry can work towards minimising regulation,””

    … have they learnt NOTHING from the BMP experience??!?

    Also, the ASBF ‘aligning’ itself in anyway with the anti-ag zealots that are the ‘United Nations’ should be greatly concerning to any producer:

    “It is understood the definitions for woodland and forest included in the 2019 and 2020 ASBF annual updates align with prior definitions developed by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

    Since that time FAO has reclassified its definition of forest to just “10pc canopy cover”.”

  2. Ashley Mc Kay, July 2, 2020

    * If CCA did not agree than how did this creature get approval?
    * This framework basically accepts 1990 Vegetation as Base Line Cover.
    * Proposing such a time line as Original Vegetation Cover is nothing short of deliberately and effectiely re-writing the Vegetation History of the Australian Continent all to the deteriment of the Cattle Industry.
    * The earliest reports of Woodland thickening in Australia was by Peter Cunningham in 1827 in the Hunter Valley and the Mitchell Report in 1848 of the open Forests near Sydney.
    * In all there are 20 printed Reports by a variety of authors which show Vegetation change ranging from 1827 to 1995.
    * As well there are 5 International Reports and 1 Australian Report documenting decreased water flows due to tree infestations and Plantations of trees.
    * In Brigalow communities pasture growth (grass) falls from 3,000kg per hectare to near zero if you add 15m2/ha or basal area (trees).
    * In Mulga the fall in growth is from 1,300kg to zero with just 7 m2/ha of trees.
    * The facts of life are simply this:- If you legislate for more trees then you are effectively legislating for less grass and less water in you dams and rivers.
    * That science was settled years ago so how did they come up with the document they have produced?
    * Some people think it is Environmental Correctness gone mad.

    • John Gunthorpe, July 3, 2020

      We fully support you on this Ashley. Not only CCA signed up to this inane concept of a forest but so did AgForce. They are being led by the nose as they try to comply with the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. What thinking cattle producer could allow himself to be hood-winked in this fashion. As we understand it, 0.2 Ha is selected because this is the area their satellites can identify for comparison with their next pass.

      Down here in Victoria we see illegal clearing of native forests by VicForests to maintain the operation of a Gippsland sawmill owned by the Andrews Government and operated to save 100 jobs. Bunnings banned the sale of timber from these native forests following the Federal Courts decision the timber was felled illegally. There are issues surrounding forests, but, to ban the sale of meat from properties where 0.2 Ha standing 2 metres with greater than 20% coverage are cleared, is unacceptable.

      AgForce and CCA need to come clean and correct this poorly managed situation. They should change the definition of a forest to meet acceptable standards or resign from the Roundtable.

      Australian Cattle Industry Council

  3. Dixie Nott, July 2, 2020

    It would be interesting to know what the cost of this working “partnership” has cost levy payers so far, please.

    Quote: “The 2020 annual report notes that since 2019 the steering group has been working with a specialist agricultural data analytics company (Cibo Labs) to analyse publicly available satellite imagery and to develop the capability to measure and monitor changes in tree and grass cover”.

  4. Paul Franks, July 2, 2020

    “The overseeing the Framework emphasises that it does not set policy for industry and that where targets or goals appear in its annual updates they reflect an agreed position of industry bodies.”

    Would the Sustainability Steering Group be able to advise which industry bodies agreed to set forest as woody vegetation with >20pc canopy cover reaching 2m high with a minimum area of 0.2 hectares?

    I cannot see any beef producer group who wishes to not create a revolt agreeing to such a definition. And while the group does say it does not set industry policy which is true, it says it has industry support and thus those in positions of power will refer to this when it makes policy, after all, they have industry support.

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