An Australian Productivity Commission report has called for the establishment of an independent body to oversee animal welfare issues and the regulation of the nation’s live export industry.
The call for an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare has drawn criticism from the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) which says more red-tape and bureaucratic processes won’t help improve the welfare of livestock on farms or in supply chains, it will merely create further administrative costs for the red meat industry.
RMAC Chairman Don Mackay said the report has over-reached on animal welfare. “Australian producers and other supply chain stakeholders are proud of their hard-earned reputation as world leaders in livestock welfare standards and are committed to demonstrating to the community we are continuously improving standards and practices.”
Not only does the recommendation to establish an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare go against the core objective of the report – to find ways to increase agricultural productivity in Australia by cutting red tape – it also adopts skewed animal welfare lobby policies to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist, he said.
Earlier this month, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO, Simon Westaway, said the World Organisation for Animal Health recognized Australia as the world leader in animal welfare practices in the trade. “We continue to demonstrate our ‘no fear – no pain’ objective in relation to animals under our management,” he said.
“Our commitment doesn’t stop when Australian livestock leave our country or are discharged from their vessel. It exists up to the point of slaughter and we are the only country that makes that commitment. As an industry, we are genuinely committed to the care, wellbeing and welfare of all exported livestock at all times, within a fully accountable and transparent regulatory system.”
Australia’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) is based on four principles:
• Animal welfare: animal handling and slaughter in the importing country conforms to World Organisation for Animal Health animal welfare recommendations
• Control through the supply chain: the exporter has control of all supply chain arrangements for livestock transport, management and slaughter. All livestock remain in the supply chain
• Traceability through the supply chain: the exporter can trace all livestock through the supply chain
• Independent audit: the supply chain in the importing country is independently audited.
However, Australia’s leading animal welfare organization, the RSPCA, says the report identifies the failure of Australia’s current standard-setting processes to properly consider independent scientific advice and community expectations regarding animal welfare issues.
The organization says that, year after year, Australians have watched in horror as Aussie sheep and cattle are brutally butchered in the streets in many live export destinations. Australian sheep and cattle continue to “slip through the cracks” and end up for sale in unapproved markets, where they’re often stuffed into car boots and crammed onto trucks. Unlike in Australia processing, overseas facilities don’t require stunning which means thousands of Australian animals suffer unstunned slaughter as part of live export.
ESCAS calls for sharp knives (sharpening between each animal), single cuts of the throat (not repetitive blunt hacking), effective restraint to minimize animal stress and make the cut more efficient and low stress animal handling. However, the standards do not require that animals are stunned before having their throats cut, as many animal welfare groups believe is necessary for humane killing.
RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said the report also addresses widely-held concerns about the lack of transparency and conflicts of interest in the industry. The report proposes that the Commission for Animal Welfare should have responsibility for reviewing the effectiveness of live export regulatory systems including monitoring the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ performance in administering them. While the Commission would not have direct responsibility for regulating the live export trade, it would play an important role in checking and reporting the Department’s performance.
Late last year, the RSPCA drew attention to live exports to Vietnam as an example of what it considers to be the Department’s poor regulatory performance. Fifteen of the 18 reports of non-compliance received during the six-month period from March to August last year concerned Vietnam and involved thousands of Australian cattle. Many of these animals were sold outside approved supply chains and likely to have met the horrific fate of being bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers as exposed on the ABC’s 7.30 report in June this year, says the RSPCA. The continual accrual of critical non-compliances without prosecution or license suspension makes a mockery of the entire system, said the RSPCA.
As a live cattle export destination, Vietnam has grown from 3,353 cattle in 2012 to 311,523 in 2015. “Market expansion has clearly been prioritized at the expense of animal welfare. A key question to ask now is: how did the regulator allow this to occur?” said the RSPCA.
“Evidently, the Department of Agriculture has failed, not only with respect to applying adequate penalties, but in the way it rubber stamps supply chains. We would hope this experience would be a wake-up call to the industry, but as exporters push to re-open the Saudi market and expand into China and other developing South East Asian countries, it appears the lessons haven’t been learned, and animal welfare will yet again fall by the wayside.
“With a reluctant regulator and an industry hell-bent on market expansion, it is clear that a complete overhaul of the regulatory system is required if animal welfare is to receive the attention it deserves.”
The Productivity Commission report is available here.