Forrest defends low Huon bid on environmental grounds

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Forrest says initial low offer for Huon was due to “serious environmental concerns” factored into the company’s initial price.

Andrew Forrest has defended his initial low-ball bid for salmon farmer Huon Aquaculture, saying the offer factored in costs to move the company’s controversial Macquarie Harbour farms into deeper waters. Huon is currently in the midst of an A$500 million (€307 million) takeover offer from Brazilian meat processing giant JBS.

On Tuesday, Forrest hit back at a statement issued earlier this week by Huon’s chair, Neil Kearney, who labelled Forrest’s recent statements about the company as “noise”.

Kearney had also revealed that Mr Forrest’s investment vehicle Tattarang, which currently owns 18.5 per cent of Huon, had made a bid for the salmon farmer earlier this year – below the $3.85 a share offer currently on the table from JBS.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Tattarang was given the opportunity to submit a final offer for the business but did not do so, a move Forrest said was due to “serious environmental concerns” factored into the company’s initial price.

“Tattarang had factored into its offer price several key environmental improvements that it strongly believes are absolutely necessary for sustainable and responsible salmon production,” he said. “The first of these is an end to salmon farming in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour.”

Tasmanian residents have long been fighting against the location of salmon farms in the Macquarie Harbour. Between 2017-18, around 1.35 million salmon died from disease and oxygen depletion due to severe overstocking in the harbour.

“Tattarang wanted to remove the pens from Macquarie Harbour where they are environmentally destructive, and have caused deep upset to the local community,” Forrest said. “Our offer was predicated on fixing the environment, focusing on production in deep water high current environments, or on land.”

Forrest said Tattarang initially bought its 7 per cent stake in Huon to pressure management to move the pens. Over the past week, the Tattarang owner has repeatedly called on JBS to commit to higher standards of animal welfare practices.

He again called for Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) to intervene and block the acquisition, citing JBS’ history of corruption and animal welfare issues. Tattarang, and Canadian company Cooke, are both thought to be waiting for FIRB to block the deal before making their own bid.