Vietnam has been one of Australia’s fastest growing export markets for live cattle, but also one of its most challenging.
Exports to the country rocketed from just 1441 cattle four years ago to more than 300,000 cattle last financial year (see graph).
However not all customers in the rapidly growing market were fully on board with the requirements of Australia’s live export welfare system ESCAS, which saw some Australian cattle onsold to higher-paying buyers outside approved supply chains and exposed to cruel treatment.
The leakages at the time were self-reported by exporters, and later by Animals Australia, and led to all exporters making a commitment to adopt six additional welfare standards over and above the requirements of ESCAS (as outlined below this article).
Last week Australian exporters, Meat & Livestock Australia staff and Government representatives held a roundtable meeting with importing customers and Vietnamese Government officials in Hanoi to discuss the progress of welfare improvements in the market.
Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association chief executive officer Stuart Kemp was involved in the meetings and said there was a strong commitment from all parties to ensure welfare standards are upheld.
Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and agriculture minister attended the roundtable discussions, adding high-level political clout to the country’s commitment to meeting Australian welfare requirements.
In contrast to the early phase of the market’s growth, a “second wave” of investment was now underway, Mr Kemp said.
“I think there is a very exciting 12-18 months in front of us as we see this second wave of investment come online,” Mr Kemp said.
‘They are discovering now that it is a long-term game, not a short-term game”
“Those that went in early thought probably there was an opportunity but they are discovering now that it is a long-term game, not a short-term game.
“We will see that those who are not fair dinkum will fall by the wayside and those who have done more research and have invested in a more sound and secure way will come to the fore.
“That second wave of entrepreneurs and business people are learning from the mistakes of the first wave, the feedlots we visited and meatworks under construction are a lot better.”
Mr Kemp said exporters had spent millions of dollars in the past six months to implement the additional six-point welfare plan, and the investment was making a clear difference.
“It has been a massive investment, not just in terms of technology such as CCTV, but in more people on the ground, and extra sets of eyes.
“There have been extra reports because of those investments. Every time you see a new problem you take steps to rectify it and that is happening.”
Mr Kemp said Vietnam was an exciting market with a lot of potential going forward, provided Australia did not price itself out of the market.
The fundamental dynamics of strong export demand and short supplies of suitable cattle have forced feeder steer prices at Darwin well above 300c/kg, with isolated sales as high as 350c.
Mr Kemp said future export volumes to Vietnam will hinge on how expensive cattle become.
“Most of us (in the export sector) have a producer background and we understand what it is like trying to make a living out of selling cattle, so we’re excited for producers to get this rare opportunity where the stars align and they get a few bob in their pocket,” Mr Kemp said.
“There are people in the market permanently who think Vietnam is certainly a 300,000 head per year market going forward, but it may not be the case while prices are a bit higher as they are at the moment.”
Summary of six additional welfare standards introduced for Vietnam:
- Access Standard: An exporter and their representative must have unrestricted access to all facilities within their supply chain.
- Traceability and Reporting Standard: An exporter must be able to individually identify the location of all animals in the supply chain through an electronic and visual traceability system.
- Equipment Standard: Essential equipment used to trace and handle livestock must be maintained in good repair and effective working order and auditable maintenance and replacement system must be in place.
Feedlot: The facility must have the following items in good repair and working order:
– At least one RFID scanner
– A cattle crush
– At least one stunner (and a minimum of 20 cartridges)
– At least 3 cattle talkers
– The facility must have a maintenance and repair plan and log of activities that is accessible to Supply Chain Officers for verification purposes
Abattoir: The facility must have the following items in good repair and working order:
– At least one RFID scanner
– At least one restraining box
– One stunner and one backup stunner for each restraining box
– At least three cattle talkers
The facility must have a maintenance and repair plan and log that is accessible to Supply Chain Officers for verification purposes. Supply Chain Officers must carry a spare stunner and scanner at all times.
- SOP Documentation Standard: Each facility must have knowledge of and display Standard Operating Procedures
- Human Resources Standard: Each supply chain must have trained and dedicated staff at each critical control point to oversee, verify and audit animal welfare and traceability
- CCTV Monitoring Standard: Working real time CCTV at key control points with remote monitoring and recording capability
Feedlot: Working CCTV at discharge and loading, and crush/raceway
Abattoir: Working CCTV at unloading ramp, lairage and restraining box