Fit to load data shows livestock industry takes welfare seriously

James Nason, June 20, 2017

THE number of animals reported as arriving at export abattoirs in an unfit condition to load indicates Australian livestock producers, agents and transporters are mostly taking their responsibilities under Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock seriously.

Of 38 million cattle, sheep and goats delivered to export abattoirs across Australia in 2015, just 182 animals, or 0.0005 percent, were affected with unfit to load conditions, data sourced by Beef Central from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources shows.

In 2016 the number was higher, with 975 animals from 37 million arriving in unfit to load condition, a percentage of 0.003pc.

Why the year-on-year increase? One explanation offered by industry groups was the increasingly dry conditions in 2016 (drought declarations in the large cattle producing state of Queensland for example grew throughout the year to cover more than 80pc of the State).

A change in the reporting requirements for unfit to load notices is another possible explanation, according to the DAWR. A spokesperson explained that a Meat Notice was released by the Department in 2016 with revised requirements for establishments to monitor fit to load conditions and to raise an animal welfare critical incident report in cases where there is in effect a breach of the Land Transport Standards. Department on-plant veterinarians also issue critical incident reports if they identify such cases.

“In all cases the incident reports are captured centrally and they go to the relevant State or Territory jurisdiction that has the legislative power for animal welfare,” the DAWR spokesperson said.

Any figure above zero indicates room for improvement, the Australian Meat Industry Council said. But the council agreed that the figures show that producers, agents and transporters are largely upholding their obligations under Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock.

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The Land Transport Standards were implemented by law in most State and Territories between 2012 and 2014. In Western Australia the Land Transport Standards are still in draft form and yet to be regulated.

The data provided by DAWR is only from export abattoirs, and does not take into account livestock that travel from property to property, or to saleyards, feedlots, stud auctions or live export, for example.

However, the figures can be considered broadly representative of livestock transported for meat processing in Australia, AMIC said. Export abattoirs account for the majority of livestock processed in Australia. While just around 90 of 160-odd abattoirs are AUSMEAT accredited, they are generally much larger and process more animals than non-AUSMEAT accredited abattoirs, AMIC told Beef Central.

The figures do not show whether affected livestock were unfit to load when they left the property or were injured on trip in transit. Figures on the proportion of livestock that were unfit to load as against those injured in transit are not collected.

However, AMIC pointed out that under the Industry Animal Welfare Standards: Livestock Processing Establishments document, Standard 4 includes the principle that “Expectations for assuring that livestock are fit for the intended journey are communicated to livestock suppliers to minimise the risk of receiving weak, ill or injured livestock at the establishment” (As per page 31 of the document, view here). AUSMEAT conducts the audit, and the Department of Agriculture collects data for export establishments.

No benefit in transporting unfit animals

Cattle Council of Australia chief executive officer Duncan Bremner said the data showed that welfare standards were increasing and there was now greater vigilance throughout the industry.

He added a healthy animal was a productive animal, and there was no benefit for farmers in trying to transport unfit animals.

AMIC agreed: “From an economic perspective, where an animal is condemned at the abattoir, the producer is often bearing the cost of their transport, which is a loss to the producer.”

What is the advice to those responsible for the stock that were delivered to export abattoirs in poor condition? AMIC said all producers should follow the MLA Fit to Load guidelines (link below) when preparing their livestock for transport, as well as the Australian Standards and Guidelines for the Welfare of Animals – Land Transport.

Agents notice big improvement – but not everyone on board

Agents across the country have also noticed a big improvement in animal welfare problems turning up at saleyards, Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association chief executive officer Andy Madigan said.


‘If in doubt, leave it out is our advice’

However a small number of producers were still letting the rest of the industry down by continuing to move their problems from farm to saleyards.

“Clearly this is not good enough.

“If in doubt, leave it out is our advice and deal with it on farm,” he said.

All producers should be aware of their legal obligations: SCA

The Sheepmeat Council of Australia said the industry was strongly committed to good animal welfare practices and how livestock are cared for.

SCA chief executive officer Kathleen Giles said the council works with government and industry groups to ensure the best possible animal welfare outcomes at all stages of the supply chain.

To help ensure the welfare of livestock when transported, sheep producers had helped to develop a national guide to assist with the transportation of livestock.

The ‘Is it fit to load?’ publication (link below) was developed by Meat and Livestock Australia in consultation with the livestock industry to help cattle, sheep and goat farmers determine if an animal is ‘fit and healthy’ for transport.

The guide, which has recently been reprinted, was developed to provide guidance to the livestock industry on whether an animal is in a condition fit to be loaded to undertake a journey by road, rail or ship to a particular destination.

It is designed to help producers, livestock agents, buyers and transporters meet their legal obligations under the Australian Animal Welfare Standards for the Land Transport of Livestock and help to ensure high animal welfare standards are maintained throughout the livestock industries.

Topics in the guide include preparation of livestock for transport, feed and water, examples of animals that are unfit to load and what to do if an animal is unfit to load.

“SCA expects that all producers are aware of their legal obligations when transporting livestock and that they utilise the ‘Is it fit to load?’ publication to make informed decisions,” she said.

“SCA has recently written to all state governments reminding them of their constitutional responsibilities to enforce animal welfare laws within their jurisdictions when animals that are unfit to load have been transported.”

Further information:

Read more about the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for cattle, sheep, goats and horses here

Industry Animal Welfare Standards: Livestock Processing Establishments – view full document here

Is it fit to load? More information here


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