Billionaire Forrest Urges Australia Panel to Hold JBS to Account
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Andrew Forrest, who has challenged JBS SA’s plan to acquire a Tasmanian salmon producer, said animal welfare should be top of the agenda when the Brazilian company seeks Australia’s approval for the deal.
Australian authorities will have to “seriously” consider the track record of the Sao Paulo-based meat producer on environmental sustainability and animal welfare, Forrest said in an interview. “Much has come to light” since the Foreign Investment Review Board last approved a JBS transaction, he added.
JBS last week made a takeover bid for Australia’s Huon Aquaculture Group in parallel with an earlier proposal to acquire the company for $314 million involving schemes of arrangement. Forrest, meanwhile, has amassed an 18.5% stake. Last week’s bid has a lower minimum acceptance condition, which JBS says provides Huon shareholders with greater certainty the deal will proceed.
Forrest wants the world’s top meat producer to commit to better environmental and animal husbandry standards, both in salmon farming and in its meat operations. JBS says it shares the view that “good business must also be good for the environment,” and that it will “uphold the highest standards” for fish health and sustainable farming practices.
The mining magnate said he challenges JBS to justify its environmental and husbandry practices to the country’s investment review board. “I just can’t see how JBS, without clear and firm commitment and action, can be trusted to be the carer of the natural water resources of Tasmania or Australian oceans. We don’t see that record on land.”
A media representative for JBS in Australia reaffirmed the company’s stance on animal welfare in a response to Bloomberg queries, saying its approach encompasses the mental and physical well-being of animals, including freedom from hunger, pain, disease and fear. The review board declined to comment.
JBS already operates a beef processing unit in Longford, Tasmania. The company also bought pork producer Rivalea in April, a deal which sparked a public inquiry from Australia’s competition watchdog on whether it has an outsized impact in that market.
Forrest, who built his fortune as founder of iron ore giant Fortescue Metals Group, has become more active in agribusiness in recent years. With a PhD in marine science, he’s expanded into aquaculture, acquiring oyster farming operations in Albany, Western Australia, last year and focusing much of his foundation’s work on ocean conservation.
“FIRB must take into account all the information they now have since they last approved a JBS investment,” Forrest said, citing reports of alleged bribery, deforestation and animal mistreatment. “Every consumer in Australia has the absolute right to know that the food on their plate has not come from an animal that’s suffered.”
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