Andrew Forrest has raised his stake in Huon, while criticising farming standards. Photo: PA / AAP

Mining magnate rattles Bender in Huon battle

The bid to buy Tasmanian salmon farmer Huon has become more complicated, with a possible new contender entering the fray.

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Days after it was announced that the Australian subsidiary of Brazilian food giant JBS had made a A$425 million (£226m) offer for the company, Australian mining tycoon Andrew Forrest has increased his shareholding in Huon.

The billionaire, Australia’s second richest person, has upped his 7.33% stake to 18.51%, through Tattarang Pty Ltd, the holding company for his and his wife Nicola’s private business interests.

The move makes Tattarang the second largest shareholder in Huon behind JBS, with 40.53%, and means Forrest could vote against the JBS bid.

The businessman, who made a fortune by founding Fortescue Metals Group in 2003 and turning it into one of the biggest iron ore producers in the world, has a marine science doctorate earned at the University of Western Australia.

Huon CEO Peter Bender

He has spoken of his love of the ocean but he has been critical of Huon’s environmental and fish welfare practices, writing to the company and to JBS demanding a commitment to higher standards.

RSPCA certification

In response, Huon CEO Peter Bender issued a brusque statement today refuting Forrest’s claims and saying that his company was the first and only seafood producer in Australia to hold RSPCA certification.

‘Huon agrees with Mr Forrest that business operations must not compromise the environment,’ said Bender.

‘Like terrestrial farmers, we are stewards of our farms and stock and that is paramount to the decision making behind all our business practices.

‘Huon does not believe there is any higher animal husbandry goal to achieve than RSPCA certification, and we call upon Mr Forrest to outline which program he believes is better than RSPCA certification.

‘Huon wanted to be benchmarked against the best standards in the world because fish welfare remains essential to every aspect of what we do which is why we lobbied RSPCA Australia to develop the salmon standards in the first place.

Stocking density

‘If Mr Forrest had bothered to check with me, he would know that our stocking density of maximum 1% fish to 99% water is the best in the world across the global salmon farming industry.’

Bender added that Huon’s humane harvest methods have been rated world’s best-practice, were RSPCA UK awarded and have been adopted internationally by other salmon farmers.

Last week, Bender approved the proposed acquisition of Huon by JBS, saying it represented ‘an excellent outcome for our shareholders, partners and staff’.