Sheep producer groups should be very concerned with the minimisation of recent reports into alleged breaches of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, the RSPCA said today.
RSPCA Australia’s chief scientist. Dr Bidda Jones said the latest ESCAS regulatory performance reports have been “drained of all meaningful information and this new format is clearly intended to present the live export industry in the best possible light.”
“The RSPCA cannot be confident that any supply chain is ‘incident-free’ when all animals are not accurately traceable to the exporter and we are reliant on animal protection organisations to bring serious breaches to light.
“The likelihood is that these incidents are only the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Jones said.
She said the lack of electronic identification of all sheep exported live was also a major flaw within ESCAS. With reliable traceability of all sheep, some cases of non-compliance being reported as minor “because they have only been able to identify four sheep” might have involved potentially hundreds of sheep ending up outside ESCAS supply chains.
“They can only ever pin it on an exporter if they can reliably identify those sheep.”
RSPCA says critical information “swept under the rug”
Dr Jones said ESCAS was promised as a system that would deliver transparency to the public about the treatment of Australian animals exported live for slaughter “and yet these reports seem to sweep critical information under the rug.”
“This new style of releasing information to the public highlights the fundamental conflict between the Government’s dual roles as regulator and promoter of the live export industry.”
Government claims new reports are more efficient
Australia’s federal Department of Agriculture claims its new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) Regulatory Performance Report offers a more efficient approach to reviews into both alleged and substantiated non-compliant activity across the livestock export markets.
“The report also provides key ‘facts and figures’ relating to exporter and market performance for a given period (in this case, this first report covers January to December 2014).
“The advantage of the new reporting approach is that it 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,” the department said.
The department said it intends to publish this report at least twice a year, offering stakeholders some consistency and frequency in publishing livestock regulatory performance information.
Department says approach will not reduce transparency
“The department’s new approach will improve timeliness in reporting while not reducing transparency. Regulatory performance assessment processes have not changed. Real-time monitoring and actions taken to control market risks remain in place.
“In the period from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014 (period), 515 consignments approved under Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) requirements were exported from Australia and included a total of more than 3.5 million livestock.”
The department said during the period, no substantiated non-compliance was reported to the department for supply chains in 10 of these markets. Though for incidents reported during the period, the department made a total of nine findings of non-compliance.
“In the period, the department commenced 22 regulatory performance reviews into reports of non-compliance with ESCAS requirements involving ESCAS supply chains in Indonesia, Israel (and Gaza), Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. A summary of reviews currently in progress are listed at section four.
“This period demonstrates an increase in exporters self-reporting possible non-compliance promptly, with the majority of reviews conducted relating to self-reports,” it said.
Ploy to mislead the Australian public – RSPCA
However, RSPCA Australia said it is “appalled at the Government’s latest ploy to mislead the Australian public by stripping bare its reports into breaches of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
“The new-style ‘ESCAS Regulatory Performance Report’ released overnight scarcely resembles the Government’s previously detailed and comprehensive reports.”
“Instead each of the seven separate investigations into the mistreatment of animals is restricted to a mere half-page of sanitised information.
“While previous reports into breaches of ESCAS had contained up to twenty-four pages of crucial evidence, the government is now presenting the absolute bare minimum,” the animal welfare body said.
RSPCA Australia 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.
New reports should be “ringing alarm bells”
Dr Jones said she was not aware of how much producer groups talk with the Department of Agriculture about the live export regulation changes, “but this would be ringing alarm bells for me, in terms of protecting the interests of producers.”
“Because they are the ones that suffer when these things (ESCAS non-compliance) happen, they’re the ones that bear the brunt of it.”
Dr Jones said the reports published on the DA website indicate recent investigations were perhaps not being as extensive as in the past.
“We don’t know whether or not they have changed the way in which they’re conducting investigations.
But they certainly have less resources with which to conduct investigations than they did before.”
The department’s live export investigation section has been subsumed into other areas and it has talked with RSPCA Australia about making things more streamlined and efficient, she said. This pointed to less time being spent on investigations and relying more on exporters’ information prior to handing regulation over to the industry.
“It is all pointing in that direction and that’s very worrying, because we know from experience that we can’t trust the live export industry to regulate itself.”
Sheep producers should be concerned
Dr Jones said a retreat from the government understanding that it had a responsibility to animal welfare in importing countries and to not having “arms length” investigators, was a very retrograde step.
“I think producers would be very concerned about that because it was that situation that led to the suspensions and the mistrust of the industry that we’ve had since.”
The government’s current approach could lead to more public anger and opposition to the trade, she said.
“The majority of exporters think that ESCAS is the best thing that has happened to the industry because it has given them a way of providing as assurance to the public that they are doing the right thing.
“If we can’t trust that assurance, it undermines faith in everything that is going on.”
She said the current auditing process seemed to distance the government from problems.
Follow this link to the Department of Agriculture latest reports on live export investigations:
Source: Department of Agriculture, RSPCA Australia.