Canada’s Competition Bureau to probe forestry industry ads on sustainable management
The Competition Bureau has launched an investigation to see whether forest industry claims of sustainable management of much of Canada’s forest land are false advertising.
The investigation, announced late last year, comes in response to a complaint filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice on behalf of eight environmental groups. According to Ecojustice, forestry ads claiming that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative sets strict timber harvesting standards are dishonest and misleading.
“The (Standard) does not write, require, ensure, mandate, mandate or certify sustainable forest management,” reads the complaint filed with the bureau. “It allows aspirations, stated intentions and programs to be merged with actual outcomes.”
Jason Metnick, spokesman for the initiative, rejected these allegations on Wednesday.
“(The initiative) has a forest management standard based on objective performance measurements and indicators,” he said.
At stake is Canada’s most widely used method of reassuring consumers that the wood and paper products they buy are harvested in accordance with modern ecological principles. It is sponsored by the Forest Products Association of Canada and claims to certify more than 120 million hectares of sustainable forest management.
But the Ecojustice complaint is asking the competition bureau to force the industry to retract those claims and pay a $10 million fine.
It is said that the initiative uses vague language that is too vague to create any measurable standard. Terms such as “rare”, “ecologically important”, “considerable” and “endangered” are not defined.
According to Ecojustice, companies are allowed to define what constitutes a jungle. The initiative defines long-term as up to 80 years _ too short to measure true sustainability and more in line with harvest plans.
The system allows forests to be converted from one type to another with “reasonable justification”. Ecojustice says while the system proposes to limit clearcutting, it allows too many exceptions.
She also criticizes the process orientation of the initiative. The complaint says the system assumes that if proper guidelines are in place, on-site results will be good.
“(Sustainable Forestry Initiative) does not devote any resources to ensure certification to the SFI standard achieves sustainable forest management,” the complaint reads.
Ecojustice advises that there are no instances where certifications have been revoked for non-compliance.
“In the absence of mandatory requirements, there is no standard against which performance can be judged as insufficient,” she argues.
Metnick said the complaint was based on outdated and misleading information and that the standard included specific targets.
“We have ?114 indicators that support both a results-based approach and a systems-based approach,” he said. “We believe we are robust and based on science.”
According to Metnick, certification is only given to companies that have passed a third-party assessment. Companies are audited annually, which includes a field inspection component, he said.
“The auditor will go into the forest and make sure that what the organization says they are doing is verified by the on-site visit.”
The Competition Bureau’s investigation, which is not conducted publicly, has the power to use the courts to gather evidence.
A spokesman for the bureau said the Ecojustice complaint was reviewed before the decision was made to conduct an investigation.
“When the office receives such a request, the information provided is checked to see if it meets the technical requirements of the section,” Yves Chartrand said in an email.
“If so, the Bureau is required under (competition) law to open a formal investigation to establish the facts.”
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