Domino's deletes trace of controversial word from pizza website

Wood chips used to smoke Domino's new meat range sparked a flurry of questions from conservationists.

Domino’s Australia has removed a controversial word from a quote on its website after questions were raised about a key ingredient used in its new range of pizzas.

On November 6, the brand’s chief marketing officer said its meats were slow-roasted over “Aussie Mountain ash woodchips”. But by last Friday the word “ash” had vanished.

Domino’s had unwittingly mentioned a species of tree (Eucalyptus regnans) that has been subject to a fierce debate between conservationists and timber harvesters for decades.

Before and after images from the Domino's website, showing the word
Domino's removed the word ash from its website. Source: Domino's/AAP

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While Domino’s told Yahoo its meat supplier sourced its mountain ash wood chips from a small timber operator with sustainability certification, the quick removal of the word from the top of its webpage highlights the controversy around the harvesting of the tree species.

Why the controversy around mountain ash?

Mountain ash is the world’s largest flowering plant, and its forests are believed to be the most carbon-dense on Earth. Having been harvested for decades, mountain ash ecosystems in Victoria’s central highlands are now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered on its Red List.

Jordan Crook from the Victorian National Parks Association was one of the first to notice Domino’s was using mountain ash to smoke its meats.

“Whenever you see mountain ash being used, alarm bells go off,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “The use of this timber is linked to the ongoing destruction of Leadbeater's possum habitat – which is also critically endangered.”

Mr Crook was one of several conservationists who spoke with Yahoo News Australia, hoping to discover where Domino’s was sourcing its mountain ash wood chips from.

The FSC and PEFC logos side by side on brown paper bags.
The FSC and PEFC logos are commonly seen on supermarket paper products. Source: Supplied

Why FSC and PEFC certification are important

While Domino’s had made several sustainability claims on its website, and even promised free pizza to Australia's firefighters for a week, it was unclear who had certified its wood chips.

While it mentioned its wood chips are "sustainably sourced and certified by Sustainable Forest Management", there is no certification body with that name. However, there is a framework called the Australian standard for sustainable forest management which is used to audit timber harvesting operations.

What conservationists noted was "missing" from the website, were symbols you've probably seen on either tissues or toilet paper you buy — the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Responsible Wood (PEFC) logos. Domino's had not directly mentioned either.

Nature conservation group The Wilderness Society said Domino's must ensure consumers have the information they need to make an informed decision about their purchases because the whole mountain ash ecosystem is "on the brink of collapse".

"Companies like Domino's have a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to deforestation, and to be transparent about their supply chains," campaign manager Matt Landolfo said.

"Consumers need to be able to trust that their everyday products aren't driving the degradation of dwindling Mountain Ash, or more broadly Australia's deforestation crisis."

Victoria’s Leadbeater’s possum in a tree (inset). A mountain ash forest with a road through it (background)
Victoria’s Leadbeater’s possum is critically endangered because of mountain ash habitat loss. Source: Getty/AAP

Domino's explains source of its mountain ash wood chips

After removing the word "ash" from its website, Domino's continued discussing concerns raised by conservation groups with Yahoo, and ultimately agreed to release its supplier's certification certificates.

Domino's said the wood chips used to smoke its meat are all sourced from just one small sawmill in Victoria that only uses Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Responsible Wood (PEFC) certified timber.

“All timber resource is sourced legally and responsibly in accordance with Responsible Wood and FSC Standards,” a Domino’s spokesperson said.

Sawmill operator says industry criticism misplaced

Domino's wood chip supplier, who did not wish to be named, told Yahoo he believes the timber industry in Australia has a lot to be proud of, and that much of the controversy surrounding the harvesting of native forests is misplaced.

The sawmill operator said his logs only come from private property and are not sourced from state forests. He said operators like him have worked hard to make the industry sustainable.

"I think the word deforestation is misleading because everything that is harvested in Victoria is regenerated," he said.

Declaring he feels “pretty passionate” about timber, the sawmill operator said he thinks the impact of conservation lobbyists on his industry has been “shameful”.

"There's so much misinformation in terms of what this industry does. Wood chips is one of our last products standing. There aren't many mills around any more, and the volume we have left is tiny," he said.

Victorian government ends native forest logging

In 2023, the Victorian government announced an end to native timber logging in state-owned forests by January, 2024. Western Australia quickly followed the state’s lead and announced it would do the same.

But looking nationally, NSW, Tasmania and Queensland appear set to continue native forest harvesting.

Australia has the worst mammalian extinction record in the world and over 600 fauna species are on the federal threatened species list. Around 83 per cent of the nation's mammals and 45 per cent of its birds are found nowhere else in the world.

Habitat loss from irresponsible forms of logging, housing developments and agriculture, as well as invasive species and climate change continue to put negative pressure on native animals and plants.

More to come.

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