Leading animal welfare body, RSPCA Australia, has raised concerns about Australia’s live export sector being self-regulated by an industry assurance system despite the positive ESCAS Review report released yesterday.
Data in the Federal Government’s ESCAS Review report indicated more than 99 percent of livestock exported under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme have experienced a positive welfare outcome since comprehensive welfare standards were introduced in 2011.
The report also said more than 7000 people have been trained in animal handling and husbandry skills in destination markets under ESCAS. Also the trade has generated more than $1.4 billion in the 16 months since the Coalition came to office, and provide an absolutely vital market for Australian cattle and sheep producers.
Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has said these are very strong results show the system is working and that critics of the live export trade should end irrational and misleading attacks on importing countries that welcome Australian cattle and sheep, and who rely on Australia as an important source of high quality, reliable and safe protein.
Industry assurance system reform has support
The report goes on to state that further reforms could encourage opportunities for industry to take greater responsibility for proactively managing the risks within supply chains, and supporting industry development of an assurance system as recommended by the Farmer Review.
“ESCAS could potentially be broadened to allow for comprehensive company or industry assurance systems operating within an appropriate statutory framework,” the report said.
“Sheepmeat Council president Jeff Murray said the body is very open to any changes as suggested in this report that will simplify any administrative processes that currently overburden industry.
And Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer, Alison Penfold said that exporters welcomed the report’s support for further reform of ESCAS.
“The Australian livestock export trade is not an industry that ever stands still so we welcome the Government’s commitment to pursue further improvements to ESCAS to remove unnecessary red tape and reduce the cost of its’ bureaucracy and build on the regulatory changes already made”, she said.
“The maturity of the Government’s approach to reform is a strong signal to industry that the Government is genuinely interested in recalibrating ESCAS and exploring the role of an industry through-chain assurance system to reduce cost and red tape while maintaining welfare safeguards – something we enthusiastically embrace.”
RSPCA says industry has failed at self-regulation
However, RSPCA Australia chief executive officer Heather Neil said the body had significant concerns about the ability of the live export industry to deliver the animal welfare outcomes that are expected by the Australian community, with the report flagging the development of an industry quality assurance scheme.
Ms Neil said the live export industry had proven to be a failure in self-regulation.
“It is why ESCAS was introduced in the first place.
“Rather than continuing to provide false assurance about the welfare of Australian animals overseas, the Government and cattle and sheep industries need to move away from high risk live exports and continue to expand the much more valuable red meat export market, worth almost $9 billion,” said Ms Neil.
ESCAS review is misleading on animal welfare
RSPCA Australia has warned Australia’s cattle and sheep producers that the Federal Government’s review of the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme provides false assurance to them about the welfare of animals exported live from Australia.
The Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) was put in place by the Australian Government following exposure by ABC’s Four Corners in May 2011 of the horrific treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia.
Ms Neil said ESCAS continues to fail to prevent major suffering for Australian exported animals.
“ESCAS does not require animals to be stunned at the point of slaughter, meaning they will be fully conscious of the pain and suffering associated with the cut of the throat, and nor does ESCAS require animals to be held upright for slaughter.
“As Australia’s leading animal welfare organisation, it is clear that ESCAS does not ensure exported animals are treated humanely.”
No respectable animal industry in Australia would dare suggest that only 0.16pc of animals experience adverse animal welfare outcomes in their production systems as this report is doing. It shows how desperate the government is to spin the numbers and hide the real facts from Australian producers about the treatment of their animals overseas, RSPCA Australia said.
“Eighty eight percent of sheep exported last year or 1,709,583 were slaughtered while fully conscious, it is only sheep that go to Jordan that are usually stunned – and this goes above and beyond ESCAS.
“To add to this, since 2012, 187,877 cattle were not only slaughtered while fully conscious but were also turned upside down before slaughter,” Ms Neil said.
Despite the rapid uptake of stunning in Indonesia, which occurred between August and December 2011 immediately after Four Corners, there are still about 20 percent of facilities in Indonesia that do not stun Australian cattle, RSPCA Australia said.
True non-compliance rate not known
RSPCA Australia said lost in the middle of the report is a sentence that acknowledges that the government does not know how well the reported non-compliances reflect the true non-compliance rate.
“It is important to know that our government does not inspect or even investigate complaints of ESCAS breaches on the ground in importing countries – that has been left largely to animal advocacy groups.
“Any claim that there is widespread or ongoing compliance with all of the requirements of ESCAS has no sound basis in fact,” Ms Neil said.
“It is also worth noting that live exporters select and pay the auditor directly, a fact that calls into serious question their independence.”
Despite clear evidence of Australian cattle being tortured in Gaza, scenes of cruelty as bad as we saw in Indonesia in 2011, as well as sheep dragged and being killed in back streets in other countries, the report acknowledges that no exporter has been prosecuted due to failure to meet ESCAS requirements. The report makes no recommendations as to how the enforcement of the system can be strengthened, RSPCA Australia said.
“ESCAS is a system where exporters who flout the rules know they are unlikely to experience any significant penalty,” Ms Neil said.
Sources: RSPCA Australia, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, ALEC