Producers should not carry the cost of beef sustainability push: Boswell

Nationals Senator Ron Boswell, 16/04/2014

I am responding to the article in Beef Central on April 14 headed “Nats have wrong end of stick on Beef Sustainability issue: CCA”.

The article begins: “Australian cattle producers have little to fear from the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) process, and potentially much to gain, the Cattle Council of Australia maintains.”

The article quotes my speech to the Senate on this issue on March 26. It also quotes the Cattle Council CEO as saying most Australian beef cattle enterprises already exceed the criteria spelled out in the draft GRSB sustainable beef definition without having to do anything extra on-farm, and quotes him directly as adding:

“The Nationals have just taken the wrong end of the stick on this one unfortunately and they have thought there are going to be standards.”

Though not a critic of the Cattle Council, I have been critical of the GRSB process. As I have stated previously, I am certain the Cattle Council has what it believes are the best interests of Australian cattle producers at heart. So do I.

I remain concerned about the potential costs for Australian cattle producers, in terms of both money and time, the GRSB might demand. For example, exactly how will proof of sustainability be achieved and how much it will cost?

The question is not about whether or not Australian beef production is environmentally sustainable – we all know that it is. The question is about how that sustainability is going to be certified, or verified, or confirmed or any other word the GRSB wishes to use.

Is a statement and supporting documentation from the Cattle Council going to be good enough for the GRSB (basically, that means good enough for the WWF and McDonald’s, the driving forces behind the Roundtable)?

Or will a third party, someone “independent”, be required to verify the fact?

How exactly will it work? What are the details? If no-one can answer that question this far down the track towards establishing sustainability principles and criteria that Australian cattle producers would be expected to meet, then I would be seriously concerned.

Along with the question of how it will work goes the question of how much it will cost. Australian farmers should be told up-front what they might be charged to meet any sustainability principles and criteria.

In January this year, McDonald’s headquarters in the USA announced its stores across the globe would begin buying verifiably sustainable beef from 2016.

I wrote to McDonald’s in Australia and asked a simple question: “Can you provide me with a written assurance that Australian cattle producers will face no extra costs because of McDonald’s future purchasing policy relating to ‘verifiable sustainable beef’?”

McDonald’s two-page response included the following paragraph: “We understand that there is a concern of increased costs and whether McDonald’s will pay increased prices for sustainable beef. It is too early to predict if or how beef prices will be impacted in the future but we are committed to working collaboratively with suppliers throughout the entire process and understand the existing pressures producers already face in the production of these animals.”

Producers can reach their own conclusion what that means.

I am sure McDonald’s cares about the planet. However, their ultimate responsibility is not to the planet but to their shareholders. They examine issues based on the view of improving value and returns to shareholders. Much of what they do is about marketing and money.

I know someone who cares passionately about the environment and livestock – and that is the average Australian farming family.

My position remains that I do not want to see Australian farming families burdened with more cost and more paperwork and more unnecessary environmental obligations to keep WWF in business and provide a marketing point-of-difference for McDonald’s.

Ron Boswell
Senator for Queensland


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