The big beef industry is the single biggest driver of deforestation in Australia and is made up of the big supermarkets, big agribusiness and the big banks that fund it.  

The industry has contributed to Australia becoming the only deforestation hotspot in the developed world, pushing animals like the pink cockatoo, koala and regent honeyeater closer to extinction.

But you wouldn’t know it listening to Agriculture Minister Murray Watt earlier this month at Beef Week – the southern hemisphere’s biggest cattle industry expo held in Rockhampton.

Instead of admitting the problem and working with producers to stamp out nature destruction, Watt hit out at the European Union for banning beef imports from properties where deforestation has occurred and called for them to delay their new laws.

He says it’s fueling ‘confusion’ for investment in Australian beef – while at the same time claiming it won’t impact Australian producers because there is ‘no risk’ the cattle industry is connected to deforestation.

We need all senior members of government working together to tackle the extinction crisis, not giving mixed messages and denial. Minister Watt needs to front up to beef’s big deforestation problem and do his part to stop it.

Call on Murray Watt to stop denying deforestation is a problem within the beef industry and to support Australia's commitment to halt and reverse nature destruction

In Queensland (where we have the best data) a whopping three-quarters of forest destruction is to make room for cattle alone.

But we know that a relatively small number of cattle graziers are responsible for most of the deforestation. And big supermarkets Coles and Woolworths continue to sell their beef, with no policies or guidelines to stop rampant nature destruction in their supply chains. It’s their actions together that harm our precious places and wildlife, and the entire Australian agriculture sector.

Other global markets will follow the EU in cracking down on forest destruction, and big buyers are starting to act too – with Aldi committing to no deforestation in its supply chains by 2025.

If Murray Watt keeps ignoring the problem, Australian producers – including the ones working hard to protect and restore nature on their properties – risk being frozen out of markets everywhere, and our incredible places and wildlife will continue to suffer.

Our broken nature laws have holes that you can (literally) drive a big bulldozer through. Just last year I got a birds-eye view when ACF exposed potentially illegal regent honeyeater habitat destruction linked to a big beef producer near Armidale, NSW.

Land cleared on beef producers' property in Armidale, NSW.

Bulldozing of critically endangered regent honeyeater habitat linked to a big beef producer, uncovered by an ACF investigation.

I grew up in Armidale so I’ve got great memories of the landscape, from catching tadpoles in the creeks to herding sheep on motorbikes. I also know how hammered by bulldozers that area has already been. So seeing the machinery in action was devastating.

In 2022 the Albanese government committed to fixing our broken laws, but they have delayed the bulk of the reforms indefinitely. Soon they’ll create a new EPA to crack down on law breaking – a welcome step – but without also creating strong new nature protection laws all a new EPA could do is enforce laws that have already failed.

This is unacceptable in the middle of an extinction crisis from a government that promised no more extinctions. It’s up to every government minister to step up to protect forests, woodlands and wildlife. Compliance with strong new nature laws will ensure Australian beef’s favour in increasingly discerning global markets.

Forward this pre-filled email to Murray Watt calling on him to work with beef producers to stamp out forest destruction and ensure no more endangered wildlife habitat is bulldozed.

Australia’s agriculture system can continue feeding the country (and the world) while protecting and restoring nature.

Because everyday people should be able to walk into a big supermarket for their weekly shop and not inadvertently fuel forest destruction.

Nat Pelle

Business and Biodiversity Campaign Lead