Down down goes Coles' reputation

Is Coles simply ignorant and stupid, or does it share the aims of Animals Australia?

WHAT should we make of Coles’ flirtation with Animals Australia? Is the company simply ignorant and stupid, or does it share the aims of Animals Australia?

It could be either. Coles is managed by people from the UK, where romantic and unrealistic views about where food comes from are more common than here.

Thus the company has adopted a series of polices, many lifted from the UK supermarket Tesco, imposing various conditions on farmer suppliers. Those conditions are consistent with Animals Australia’s stance on what it calls factory farming.

Like the Fabian socialists, Animals Australia takes an incremental approach to achieving its aims. While the current focus is on factory farming and animal welfare, its ultimate goal is to end all use of animals by humans. That includes meat consumption, horse racing, leather and keeping animals as pets.

It is almost guaranteed that the people at Coles who thought it would be a good idea to help Animals Australia raise funds, share the group’s views on large scale agriculture. Thus they would disapprove of large piggeries, chicken farms and feedlots, and the use of drugs and other tools to increase productivity.

This can be seen from their bans on growth promotants and other productivity tools in cattle and pigs, prohibitions on sow stalls in piggeries, and the stocking limit for free range egg production. Each of these would meet with the approval of Animals Australia.

Similar attitudes are evident in the recent agreement with Ausveg for vegetable growers to “reward environmentally sustainable practices and enhance consumer confidence in the quality of Coles fresh produce”. In case you don’t get it, this means “replacing unnecessary pesticides, recycling water and improved soil management”.

Coles is undoubtedly ignorant. What it knows about is retailing, not farming, yet the decision makers in the company have clearly subscribed to the myth that current agriculture practices are unsustainable.

But none of this answers the question of whether they are also promoting the agenda of Animals Australia and other fringe groups.

Based on commercial grounds, ignorance seems more likely. Coles claims that it seeks to reduce the cost of food to consumers, yet its actions belie its words. Preventing farmer suppliers from using technology to lower their costs of production is the direct opposite of what it ought to be doing.

In fact, the effect of the various prohibitions is to increase the cost of production. Growth promotants in cattle, for example, boost growth rates and increase feed conversion efficiency. Cattle producers who stopped using them in order to satisfy Coles are now less productive. There is no credible evidence of any risk to consumers, and they are used by all major beef producing countries with the exception of the EU.

The situation is comparable to an electricity supplier banning Coles from using LED lights while declaring its aim is to reduce electricity bills, or a union preventing Coles from adopting the latest checkout technology while insisting it wants the company to remain competitive. Dumb barely describes it.

But just as it is not in the commercial interests of Coles to force up the production costs of farmers, it is similarly not in the company’s interests to give support to opponents of so-called factory farming.

As China’s food industry regularly demonstrates, small-scale family units are not only high cost, but have greater environmental impact and introduce far more hazards to consumers than large-scale mass production. Indeed, China’s biggest meat processor is about to take over Smithfield Foods, a huge American food production company, specifically to benefit from its expertise in modern, large-scale production and processing.

It is a simple fact that large scale production not only lowers the cost of production and benefits the environment, but also increases consumer safety. Yet this is precisely what Animals Australia is seeking to eliminate.

If Woolworths, IGA and Aldi share the aim of offering cheaper food to consumers, they will have a cost advantage over Coles assuming they embrace modern technology. Only if sufficient consumers accept the myths promoted by Animals Australia will Coles achieve any advantage from its approach.

Which brings us back to the question of whether Coles is more than just ignorant and dumb. Might Coles be seeking to gain a commercial advantage by perpetuating lies about agriculture, such as those emanating from Animals Australia?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the company’s support for the fundraising promotion was dropped at the request of Animals Australia.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at
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    David Leyonhjelm

    David Leyonhjelm

    has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    10/06/2013 2:53:40 AM

    Coles who are they........? It takes TWO to tango, Animals Australia just didn't appear on Coles doorstep that same day cap in hand asking to sell shopping bags. Coles being Non Australian managed by Pommies, don't care about Australia, there here for the cash, and cash only... Since this whole affair I like many people have been shopping at Woolies, at least they are supporting Australians.
    Alison Germon
    10/06/2013 5:54:33 AM

    If Coles are aiming for and want the niche vegan consumer market they are going the right way about it. I guess then we won't need to worry about a duopoly.....
    Jen from the bush
    10/06/2013 6:10:11 AM

    re growth proponents in Eu David - according to the producers of growth proponents, the biggest user is Eu. They just don't admit to it but millions of doses vanish into the Eu and since it isn't traceable it is obviously being used there - who buys something to throw it away? I wouldn't take much from AA suggesting Coles to drop the bags. I think it was a deliberate negative action by AA and was never meant to run any longer than it did - bet AA got more funds along with a lot airplay and attention. Very clever AA. Very dumb Coles!
    10/06/2013 7:18:03 AM

    Coles is not ignorant. Their base-line is money and profits. Animal welfare means that eggs and pig products would cost more, and they would require more room to raise. Land is at a premium cost due to population growth. Coles wants to keep prices down. The aim of Animal Australia are completely at adds. They were never likely to promote "make it happen".
    10/06/2013 7:26:21 AM

    Maybe Coles British management should br returned to the "olde country " and a new Aussie team who can also look after farmers Interests be appointed. Wake up Coles!
    10/06/2013 7:27:39 AM

    I think animals Australia an should be commended for having such good visions and Coles for it's attempt underlying support, rather than the poor attempt pillory their cause as David is attempting to achieve through this article.
    John Newton
    10/06/2013 7:50:05 AM

    I don't know where to start with Mr Lyonhjelm's breathakingly ignorant take on animal welfare. I'll begin with growth promotants, specifically with antibiotics used for the same purpose. Concerns have been raised over this level of antibiotic usage globally. Cattle, pig and broiler chicken farmers in Denmark stopped using antibiotics as growth promoters in 1999. This experiment was monitored by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which published a rereport which found that ‘the phasing out of antimicrobial (antibiotic) growth promoters was done without major consequence.
    Jen from the bush
    10/06/2013 8:16:17 AM

    i wasn't aware David was speaking of using antibiotics as growth promotants - I for one thought he was speaking of the general ones used in au like compudose which usually use hormones - they are the ones vanishing into Eu.
    10/06/2013 8:18:19 AM

    Not a Coles fan but I'm afraid the trust me I'm a farmer attitude is not enough consumers do want access to products that are sustainably farmed without growth promotants and the like.
    10/06/2013 8:29:04 AM

    John, not sure of your point. Australian beef and chicken growers do not use antibiotics as growth promotants either, and have not done so for many years. They are only used under strict regulation as a treatment for ill animals.
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    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at


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