TASMANIA’S only export-accredited processor of sheep, lambs and surplus calves is fighting a potential 12-month suspension of its export licence, placing at risk about 200 jobs and the processing of 60,000 stock by mid-January.
Tasmania Quality Meats has confirmed that last Friday it received a notice of intention from the federal Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, threatening to suspend its export licence and giving only seven days to respond.
The notice followed the supply to DAFF of illegally obtained footage taken by an animal welfare group within the processor’s Cressy plant.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association said it was recently made aware of the apparently illegally obtained footage from an animal welfare group, “purportedly revealing distressing scenes” within the TQM abattoir.
TQM owner Jake Oliver said it appeared that activists illegally accessed the Cressy facility between August and September this year, installing a number of hidden cameras and providing the illegally obtained footage to the government.
“As a result, last Thursday (30 November) we were made aware of the footage and on Friday ( 1 December) we received a notice of intention from the Federal Department of Agriculture, threatening to suspend our export licence and giving us only seven days to respond.
“I would like to stress that we condemn all mistreatment of animals in the strongest possible terms,” he said.
“It is utterly unacceptable and fails to meet the high standards TQM expects.”
Farm Transparency Project seeks multiple facility suspensions
The Farm Transparency Project today claimed it had hidden camera footage showing widespread animal cruelty and regulatory breaches in five Tasmanian slaughterhouses, accounting for over a quarter of the state’s industry.
At Tasmanian Quality Meats, the activist group claimed dozens of calves were killed without stunning, with one drowning in blood after being dropped onto the floor while still conscious. At other facilities, animals are shot multiple times, hit, kicked and jumped on by workers to force them into the kill room. Two of the five slaughterhouses were previously reported to authorities in 2016, after a similar investigation showed violence, abuse and cruelty towards animals, the Tasmanian Times said.
FTP executive director Chris Delforce said the investigation showed “systemic animal abuse in Tasmanian slaughterhouses and a total failure of government regulators to enforce already-pitiful animal welfare standards.”
Farm Transparency Project said it captured the footage in August and September this year, “when investigators illegally entered and installed cameras at some of Tasmania’s largest slaughterhouses, including the state’s largest sheep and calf slaughterhouse, Tasmanian Quality Meats, and the biggest pig slaughterhouse on the island, Scottsdale Pork. Other slaughterhouses were The Local Meat Co (formerly Kentish Quality Meats), Wal’s Bulk Foods and Gretna Meatworks.
The FTP group is calling on the Tasmanian government to immediately suspend the operating license of all the facilities where illegal activity has been uncovered, and for a Tasmanian parliamentary inquiry into “the systemic failures of slaughterhouse regulators.” The group is also calling for an independent review of Tasmanian slaughter methods.
TQM acts after footage is sent to government
Mr Oliver said upon becoming aware of the footage, the company took immediate and significant actions. These included appointing an animal welfare officer, increasing quality assurance monitoring, purchasing a new state of the art stunning system and restrainer, re-training all employees on animal welfare obligations, and Introducing a zero tolerance policy, “one strike, you’re out.”
“However, we are deeply concerned that before we’ve even been afforded due process and a chance to respond to the allegations, we were served a notice from the Federal Government stating that: ‘I have formed the preliminary view that a period of 12-months would be a reasonable period of suspension’.
“A suspension of our export licence would have a catastrophic impact on our business and staff, and Tasmania’s entire agricultural sector,” Mr Oliver said.
“A suspension could force TQM to shut down, putting the jobs of 200 workers at risk.
“This would be devastating for families across Cressy and Longford who would be left without an income at Christmas, and would result in the loss of many valuable foreign workers.”
Mr Oliver said the plant’s suspension would also send shockwaves across the sector, affecting Tasmanian lamb and cattle farms, livestock transporters, finished goods transporters, contractors, packaging suppliers, utility companies and the communities that rely on the money TQM spends in Tasmania.
“It will also leave Tasmanian farmers with nowhere to process their livestock, as TQM is the state’s only export accredited processor.
“Right now, we have 60,000 sheep and lamb booked in to be processed between now and mid-January, that will grow to around 120,000 by the end of January,” he said.
“Without TQM, these livestock cannot be processed.
“Tasmanian farmers will be forced to scramble, last minute, to find a mainland processor, with many already fully booked out, and pay more to ship their stock across Bass Strait,” Mr Oliver said.
“Or, they will be forced to euthanise animals on farm.”
“All we’re asking for is a fair go, and we’ll cop what we deserve on the chin,” he said.
“But right now, all our workers, every farmer and the entire state is being punished.
“We are more than willing to cooperate fully with a formal and fair investigative process into the allegations made by the animal activists,” Mr Oliver said.
“We are committed to upholding the highest levels of animal welfare standards and regard all matters of animal welfare with the upmost importance.
TQM has urged the Federal Government to uphold due process, allow TQM to appropriately respond, and consider the broader impacts on Tasmanians and the state’s agricultural sector it acts in the way currently proposed.
“All we’re asking for is a fair go, and we’ll cop what we deserve on the chin,” Mr Oliver said.
“But right now, all our workers, every farmer and the entire state is being punished.
“We are more than willing to cooperate fully with a formal and fair investigative process into the allegations made by the animal activists,” he said.
Footage does not align with export legislation – DAFF
A DAFF spokesperson said the department’s responsibilities and powers are defined in the Export Control Act 2020, Export Control Rules and associated legislation.
“Export registered establishments are required to have effective controls in place to ensure practices occurring at the establishment enable adherence to export legislation.
“The footage made available to the department does not align with the export legislation,” the spokesperson said.
“The department is working with the company in relation to the regulatory matters raised.
“It is not appropriate that further details on this issue be provided as it is a matter for the department and the entity it regulates under the Export Control Act.”
TFGA is concerned about TQM’s situation
President of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Ian Sauer, said Tasmanian farmers take the welfare of animals very seriously and do not condone any form of cruelty or mistreatment of livestock.
“Our understanding is that both commonwealth and state government agencies are investigating the matter, which we think is appropriate and support.
“TFGA is now working with TQM, who have given us firm assurances that processes are in place to prevent any future breaches of animal welfare,” he said.
Mr Sauer said TFGA has written to DAFF outlining its concerns about the broader flow-on effect of any licence suspension.
“It is important to recognize that TQM is a major employer in rural Tasmania with 180 staff employed in the business”, Mr Sauer said.
“Any closure or restriction in processing would have a tremendous impact on the local rural community, especially if there is a loss of employment over the Christmas period.
“The economic consequences for workers, truck drivers, farmers, and local businesses due to potential disruptions are massive,” he said.
Mr Sauer said TQM is the only export accredited processor in Tasmania of mainly sheep, lambs and surplus calves.
“Tasmania already has a limited capacity to process sheep, which has been exacerbated by the drought conditions in the south of the state.
“If TQM was forced to close as the draft decision proposes, Tasmanian livestock producers of sheep and lamb would have nowhere within Tasmania to have their stock processed,” he said.
“Many farmers will have no choice but to euthanise their animals on farm.
“This loss of income will cripple Tasmanian farmers, who are already struggling with high interest rates, low livestock prices and the current dry season.
“In short, it would be an unmitigated disaster for Tasmania’s agricultural sector”, Mr Sauer said.