Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Beef roundtable in Wonderland”

14 November 2014

No matter how much I might try, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) process reminds me of a chapter from Alice in Wonderland.

Early in the book, Alice finds herself standing before a pompous Dodo, who invites her to participate in a “Caucus-race.”

‘What is a Caucus-race?’ asks Alice.

‘Why,’ replies the Dodo, ‘the best way to explain it, is to do it!’

Alice is told the exact shape of the race course doesn’t matter. It’s simply important that everyone has a place at the starting point.

Without any clear warning, everyone begins running when and wherever they like so that it’s not easy to know when the race was over.

All the while the Dodo stands by, cheering everyone onwards.

When they have all been running for half an hour or so, the Dodo suddenly calls out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowd round, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

Everyone waits in silence.

At last the Dodo says, ‘Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

On many fronts, this short passage unfortunately summarises where the GRSB process currently finds itself.

Since the roundtable released its draft Principles and Criteria guidelines several months ago, international beef industry groups have run randomly in circles, only to progress nowhere, and have now arbitrarily gathered at the same point where they originally found themselves.

All the while the World Wildlife Fund, just like the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, has stood by and cheered them onwards.

The GRSB announced in Brazil last week that its membership had “overwhelmingly” approved global Principles and Criteria for defining sustainable beef and sustainable beef production practices.

Apparently this followed months of consultation with key industry stakeholders.

But just like Alice in Wonderland, we are peering through a looking glass.

The Principles and Criteria is a mirror image of the absurd document that was initially proposed at the beginning of the year.

This can only lead to the conclusion that the environmental groups, which have imposed themselves on the beef sector throughout at this process, have managed to minimise any sincere consultation and instead ploughed forward with their disastrous view of the future of the industry.

The Square-table, which was organised earlier this year, fortunately enabled Australia to avoid becoming a participant in the Global Sustainable Beef caucus race.

Australia did not need to run around in circles, seeking meaningless consultation.

Instead, industry took a unified stance to collate and explain its own sustainability credentials, free from any influence of those dodos in the World Wildlife Fund.

Furthermore, the mass manipulation of our international beef rivals presents a significant business opportunity for Australia.

Through the logical, careful and considered sustainability approach we are undertaking, being spearheaded by the Red Meat Advisory Council, Aussie beef will soon be able to offer a product that very clearly differentiates itself from the rest of the world.

I am pleased to report that this initial culmination of existing legislation and credentials is in the process of being finalised.

It will prove a significant step forward in celebrating and marketing our industry’s hard earned sustainability gains.

At a time of tightening profit margins this could prove a welcome outcome.

GRSB president Cameron Bruett says the roundtable now intends to work with the regional and national roundtables as it identifies locally-focused solutions.

But the question must be asked – are these beef industry participants in the GRSB about to embark on just another caucas race, which has no apparent end and seemingly no purpose?

Because it seems clear the WWF and their associated green groups already know the direction they are heading.

And it will be those participating beef producing nations that will pay for the final prizes.