Fad food policy bad for the environment

"Organic" and "natural" foods are a concern of environmentalists, so it seems that we once again are seeing contradictory goals among them

Coles [supermarket chain] has defended its "no added hormones" beef campaign, which critics say could damage Australia's $7.6 billion beef industry and add to the environmental damage caused by meat production.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), which represents 47,000 cattle, sheep and goat producers, accused Coles of shocking consumers into thinking beef from cattle raised on growth-promoting hormones was unsafe, despite years of scientific testing showing the meat posed no risk to humans.

The group said it was too early to tell if the Coles policy, introduced on January 1, had convinced shoppers to abandon other retailers. "It is crucial that consumers maintain their trust in the product - that the safety of Australian beef is not brought into doubt unnecessarily," MLA said.

Human growth promotants are used widely in beef production but were banned in Europe in 1988 over concerns about links to diseases including cancer. The World Health Organisation and the federal Department of Health, however, found no scientific evidence to support the ban.

Woolworths said the Coles campaign, which features celebrity chef Curtis Stone, was a "gimmick that will be bad for the environment and bad for Australian farmers". Woolworths stocks hormone-free meat in its organic range but has no plans to extend the policy.

"Removing technology means you need more cattle, eating more food, on more land, producing more methane over more time to produce the same beef," spokesman Simon Berger said. "Someone will pay for that - either farmers or customers, as well as the environment."

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said that Coles was not saying beef raised with hormones was unsafe, but that hormone-free beef was of a higher quality. The initiative would cost the company millions because Coles would have to pay its suppliers more to farm a greater number of animals to produce the same amount of meat.

MLA said increasing the cattle herd would raise water and feed costs, placing greater strain on farmers.


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