THE Northern Co-operative Meat Company has rejected allegations contained in a penalty notice issued by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency, which carried a $15,000 fine this week.
The cooperatively-owned NCMC beef plant near Casino on the Northern Rivers of NSW issued a statement this morning saying it did not accept the allegations made by the EPA.
Chief executive Simon Stahl said the company was “shocked” when it received the EPA notice on Tuesday, in response to an alleged breach of NCMC’s environmental licence.
“It’s important to note the alleged breach refers to a report submitted by NCMC that in the view of the EPA, contained inadequate information,” the company told co-op shareholders yesterday.
“The view of the EPA is rejected by the company, and we are seeking relevant legal advice. Notwithstanding, the board and management are committed to honouring an agreed capital works program, due for completion December 2018,” the company said.
The NSW EPA on Tuesday fined NCMC $15,000 for failing to meet the requirements of a Pollution Reduction Program at the abattoir and tannery.
An agency spokesman said the EPA had been working with NCMC for many years seeking to achieve the sustainable management of waste water in accordance with the EPA’s Guidelines.
“Waste water generated by the abattoir contains high levels of nutrients which must be carefully managed to prevent impacts on ground and surface water, including the Richmond River catchment,” the spokesman said.
“While some measures have been implemented to improve the management of waste water in recent years, major improvements are still needed for the company to achieve sustainable waste water management.”
After extended negotiations the EPA issued a Pollution Reduction Program to NCMC in early 2016 that required the development of a clear plan, which demonstrated how the company would achieve sustainable wastewater management at the premises by 30 December 2018. That required the company to submit a report to the EPA by December last year, setting out a program of works and measures to achieve the outcome.
“The report submitted by NCMC failed to address key issues affecting the performance of the wastewater management system or demonstrate that the site can achieve sustainable reuse of waste water by the end of 2018,” the EPA said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“The company was also required to submit progress updates to the EPA on the development of the report and these have at times been submitted late or have been inadequate.”
Pollution Reduction Programs are included on a licensees environment protection licence and are legally binding. The EPA said it would issue a revised Pollution Reduction Program to NCMC with a deadline to address the inadequacies in the report and meet the conditions of the program.
Addressing regulatory and cost pressures
In a notice to members, NCMC’s Simon Stahl highlighted NCMC’s commitment to the environment as well some sobering industry facts.
“The NCMC, its management team and the entire board, are absolutely committed to our environmental responsibilities. We have invested more than $10 million on improving and updating waste water treatment quality over the past five years,” he said.
“We’ve always worked closely with the EPA and wish to continue to build on our positive and constructive relationship. Our preference is to work collaboratively with Government – we truly believe that is the best way forward,” Mr Stahl said.
He pointed out that since 1990, more than 90 abattoirs, mostly in regional towns had closed across Australia.
“NCMC is arguably the largest private employer in NSW north of Port Macquarie, with about 1000 highly-trained and skilled employees, working across five core business divisions,” he said.
“Red meat processing is Australia’s last major manufacturing industry, employing over 140,000 people, mostly in regional Australia. Sadly, NCMC is the last red meat co-operative on the eastern seaboard.”
Mr Stahl said the cost pressures on manufacturing in Australia were real, and if all stakeholders – including Government – did not act as a collective, the red meat processing industry would end up like steel manufacturing and the automotive industry – off-shore.