MEAT regulator PrimeSafe has sanctioned Echuca abattoir Riverside Meats over worker treatment of sheep, calves and pigs after the release of video evidence by Animals Australia.
PrimeSafe initiated an investigation after receiving a complaint on October 25 this year that included images and observations alleging poor animal welfare at the Echuca abattoir.
Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer Charles Milne was asked by PrimeSafe to investigate the complaint and Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said he will lead an additional investigation by Agriculture Victoria to identify whether any breaches of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 have occurred and if so, to determine what further action should be taken.
Animals Australia has also written to Ms Pulford calling for the introduction of CCTV cameras in all abattoirs and for footage to be independently monitored, with full online streaming access available to enforcement authorities. Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.
Ms Pulford said many groups have advocated for mandatory CCTV in Victorian abattoirs and some already have it.
“I will consider this as part of the reform of animal welfare legislation that has been foreshadowed in the draft action plan for improving animal welfare in Victoria.”
Victoria enforces mandatory national standards, including those for animal welfare. While CCTV is widely used in meat processing facilities, it is not a requirement of mandatory animal welfare standards.
Four Riverside Meats staff removed from roles
From viewing the videos, PrimeSafe identified non-compliance with Australian standards and directed that four staff be immediately removed from their roles.
Ms Pulford said cruelty in any form is completely unacceptable, illegal and a blight on hard-working farmers and the broader industry.
She said the video footage showed “inexcusable behaviour” by Riverside Meats staff and PrimeSafe had identified breaches of the mandatory welfare standards.
“Weekly audits have been ordered until Riverside Meats can demonstrate compliance with Australian standards.
“I remain concerned by the nature and seriousness of these allegations,” she said.
PrimeSafe said it was provided with 170 hours of video that showed:
– some activities that are not compliant with mandatory standards and for which sanctions have been put in place,
– some poor animal handling that is not best practice,
– no activity, duplication or edited material, and
– activities at the abattoir that are compliant with standards.
PrimeSafe’s directions and sanctions encompassed modifications to infrastructure, equipment and procedures, training of staff, ongoing management and monitoring of animal welfare, and concentrated ongoing regulatory oversight.
Animals Australia provided with video
Animals Australia said it was provided with footage depicting “a catalogue of daily horrors” for pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and just days-old dairy calves at Riverside Meats in Echuca.
Animals Australia’s executive director Glenys Oogjes said there is an obvious culture of violence, disrespect and abuse of animals in the abattoir.
“The vision shows equipment designed to reduce suffering instead being used as torture devices inflicting dreadful cruelty,” she said.
More than 1200 video files submitted to PrimeSafe allegedly show:
– Calves and sheep viciously and repeatedly stabbed in the neck, face and head with the metal prongs of an electric stunning device,
– The routine misplacement of stunning equipment,
– Dairy calves and sheep escaping from restraint boxes and falling onto the kill floor, scrambling over dead and dying animals,
– Workers beating confused baby dairy calves to move them to slaughter and responding to fearful and panicked animals by beating them, swearing and laughing at them, and roughly throwing them back onto the kill table.
Riverside Meats was the subject of a government investigation in 2013, after Animals Australia presented evidence of dairy calves being beaten, thrown and shocked with electric prodders. The authorities gave formal warnings to some workers, the owners promised infrastructure and training upgrades, and PrimeSafe increased its audit regime.
Ms Oogjes said it is alarming that systemic and shocking practices have become entrenched at a facility that has already been investigated for animal cruelty.
“Fear and stress are already heightened for animals in the slaughterhouse environment so to increase their trauma and pain through incompetence and a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude is disgraceful.
“Once again we are seeing that wherever eyes aren’t watching, animals are at risk of extreme cruelty,” Ms Oogjes said.
“Only the presence of independently monitored cameras will actively discourage workers from engaging in cruel behaviour and ensure management maintains proper oversight of employees and practices.”
A Riverside Meats spokesman said the company had no comment to make.
AMIC supports investigations
The Australian Meat Industry Council said it and the broader meat processing sector take seriously matters of animal welfare.
In a statement, AMIC said it welcomed the investigation into animal welfare standards at a Victorian abattoir and shared concerns by Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture that standards may have been compromised in this instance.
On behalf of its members, AMIC sponsors an independently audited Animal Welfare Accreditation Scheme that has 61 meat processing operators already accredited under the scheme. The scheme is open to all industry participants and AMIC implores all participants to comply with the standards prescribed by its scheme. More information regarding AMIC’s Animal Welfare Accreditations Scheme and other education and training programs which are available to all sector participants through MINTRAC can be found at http://www.mintrac.net.au/.