FARM groups and graziers are outraged Coles is considering a new proposal to sell shopping bags on behalf of Animals Australia.
They fear the funds could be used to back further campaigning efforts designed to undermine the Australian livestock industry and say the group’s agenda is “blatantly anti-farming”.
Coles selling shopping bags in-store to help raise funds for Animals Australia would be a “direct kick in the face” for Australian primary producers, according to Queensland grazier Russell Lethbridge.
Mr Lethbridge joined forces with two other Queensland cattlemen for urgent industry crisis talks in Canberra this week, supported by firebrand Independent MP Bob Katter.
They are calling for direct policy action that needed doing “yesterday” to resolve an industry crisis, including animal welfare, that’s partly being blamed on the government’s snap suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia two years ago.
But the grazier was angered by news Coles had confirmed the controversial proposal with Animals Australia was under consideration, despite the activist group’s central role in orchestrating the ban and ongoing calls to end it.
“That would be a direct kick in the face to the people Coles deals with and grows product for on a daily basis,” Mr Lethbridge said.
“Where the heck do you think Coles gets its beef from?
“They get it from us.
“When the capacity of the Australian beef industry has been reduced, and that’s what we’re talking about, an exodus of an industry that’s not been seen in Australia before, I wonder where the product will come from then?”
Coles spokesman Robert Hadler confirmed the supermarket giant was considering the proposal.
He said Animals Australia had supported Coles’ sow stall-free pork and cage-free egg initiatives and their joint work to promote sow stall-free pork may include selling an Animals Australia shopping bag, similar to a recent Landcare promotion.
Mr Hadler played down concerns about potential links between the shopping bag promotion and other agendas to undermine agricultural farming systems.
“The partnership with Animals Australia and other community groups gives Coles an opportunity to listen as well as provide information to them about the practical supply chain issues that need to be managed,” he said.
“This allows us to work through issues in a way that helps farmers adapt to community expectations."
The move has also raised the ire of the National Farmers Federation (NFF).
“While we understand retailers may wish to find a point of difference in their marketing, we are extremely disappointed Coles would consider partnering with an organisation that is blatantly anti-farming, openly promotes veganism and is actively working to stop animal agriculture,” the NFF said in a statement.
“On behalf of Australian farmers, many of whom supply Coles, we’re looking for an explanation.”
Australian Farm Institute director Mick Keogh also expressed concern, noting Animals Australia was strongly opposed to Australian livestock production and associated industries, not just live exports.
He said the idea of joint fundraising efforts through Coles’ retail stores raised “very serious doubts” about the sincerity of other programs the supermarket operated to promote positive outcomes for Australian agriculture and promote consumer understanding.
“For Coles to simply align with them flies in the face of other programs and advertising that supposedly supports the farm sector – there’s no other way to look at it.”
Another one of the graziers joining Mr Lethbridge and Barry Hughes for the Canberra crsis meetings, Rob Atkinson, expressed bitter disappointment at the Coles and Animals Australia alliance.
Mr Atkinson said the Coles consideration was “just a kick in the guts” and ill timed.
“I think of Coles like the dairy farmers do with the $1/litre milk,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be walking through Coles’ front door in too much of a hurry if they start fundraising for Animals Australia.”
Mr Atkinson urged Australian food consumers to stop and listen to what producers had to say about their own industry and its values, rather than rely on information from an activist group.
“This is an industry in peril,” he said.
“We need Australian consumers to get behind all of their food producing sectors in a hurry, big time, beef and dairy, it doesn’t matter what it is there needs to be big change.
“We all need food to survive but the Australian food consumer needs to take a long hard look whether they want to give their families the clean green products produced by their farmers in Australia every day or get it from an unknown quantity offshore because that is where we are headed.”
However, Mr Hadler played down concerns about the negative perception of Animals Australia among the nation’s farmers, after the group’s key role in orchestrating the federal government’s snap suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia in June 2011.
“The Coles and Animals Australia partnership on sow stall-free pork is a specific initiative that has nothing to do with the broader Animals Australia agenda,” he said.
“We are confident we are engaging constructively with key community groups and listening to the views and working with them to achieve common objectives that our customers support.”
Mr Hadler said Coles had encouraged farm organisations to engage constructively with Animals Australia and see them as a partner, not an enemy.
Opposition agriculture spokesman John Cobb believed Coles would trial Animals Australia supermarket bags in about 50 stores, and said the move was a “disgrace”.
“Coles needs to call off the stunt and send a clear message that they back Australian farmers.”