AN application by United States-based organisation Humane Farm Animal Care to trademark its “Certified Humane” brand in Australia has been rejected by the Australian Competition and Consumer commission.
A range of livestock industry bodies including Cattle Council of Australia, Sheep Producers Australia and the National Farmers Federation made submissions to the ACCC opposing the application when it was first lodged in February 2019.
Industry concerns were based primarily on the grounds the trademark could mislead consumers into believing that any meat-related products not carrying the same mark were produced through ‘inhumane practices’.
In reality all livestock producers in Australia are required by law to meet minimum welfare standards under Australian Animal Welfare Standards, Model Codes of Practice and State legislation, the CCA and NFF noted in their submissions.
Industry groups also expressed concerns that the HFAC’s proposed humane farming rules were written primarily for US, European and South American farming systems, with little direct relevance or reference to Australian specific production systems.
In February 2020, the ACCC issued a ruling stating that it was intending to refuse the certified trademark application, pointing out the standards were developed by animal scientists and veterinarians from the US, Canada, Europe and South America, and provided little certainty as to how the scheme would practically operate in the Australian context.
In September 2020, the HFAC responded by lodging a second application with proposed revisions to bring them more in line with Australian practices and consumer expectations, and also appointed an Australian member to its advisory committee.
However, after considering that response, the ACCC issued its final assessment on June 18, 2021 stating that it was not satisfied the changes were adequate and ruled that it would not approve the HFAC’s Certified Trademark Application.
The ACCC said that while it acknowledged the efforts made by HFAC to improve the proposed operation of its scheme in Australia, it considered there were still too many deficiencies which risked misleading consumers for two separate but inter-related reasons.
The first was that some of the standards under the new Certified Trademark rules were unlikely to meet consumers’ expectations of humane animal treatment, and the underlying processes in the new CTM rules for the certification scheme’s operation in Australia create a risk that the standards could be inconsistently applied, and it would not be clear what standards actually apply in an Australian context.
“The ACCC holds similar concerns to interested parties that the certification scheme may mislead consumers by communicating that a product bearing the mark has been produced in a manner that ensures the humane treatment of animals, when that may not be the case – for example, the New CTM Rules permit: hot and freeze branding of cattle; ‘banding’ castration of calves (less than seven days old) without pain relief; meat chickens to potentially be exposed to up to 72 hours of continuous light prior to slaughter,” the ACCC wrote in its final assessment.
“Generally, CTM rules must be clear about what requirements users must meet in order to be certified.
“The ACCC remains concerned about the lack of clarity in the New CTM Rules for the certification scheme’s practical implementation in Australia, which make it uncertain what standards would actually apply in an Australian context and therefore risk misleading consumers. For example, the latest version of the CTM rules still contains references to US-based regulations.”
In its submission Sheep Producers Australia said it was deeply concerned with the eligibility and ongoing requirements of HFAC’s proposed certification program for Australian sheep producers.
“While Section FW1 (a) of the HFAC Sheep Standards has been amended to reference the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep (AAWSGS), there is little evidence of substantive content change to incorporate Australian standards into the HFAC Sheep Standards,” the SPA submission stated.
“For example, the inside page of the HFAC Standards for the Production of Sheep (including dairy sheep) reference the standards are based on those of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) guidelines, with a United Kingdom web address provided as the reference.
“The HFAC Standards for Sheep should be written on the standards and guidelines of the AAWSGS and other relevant Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines.”
The SPA submission further noted that the majority of animal scientists, veterinarians and producers named as working with HFAC to develop the Animal Care Standards are still based overseas.
“Only one, Dr Ellen Jognman, of the 40 members of the committee is based in Australia. Knowledge of our unique production systems that are adapted to suit our environment and climate is essential to ensure that any standards required to be followed by producers in HFAC programmes meet Australian jurisdictions’ animal welfare laws, the AAWSGS, and existing requirements for food safety and quality assurance under our domestic regulations.”
John Gunthorpe from the Australian Cattle Industry Council who has been following the process closely and drew the ACCC’s recent ruling to Beef Central’s attention, said his group’s members were concerned the application amounted to an attempt to tighten the standards Australian producers adopt in their farming practices introducing additional costs without benefits.
This was despite Australian producers already operating under world leading standards and farming to deliver high quality beef cattle to our customers, whether they be abattoirs, feedlots or finishers, he said.
HFAC is described on its website as a not-for-profit organisation created in 2003, dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter.
HFAC administers the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program, a voluntary farm animal welfare certification program which requires farmers and further processors to comply with precise, objective standards for humane treatment of animals and traceability of certified products.
It says the Certified Humane logo enables producers to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and empowers consumers to “vote with their pocketbook” and drive demand for humanely raised animal products.
More detail can be found on the ACCC’s ruling including submissions lodged from various groups on the ACCC website here.