June 23, 2013
The nation’s peak cattle group has joined a controversial international alliance working to change how beef is supplied across the globe. Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) last week confirmed the Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Australia (RSBA) set up last year had been folded in favour of refocusing energy on helping its overseas counterpart, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), achieve its objectives. The development has heightened concerns about the growing influence of the GRSB, which includes several multi-national companies with Australian interests and a handful of green groups including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). CCA president Andrew Ogilvie said the Cattle Council board saw significant benefits for Australian producers from it becoming a member of a global forum of producer groups, food companies and non-government organisations (NGOs). Mr Ogilvie said the GRSB envisioned a world in which all aspects of the beef value chain were “environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable”. “The global beef industry supports millions of people worldwide and the global demand for beef is projected to rise significantly by 2050, placing greater constraints on the planet’s resources,” he said. “Cattle Council sees that involvement in the GRSB offers a great opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to improving the sustainability of beef production.” But Nationals Senator Ron Boswell said signing up to roundtable schemes in the name of sustainability only served the financial interests of environmental NGOs (ENGOs) to the detriment of primary producers. Senator Boswell, who has spent the last 12 months researching the roundtable trend, said that under the schemes, primary producers were forced into costly inspections and auditing to prove to the satisfaction of the particular ENGO that their production methods and outcomes meet certain standards of environmental sustainability. “Primary producers are forced to pay money to continue in business by signing up to the ENGO’s preferred sustainability scheme. It’s environmental blackmail.” Senator Boswell said ENGOs were also pressuring companies in strategic positions in the supply chain to be part of such roundtables – and then publicly commit to sourcing product produced according to set standards. “For farmers, it adds up to a lot of money.” CCA vice president Peter Hall, who took further questions on the decision this week while Mr Ogilvie was in Korea for free trade agreement talks, said he was unsure how much being a member of the GRSB would cost, but expected the figure to be less than $3000 in membership fees. CCA chief executive Jed Matz said overseas trips would also be required, but he was unable to specify an exact number or the location of planned meetings. He said CCA would try to keep costs down by incorporating meetings with trade officials and beef industry figures into the schedule. Mr Hall said it was important for CCA to have a seat at the table. “Given that Australia is massively export orientated and if the world was to go down a path of justifying sustainable beef supply, we need to be at the table to ensure nothing is proposed that will be counter-productive to what we have in Australia. “We need to be at that table to provide evidence that what we are doing is already sustainable and that we don’t need to do anything different.” Who sits at the table: Members of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef include Allflex, Alianca da Terra (Brazilian Land Alliance), Cargill, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Darden, Dow AgroSciences, Elanco, Gibbs Land Use & Environment Lab, Marfrig, JBS, Meatco, McDonald’s, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Merck Animal Health, Rabobank, National Wildlife Federation, the Savory Institute, the Rainforest Alliance, Solidaridad, the Nature Conservancy, WWF, Walmart and Zandbergen. The organisation says it aims to facilitate a global dialogue to advance continuous improvement in the sustainability of the global beef value chain.