Australian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef & WWF
I speak today to outline what I consider to be the latest example of an extortion scheme that is ruining Australian industry. Hard working primary producers in a growing range of industries are being duped into believing that by working with environmental groups, their long-term future is assured.
The reality is very different.
Last May in Rockhampton at Beef Australia 2012, Queensland cattle farmers had a very rude awakening. They were meeting members of the Australian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (ARSB) to discuss plans to improve the industry’s sustainability practices. ARSB members include JBS, Cargill, McDonald’s, the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA), Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and AgForce. But there was one organisation present that stunned many in the crowd: the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, and its ARSB representative, Rob Cairns.
The WWF is the same group that waged a campaign against the land and regrowth clearing practices of Queensland farmers. The resulting vegetation management laws crippled the cattle industry – yet WWF called the laws “disappointing” and campaigned for even tighter restrictions. If any grazier familiar with WWF’s role in this campaign thinks it is now acting in the best interests of the cattle industry, then they believe in the tooth fairy.
What must be understood is that the ARSB is part of a worldwide, co-ordinated campaign by WWF and others to squeeze primary industry dry under the pretences of “sustainability”. In Australia, these green groups have gone from the timber to the seafood to the sugar sectors, dragging farmers into expensive, time-consuming certification schemes. These schemes have made the NGOs a tidy profit, but have done almost nothing for industry or the environment.
Make no mistake, this is a backdoor method used by clever extreme greens to cripple primary industry. “Sustainability” here is a cover word for “suicide” by any business silly enough to fall for the siren song of these radicals.
Now WWF has set its sights on the beef industry. On one hand, the President of AgForce, Brett Finlay, agrees with me that graziers should run a hundred miles from the ARSB. But then there’s the Executive Director of the Cattle Council of Australia, David Inall, who’s said, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.
Inall thinks if beef industry stakeholders keep an eye on WWF at ARSB meetings, they can be spared the mandatory regulations WWF has inflicted on other primary sectors. I say that if you think associating with WWF will leave the cattle industry better off, then you’re wrong.
Consider Ian McConnel, a beef producer and CCA’s 2011 Rising Star. He was seemingly the perfect person for WWF to appoint as its sustainable beef project co-ordinator. Graziers would more likely trust his claim that WWF is on their side and that the ARSB is good for them. They might take his word, in a recent interview with Queensland Country Life, when he said: “There has been some press saying we are going to bring in certain standards, but we are still at the stage of incorporating the roundtable and getting everyone together. We are not at the stage yet of having a definition of sustainability”. Well, the question now is at what stage will you have a definition of sustainability, and will it be mandatory?
McConnel’s very job description by WWF states his key responsibilities are “helping to define sustainable beef production practices” and “ensuring the development and widespread adoption of sustainable industry practices”. At an early ARSB meeting, WWF’s Rob Cairns was delegated the role of developing a definition for “sustainable beef”. This definition will be crucial in shaping the final sustainable beef plan and the resulting fallout on the cattle industry.
McConnel, David Inall and the rest say WWF is not “the policeman” of the ARSB process. But WWF has dominated the Australian sustainable beef process as far back as November 2010, when it co-hosted the ARSB’s forbearer, the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef, in Denver, Colorado. Then there’s the Chairman of the ARSB, Guy Fitzhardinge. He’s a Governor of WWF-Australia, enlisted to push their green agenda in Australia.
The WWF admits in this process it has needlessly hurt the cattle industry with its militant activities of the past, based more on emotion than science. It is now asking for a second chance through this fully consultative ARSB process. However, there is documented proof WWF is working behind the scenes against the industry. Just last month, WWF-Australia made two submissions to Queensland parliamentary committee inquiries savagely denigrating the cattle industry’s sustainability record and unfairly accusing it of polluting the Great Barrier Reef.
So WWF is publicly saying producers can trust them, and that it is fully accountable to its ARSB industry partners. Yet here we have two documents it has submitted to Parliament, with no industry consultation, saying compulsory standards must be implemented or beef producers will continue to pollute the Reef with impunity. The deception is staggering.
They’ve said any certification process will be voluntary. This is more deceit. Once producers enter into these WWF-controlled schemes, they will be forced to make ongoing payments to obtain and keep certification, while being subject to increasingly strict regulations. The certification rules will drive up their operating costs, while reducing the purchasing power of their customers. If a producer attempts to back out of the scheme, WWF and other NGOs will lobby the public against them. These actions are secondary boycotts – where a legitimate supplier of products is attacked by ranting protesters who are concerned about somebody else involved in the supply chain.
