New Federal Government ‘snapshot’ reports on live animal export investigations give a more holistic context to incidents and don’t mean it has changed the way reviews were made, the Department of Agriculture said.
Responding to RSPCA Australia criticism of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System reports, a DA spokesperson said it is appropriate to change the way reports addressing allegations and incidents are published to put these instances into the broader trade context.
“The new reporting approach allows readers to gain a snapshot of how ESCAS is performing in each of Australia’s livestock export markets in achieving international animal welfare standards for exported Australian livestock.”
Investigation methods have not changed
The department spokesperson said live export regulatory performance assessment processes have not changed.
“We have not changed the way reviews and investigations are conducted.
“The only change is the way we report the findings of our reviews and investigations.”
The spokesperson said real-time monitoring and actions taken to control market risks remain in place.
“At any time, we can and do apply additional conditions or amend ESCAS supply chains to help manage possible incidents involving animal welfare concerns.”
The department intends to publish the reports online at least twice a year, offering stakeholders some consistency and frequency in publishing livestock regulatory performance information.
Industry is not trying to reduce transparency – ALEC
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold also said the changed approach by the department should not suggest that the industry is trying to reduce transparency or mislead the public on its activities.
“Indeed there is seemingly far more information available about the trade, including non-compliances than there is on most other industries in this country as well as the RSPCA’s own Approved Farming Scheme.
“They are certainly asking more of us than they ask of themselves.”
New ESCAS reports are more accessible
Ms Penfold said the (ESCAS) reports provided contain a significant amount of detail including in most instances involving an exporter self-report, information on the corrective action taken to fix any problems at a facility or in a supply chain.
She believed the new reports made information on the trade more accessible to the public, but the change in reporting was not requested by ALEC.
“It was a government initiative.”
RSPCA claimed reports are “sanitised”
RSPCA Australia chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones has claimed the new “sanitised” reports were a ploy to mislead the public, have been “drained of all meaningful information”, “clearly intended to present the live export industry in the best possible light” and seem “to sweep critical information under the rug”.
The animal welfare group said preceding reports contained details and information including how investigations were conducted, findings, an assessment of evidence and information from complainants and export companies involved, regulatory action taken and report conclusions.
Exporter response to reports is critical
Ms Penfold said ALEC acknowledges the concerns raised by RSPCA regarding changes to the manner in which the department reports non-compliances.
“The critical element of investigation reports – consistent with any QA system – is the response by exporters to problems when they arise.
“The nature of corrective actions is a critical demonstration of industry efforts to manage supply chains and respond to welfare issues.
Ms Penfold said the reporting change was less important than research into issues that affect live export outcomes.
“ESCAS reporting is only one means of the industry engendering community confidence in our ability to manage the welfare of livestock along the livestock export supply chain.
“There is a significant amount of information now available on the trade,” Ms Penfold said.
“In addition, we recognise that compliance alone will not engender support and that our additional activities in RD&E, in-market training initiatives and ability to objectively measure our performance are also important to demonstrating our efforts to respond to community concerns.”
Research to develop animal welfare indicators
Ms Penfold said exporters, through the LiveCorp/MLA Live Export Program have commissioned Murdoch University to develop indicators of animal welfare along the live export supply chain to measure and benchmark livestock and industry performance.
The project is expected to provide objective and quantifiable data for industry stakeholders and the community. It will be seeking the views of stakeholders, including the RSPCA, she said.
Ms Penfold said the industry has also invested in auditor training and welcomed the government’s recent investment to continue to strengthen auditor capability.
“We have argued with the Department that the role of auditors should be strengthened to a more traditional auditor role to enable them to deal with the facility directly on any non-compliances.
“This is not something that ESCAS can accommodate due to nature of government’s legislative reach, which regulates exporters, not facilities, but it would appear something that RSPCA could support in the context of further changes to the export system.”
She said so often at the time of a self-report, the corrective action has already been taken.
“This is what is being reflected in the reports provided by exporters to the department and I take on board what I think RSPCA is suggesting, that we need to do a much more comprehensive job of monitoring export supply chains.”
Industry is engaging RSPCA on ESCAS improvements
Ms Penfold said the industry has engaged with producer groups and the RSPCA on industry’s views on improvements to ESCAS.
“A number of Dr Jones’ suggestions for improvements to the system are being considered by industry.
“We support a move to a risk-based approach to auditing that takes into account compliance history and as part of the industry’s development of a Livestock Global Assurance Program – a bespoke QA system for the live trade,” she said.
“For example, under the program the program manager would allocate auditors to a facility rather than be chosen by an individual exporter or facility operator.”
Live export industry can do more to build trust
Ms Penfold said industry has more work to do to build trust and demonstrate actions that meet social acceptance.
“There are a number of projects underway that will assist with this including the Murdoch University project to develop objective and measurable indicators of welfare along supply chains.
“Ultimately however, those groups such as RSPCA that have a policy of opposing the trade will never be satisfied by industry efforts.”
Follow this link to the Department of Agriculture latest reports on live export investigations:
Sources: ALEC and Department of Agriculture