ANIMALS Australia’s fight to end the live export of sheep, cattle and goats has returned to source — to the Australian producers who sell livestock into the trade.
Australian sheep, cattle and goat producers are being told if their animals are involved in breaches of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System and according to the animal rights body, some are listening.
Coinciding with the release of a six-page report and photographic evidence of abuse involving Australian sheep in Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Lebanon during the recent religious festivals, Animals Australia has called for mandatory notification of livestock producers whose animals have been involved in ESCAS regulation breaches.
The Animals Australia release has prompted an Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council endorsement of market suspensions on Malaysian importers and facilities which have failed to meet animal welfare, control and traceability standards during the annual Korban festival period in September.
Under ESCAS requirements, Australian livestock must not be sold outside of approved supply chains and cannot be purchased for home slaughter or for slaughter at facilities that have not been approved as meeting international animal welfare standards.
All Australian livestock need electronic identification
Animals Australia chief investigator Lyn White also believes all Australian sheep and goats should be identified with electronic tags to ensure a level of accountability. Australian cattle already carry mandatory electronic ear tags.
“The independent ‘Farmer review’ of live export in 2011 stated clearly that electronic tagging of sheep was needed to ensure compliance.
“The mob-based identification system has certainly been exploited to the advantage of exporters,” Ms White said.
“Loading additional animals on ships to offset mortalities has been an ‘old trick’ for years.
“In importing countries the removal of mob based tags has been the primary way of undermining the ESCAS system as it ensures that the offending export company cannot be identified.”
However Ms White said that various layers of traceability can be undermined and corrupted.
“Yes, sheep should be individually electronically tagged which will provide greater accountability, but in the end this system will only work to reduce cruelty if exporters take their legal obligations seriously.”
More than 50 sheep, goat and cattle producers notified
Ms White said more than 50 sheep, goat and cattle producers will receive letters advising them that their animals were part of ESCAS breaches. Most producers were from Western Australia, but there were also some from South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
Australian producers who can be identified using ear tag numbers and where possible, Producer Identification Code databases, have been told their animals have been involved in breaches and are asked if they want more information.
“Those requesting further information are provided with it and an edit of footage relating to their animals, Ms White said.
“Producers so far have been grateful to be advised.
“We are not criticising them for exporting nor seeking a revised position on live export from them,” she said.
“We are simply seeking to provide them with the ability to make an informed decision, and by notifying them of breaches our hope is that they will make exporters more accountable.”
“There would be an expectation from producers that export companies will fulfil their legal obligations to ensure that they are treated in accordance with ESCAS.
“Under the current system, producers are ‘kept in the dark’ and not officially advised of breaches involving their animals,” Ms White said.
Department of Agriculture should notify producers
Animals Australia believes it should be mandatory for Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to notify producers if their livestock are involved in ESCAS breaches, perhaps making exporters take their legal responsibilities more seriously and allowing producers to decide if they want to continue to supply their animals for live export.
“But for the time being, if we are able to identify the property of origin we will, as a courtesy notify producers,” Ms White said.
“We believe this should be a mandatory requirement, and that doing so may make exporters take their legal responsibilities more seriously.
“In addition we are aware that many sheep farmers have no choice but to sell sheep to agents not knowing whether they will be processed domestically or are sent to the live export market,” she said.
“Undoubtedly some of them would have preferred to have their sheep handled and slaughtered in Australian abattoirs.
“Perhaps they may be able to seek a mechanism to do so via agents.”
Animals Australia claims significant ESCAS breaches
Animals Australia has claimed significant ESCAS breaches were again detected by its investigators in Malaysia during the Korban festival and in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Lebanon during the recent Festival of Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha. Many of the livestock markets were repeat offenders, well-known to the industry.
“We were shocked to see Australian sheep once again being openly sold in notorious livestock markets.
“It is abundantly clear that exporters believe that they have nothing to fear in terms of regulatory consequences,” Ms White said.
“Perhaps feeling the wrath of the producers who entrusted animals into their care will act as a stronger motivator to comply with regulations,” Ms White said.
“Producers have every right to expect that any teething problems with this regulatory system would now be fixed.
“Yet four years later, export companies continue to flout the rules, and the cruelty that this system was established to prevent continues unabated.”
In Malaysia, Animals Australia said sheep were openly being sold from importer’s feedlots and crudely slaughtered at private premises. Ear tags remained in many animals, making their source identifiable.
“The handling and slaughter of Australian sheep and goats in Malaysia at numerous non-approved sites was some of the most distressing I have witnessed.
“It was nothing short of a blood bath,” Ms White said.
“That animals raised and cared for by Australian producers end up in such circumstances is appalling.
“Producers would be equally outraged, yet the only time that they are advised is on the occasions that we are able to determine an animal’s property of origin.”
Animals Australia said representatives from Meat and Livestock Australia as well as export companies were present in the country but failed to prevent breaches or report them to the Department of Agriculture.
“Engaging (ALEC chairman) Simon Crean to provide a credible front for export companies was straight from the PR playbook.
“Our evidence once again presents a reality that is poles apart from the industry spin,” Ms White said.
“It is clearly not in the interest of export companies to be transparent with producers.”
Ms White said a paint system was implemented in Kuwait to help identify sheep from specific exporters, yet this has failed to stop sheep from being illegally sold in the well-known livestock markets.
“We have provided ear tags and paint marks to DA on multiple occasions, but we are still to see any level of regulatory action that will motivate compliance in Kuwait.”
ALEC members co-operating with investigations
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer Simon Westaway has commended Australian exporters with Malaysian supply chains for working proactively in regard to ESCAS non-compliance during the festival.
“Poor welfare outcomes are never condoned nor excused by exporters.
“As shown in the past month, not only in Malaysia for Korban, but in the Middle East during Eid al Adha, transparency and accountability are important at all times in our industry and absolutely pivotal when problems in the supply chain are detected,” he said.
Mr Westaway said exporters were cooperating with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in its investigations regarding supply chain leakages.
“Wherever deliberate supply chain breaches occur, the extensive powers regulating our markets should be exercised accordingly.
“Australian exporters have acted swiftly to identify non-compliant facilities in Malaysia, so that where there is clear evidence that our livestock export standards have not been respected, immediate market sanctions can be applied,” he said.
“Our message to the Malaysian supply chain is very simple.
“Just as Australian exporters must treat their ESCAS compliance obligations as absolute non-negotiables, our Malaysian partners and customers must do the same.”
Mr Westaway said while a number of facilities had already been suspended subsequent to information provided to DAWR by exporters, further sanctions were likely and could include industry action in accordance with the Malaysia ESCAS Control and Traceability Agreement, which came into effect on June 10, 2016.
Click here to read the six-page Animals Australia report on recent ESCAS breaches.
Source: Animals Australia.