Worse, this will all be for nothing. Beef production methods have been sustainable for many years now. But WWF will persist until it has left the cattle industry in the same place it has our seafood industry. Our fisheries have been assessed by experts as some of the best-managed and most sustainable in the world. Any claims otherwise can be traced back to the scare campaigns waged by green groups, who continue to push the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label on fisheries and retailers.
The MSC is an organisation that was founded by WWF. They won a big victory last year when Coles announced it would not stock any seafood without taking sustainability advice from WWF, and on the same day Woolworths announced it would source seafood products through MSC. Both Coles and Woolworths said they would provide financial incentives to fisheries that sign up to the MSC pre-assessment process. It appears the schemes are voluntary. But given Coles and Woolworths’ overwhelming market share, many fishery owners have no choice but to sign up in order to sell their product.
An example of the huge costs involved in these certification schemes is Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery. The NPF moves most of its banana prawns through Woolworths. The NPF signed up for MSC pre-assessment in mid-2011 to please its biggest customer. The cost of the pre-assessment process for the NPF is around $100,000.
NPF is now in the final stages of a full MSC assessment. This has lasted over a year. Fisheries undergoing MSC assessment must hire additional staff and spend an endless amount of time and resources to provide information to MSC certifiers. Even then they are not guaranteed certification.
The costs don’t stop there. If a fishery obtains certification, it must cover the costs of annual audits, and any additional audits a certifier can choose to conduct at any time. Companies further up the chain – who are urged to use the MSC eco-label – will have to pay for a license to use it and for chain of custody certification which links their products back to a certified fishery. After that, retailers, restaurants and fish-and-chip shops wishing to sell MSC-labelled products to consumers must pay an annual fee and royalties at 0.5% of the value of seafood sold.
Another costly and complex certification scheme favoured by WWF is the international sugar certification scheme Bonsucro. Some sugar growers have turned to Bonsucro to counteract unjustified attacks by green groups. Bonsucro requires supply chain members to comply either with production standards or standards for chain of custody certification. This is the same as the Marine Stewardship Council model. WWF is treating our primary industries as nothing more than cash cows.
Then there’s the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) model to extort forestry companies into that particular certification method. After years of proper assessment, FSC will change the goal posts again. One extraordinary element of FSC is the banning of exports from any forests planted since 1994 – which accounts for more than half of the total available for sustainable logging right now.
The forestry industry has come under attack via secondary boycotts waged by green groups. I point to Harvey Norman, an Australian company which has committed no crime except to sell furniture made from wood legally logged from Australian forests set aside for exactly that purpose after lengthy and proper consultation. Yet this company’s stores have been bombarded by activists calling for customers to walk out, purely because those customers might want to buy a product that these greens do not like. There are many examples of this sort of behaviour going on right now. The union movement cannot legally engage in these sorts of unfair secondary boycotts, and I believe it is time we looked at preventing others from doing the same.
The co-ordinated campaign of WWF and other NGOs to coerce Australian industries into certification schemes is so commonplace it has spawned the term “greenmail”. Tim Wilson from the Institute of Public Affairs put out an eye-opening report last year, which I encourage everyone to read, called “Naked extortion? Environmental NGOs imposing involuntary regulations on consumers and business” that outlines the greenmail tactics of WWF and other green groups. He goes into great detail about how these groups use “good-cop bad-cop” tactics to pressure producers and companies into costly and complex certification schemes.
An internal WWF document titled “Certifications and roundtables: do they work” and quotes from prominent figures in WWF and Greenpeace have also revealed the green groups’ goal to push producers into adopting wide-scale sustainability measures. Ironically, the internal WWF document also details the significant financial burden certification schemes impose on small-scale operators and on some communities, contrary to its public claims.
I urge all industry members of the beef roundtable, and any other roundtables presided on by WWF, to pull out. Every time you show up to a meeting, you are adding to the public credibility of green extremists. You’re giving them the power to tell consumers and retailers which of your products they should and shouldn’t buy. This will only lead to an ongoing income stream for WWF year after year, paid for out of your own pocket. WWF won’t stop until it has inflicted sustainability standards upon every last one of our agricultural sectors. By engaging with them, you are only hoisting yourselves up with your own petards.