The Australian cattle industry is being accused of trying to gain deforestation-free status, according to a report from The Guardian.

Cattle Australia recently published a consultation paper that outlines a proposed land management policy in response to calls for deforestation-free meat products. The paper argues that clearing forests that have grown in after 1990 should not be considered deforestation by international supply chains, drawing the ire of numerous environmental groups in Australia. 

New laws in the European Union that will ban the import of goods produced in areas where land clearing occurs are due to come into effect in January 2025. Cattle Australia has said that the purpose of the paper was to develop an industry definition of deforestation that could allow farmers to gain a deforestation-free credential, which the organisation hopes would be recognised by the supply chain. 

The paper proposes the creation of a 1990 baseline, using old satellite imagery, to determine whether land is under agriculture use. This would allow regrowth forest that is over 30 years old to be cleared without it being considered deforestation.

The Australian cattle industry is being accused of greenwashing in a recent paper, according to a report from The Guardian.
Cattle on a farm in Queensland. Image via Creative Commons.

In response to the paper, Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society, and the Australian Conservation Foundation released their own policy guidance on deforestation for businesses in the beef supply chain.

Dr Don Butler, an ecologist at the Australian National University, told the Guardian that Cattle Australia position makes it appear as though, they are seeking to leave as broad an avenue as possible for their membership to continue to do what a lot of other people would see as deforestation in the management of their land.”

Nathaniel Pelle, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s business and nature lead, told the Guardian that, “Continuing to bulldoze native forests and woodlands and trying to label it ‘deforestation-free’ is nothing but greenwashing, plain and simple. Banks and supermarkets should not buy into it.”

Gemma Plesman, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, described the proposal to the Guardian as, “just yet another brazen attempt to deny deforestation is a problem.”

Cattle Australia CEO Dr Chris Parker responded to the greenwashing accusations, telling the Guardian that the consultation paper’s 1990 baseline was selected based on factors including data availability and historical vegetation management laws, and was open for consultation. He added that the paper takes a “balanced view” of classifying land under agriculture and does not take advantage of agricultural land loopholes.

The World Wildlife Fund has identified Queensland – the largest beef producing state in Australia –  as the only global deforestation hotspot in the developed world, citing the beef industry as one of the major factors, a claim that has been rejected by the industry.

Cattle Australia said it will release its formal draft policy in July.

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