Who has control of the agenda?

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By: The fishmonger *

The Fishmonger has been engaging in a number of virtual events recently. It is amazing how the lockdowns, curfews, lack of travel, etc. have enabled us to expand our horizons through virtual technology, and the Fishmonger encourages you all to engage. So much great information is available.

That technology has no boundaries. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. The bad side is people can say pretty much whatever you want, and sadly the world is full of conspiracy fantasy concepts as a result. There is a clear and present danger from anti-seafood lobbies.

The Fishmonger urges you to create a list of your own principles in this area and recommends you build those around quality standards. Listen to as many experts as you can and ask questions (amazing how many people miss that chance), then make your own opinions based on facts!

Over this period of engaging in the virtual world, what is plainly obvious is that the world of seafood is gradually being controlled by people who are not actually in the seafood business. There is a business that has been created between the primary sector and consumers that we should all find concerning. They are proactively setting the agendas for the industry way outside government regulations and in the space where the industry has failed to connect.

“Let us look at two recent examples, and curiously both are centered on the island state of Tasmania, Australia.”

A major player in the Australian Atlantic Salmon industry, Huon Aquaculture, is currently in the middle of a social media war as two massive organizations fight for the major shareholding currently on the market from the founders of the business.

Brazilian originated but globally driven red meat giant JBS is again dodging flak after copping many media blasts from West Australian mining magnate, turned agribusiness new boy savior, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

Speculation about the success/ failure of JBS’ A$540 million bid for Huon Aquaculture’s salmon operations, along with a move to buy pig farming, and processing business, Rivalea has escalated, prompted by social media chatter about the Brazilian company’s corporate misbehavior at home and in the US.

It is has been reported that founding family company executives and brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista went to jail for three years after JBS admitted in 2017 it paid about A$200 million in bribes to more than 1800 politicians and government officials to help it access Brazilian government funds and international expansion opportunities.

Dr. Forrest has not been shy in highlighting issues about being a ‘good corporate citizen’, challenging JBS to adopt “an uncompromising commitment” to animal welfare in the meat supply chain and to help raise global protein production standards.

“He has highlighted “animal husbandry question marks,” claiming the company was accused by the animal welfare lobby of running seven of the USA’s worst, large livestock meatworks.”

He also felt the Foreign Investment Review Board should rethink its recent pre-sale approval for any successful JBS takeover of Tasmania’s Huon because of the meat company’s environmental and livestock husbandry record and convictions for bribery and price-fixing in the Americas.

It must be pointed out here that JBS Australia’s chief executive officer, Brent Eastwood, was again quick to hose down Dr. Forrest’s claims, insisting the company upheld “the highest standards of animal welfare” in Australia and that it would apply its uncompromising commitment to animal welfare and sustainability at Huon Aquaculture if either of its two takeovers offers to succeed.

Dr. Forrest, who has already increased his investment in Huon in defiance of the JBS bid, challenged the Brazilians to commit to the same principles as his own beef, aquaculture company Harvest Road, and its processing business, Harvey Beef.

“For a small expense and through good management at Harvey Beef, we have established a clear `no pain, no fear’ framework in the critical stages of cattle processing as part of our ambition to exceed animal welfare standards and create a path for others to follow,” he is reported to have said.

Ironically, no one seems to be questioning the environmental or other credentials of miners that dig up Australia and export it overseas, seemingly without meeting any nongovernment certification groups certifying them.

Anyway, this open debate has spurred massive coverage in social media, mostly negative creating misinformation to add fuel to the fire and put the whole aquaculture industry under fire at a time when Aquaculture is now confirmed as Australia’s largest sector of Australian primary seafood industry, growing 10 percent in 2019−20 and an Australian Government Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources, is examining ways to develop Australia’s aquaculture industry.

“How do these false ideas start, you may ask? This second example gives some idea of how misinformation gathers momentum.”

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has created some ‘educational’ workshops aimed at school children. One of these was about Fishing in the Antarctic, and one of the presenters was David Agnew, Executive Secretary, Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Towards the end of that event, the CCAMLR Executive Secretary gave a quick promotion for MSC in suggesting to those watching the virtual event should ensure they look out for the MSC Blue Tick when doing their shopping (for seafood…).

What needs to be noted here is that CCAMLR is an international commission with 26 Members, with a further 10 countries who have acceded to the Convention. Based on the best available scientific information, the Commission agrees to a set of conservation measures that determine the use of marine living resources in the Antarctic. It effectively manages the Antarctic as an independent organization supported by all the government members.

“The MSC is not an official member, and there appears to be no alignment until you know that the Executive Secretary’s last job was as a high-level MSC employee……”

By supporting the MSC blue tick, it strikes the Fishmonger that CCAMLR have given children and others who may see the program, now and into the future, the concept that MSC/ blue tick is an approved program of CCAMLR.

The Fishmonger is aware that a complaint has been made to CCAMLR about the Executive Secretary’s role in misinformation, but nothing has seemingly been done. Thus ‘whispers’ will continue into the future. This is how FAKE news starts.

There are those amongst us who will say that we need to obtain some sort of mythical ‘social license’. Still, the Fishmonger believes that would simply be following the agendas of those outside the industry, and that approach is fraught with not being able to control our own destiny. By surrendering this ground, the industry will always be ‘re-active as against being ‘pro-active.

Back in 2010 in Rome, the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), where all our governments came to talk about Fisheries and Aquaculture, agreed that in order to minimize risks in target populations, it was recommended a series of steps that member states should take to assess better and manage the risks and benefits of fish consumption and more effectively communicate with their citizens:

  • 1. Acknowledge fish consumption as an important food source of energy, protein, and a range of essential nutrients and part of the cultural traditions of many peoples.
  • 2. Emphasize the benefits of fish consumption on reducing CHD mortality (and CHD mortality risks of not eating fish) for the general adult population.
  • 3. Emphasize the neurodevelopment benefits to offspring of fish consumption by women of childbearing age, particularly pregnant women and nursing mothers, and the neurodevelopment risks to offspring of such women not consuming fish
  • 4. Develop, maintain, and improve existing databases on specific nutrients and contaminants, particularly MeHg and DLCs, in fish consumed in their region.
  • 5. Develop and evaluate risk management and communication strategies that both minimize risks and maximize benefits from eating fish.

“Also, the Fishmonger believes the science of nutrition globally agrees that ‘eating fish/seafood is just a great healthy product that you need to consume 2 to 3 times per week’.”

Here is a little sum based on the Australian National Heart Foundation (ANHF) requirements- The ANHF recommends that all Australians eat 2 to 3 serves x 150gms of oily fish per week.

Let us say just two meals x 150gm per week = 300gm per week, 21 kgs per annum (for three meals its 31.5kgs) Australia’s population is around 24/25 million but let us say for this exercise; we use 20 million. 20 million x 21kgs = 420,000MT (3 meals 630,000MT).

Figures often get confusing herein that the majority of seafood statistics are listed as whole weight, but only approximately 40% is consumable (bones, heads, skin, guts, etc.), so we often are not comparing ‘apples with apples.’ Effectively in Australia, we are producing something like 7-800,000MT of whole fish short in meeting ANHF guidelines.

“Ipso facto in order to meet ANHF minimum guidelines in Australia, the industry needs to be trebling seafood production in order to meet basic guidelines to have a healthy population yet guess what we are doing?”

The Fishmonger is reminded of the quote from Woody Allen – “More than any other time in history, humanity faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Happy Fishmongering!

*References used by the author available under previous request to our editorial team.

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