WHY is fast food giant McDonald's demanding an end to deforestation in Australia's beef supply chain when ranchers in it's homeland, the United States, have no restrictions on thinning or clearing on agricultural land?
Have you ever wondered why Queensland has become defined as a global hotspot for deforestation when 87 per cent of the state is mapped remnant vegetation?
The answer is Australia plays by a different rule book when it comes to the definition of forests, says prominent northern beef producer Josie Angus.
With husband Blair, Mrs Angus breeds, backgrounds and feeds cattle on close to 162,000 hectares spread across four properties in central and north western Queensland, to market branded beef to 30 countries.
Australia has effectively self-imposed trade barriers that is costing the beef industry dearly and if ever there was a time to change that, it's now, Mrs Angus believes.
"It won't be an easy sell, but if we can't drive change now in this current environment where people are fresh from the first empty supermarket shelves they've ever tripped across in their lives, then when can we?" she said.
Mrs Angus was joined by fellow cattle producers Jacqueline Curley and Alice Greenup in a webinar hosted by Agforce last week which tapped into sentiment that it was time for the beef industry to stand up to those making inaccurate claims about its sustainability credentials.
She presented a graph of global rates of land cover changes since 1992, which showed Australia is consistently at the bottom of the list - it is clearing less than all G20 nations, less than Europe and even less than the world average.
"So why are we being beaten up, identified as a deforestation hotspot?" Mrs Angus asked.
"It's simply because we are not playing by the same rule book as the balance of the world."
All in a definition
The United Nations' definition of forest is land spanning more than 0.5 of a hectare with trees higher than 5m and a canopy cover of more than 10pc, not including land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban use.
Explanatory notes clarify forest is determined both by the presence of trees and the absence of other predominant land uses.
The Australian definition: Forest is an area of land dominated by trees that have a height of at least 2m and a crown cover of at least 20pc.
The Australian definition includes no exemption for agriculture.
"If we were, as the rest of the world does, to classify land currently in ag use as ag land, it is exempted from deforestation," Mrs Angus said.
So why has the Australian Government saddled its beef industry with such an unfair definition?
Mrs Angus argues beef was made a sacrificial lamb to the likes of mining and cities enjoying increased emissions in Australia's commitment to the Kyoto protocol.
The time was ripe for a policy reset and it must begin with equivalence in definition, she said.
"We are on the cusp of negotiating a trade deal with the United Kingdom, a market to which we once supplied 170 000t," she said.
"The UK has just announced legislation that would see their corporations prosecuted for sourcing products like beef from areas with deforestation.
"The UK will use this as a trade barrier and it all boils down to a definition - Australia has self imposed a definition of forest that is doing us real harm."
In the 1960s, Australia was the second largest agriculture exporter in the world but has now 'plummeted off the graph', Mrs Angus said.
If we had grown at the same rate as the now second placed Netherlands we would be producing $126b in extra product.
"That makes the target of $100b by 2030 seem rather unambitious," Mrs Angus said.
"It is time to stop apologising, stop focusing on fixing all the world's environmental issues and stop pandering to NGOs (non-government organisations) who want nothing but to see our demise.
"It's time we stopped believing the only way to make an extra buck is to become a carbon credit so other industries can expand at our expense.
"Our land is for ag purpose, I can't underline that fact enough."
The story How Australia's definition of 'forest' has cheated beef producers first appeared on Farm Online.