The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is investigating what it has described as new video footage showing “abhorrent and indefensible treatment” of cattle in an abattoir in Vietnam that is not approved to receive livestock exported from Australia.
DAF said in a statement issued on Friday that the video footage had been provided as part of an official complaint lodged by Animals Australia on Thursday, June 9.
The complaint from Animals Australia also reportedly alleges that Australian cattle are being supplied to non-approved abattoirs in the Phu Xuygen district and non-approved practices are being used in ESCAS approved abattoirs.
DAF said Animals Australia provided evidence to back its allegations on Friday after receiving a written request for that information by the Department.
However, in a statement to Beef Central, Animals Australia refuted the Department’s suggestion that it did not initially provide evidence to back its claims.
Animals Australia communications manager Lisa Chalk said Animals Australia had initiated an in-person meeting with the Department as soon as its own investigation was completed on Thursday.
“We told them we’d be providing them everything they needed to investigate and we’ve done so,” Ms Chalk said.
Animals Australia statement
Ms Chalk said Animals Australia had personally briefed and lodged a complaint with the Department of Agriculture in relation to live export regulation breaches in Vietnam.
“Evidence provided reveals systemic corruption and circumvention of the traceability system in Vietnam,” she said in a statement.
“The industry has been provided the location information needed.
“12 months ago we took evidence of sledgehammering in Vietnam direct to the Department and the industry, rather than making it public and since then, nothing has changed.
“In fact the corruption and circumvention of regulations in Vietnam has only become more entrenched.
“This matter is now in the hands of the Department to investigate.”
Beef Central has asked Animals Australia if it can state when the footage at the centre of its latest complaint was taken, but has not yet received a response to that specific question.
It has been common practice in the past for Animals Australia to release live export industry footage publicly through a television news program, most commonly ABC.
However Ms Chalk said Animals Australia did not publicly release footage it received in May last year of Australian cattle being sledgehammered in Vietnam.
“Instead (we took) it directly to DAF and the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council in the hope they would take the action needed. They didn’t. And the problems in Vietnam have only gotten worse,” Ms Chalk said.
It remains unclear as to if and when this footage will be be released publicly. ABC television conducted an interview with ALEC chairman Simon Crean last week for a live-export related story to appear on Monday night. The interview was not connected to this Vietnam breach, we understand.
Trade says evidence has not been made available
If the footage is released on television or as part of an Animals Australia election campaign, that may be the first time exporters and other members of the industry see the footage themselves.
For now they say they have little knowledge of what the footage shows, and say that until they receive it, their ability to solve the problems identified remains limited.
Exporters have been told the footage shows cattle with Australian ear tags being bludgeoned to death by a sledgehammer in Vietnam.
Industry representatives from across Australia held a phone hook up late on Friday afternoon to discuss the issue.
This new serious welfare breakdown comes 13 months after all Australian exporters to Vietnam made a commitment to adopt six additional welfare standards over and above the requirements of ESCAS (see earlier article), in the wake of a similar evidence of cruelty involving sledgehammers on Australian cattle outside approved supply chains in May 2015.
It also comes on the five-year anniversary of the 2011 ban on live exports to Indonesia, and in a week when the live export industry has been promoting its animal welfare improvements since that time.
It also comes in the middle of a Federal election campaign.
Whether the timing is purely coincidental or another example of footage of cruelty having been held until a time that it can be released to cause maximum damage to the trade is unclear due to the lack of information available so far.
The question of when the cattle involved in the footage were exported to Vietnam should be clarified when exporters see the tag numbers of the cattle involved and correlate those with ESCAS records.
Exporters say they have asked Animals Australia to provide the footage so they can act but have had no communication from the group. ALEC CEO Alison Penfold said the trade learned of the issue when ALEC was advised by DAF on Thursday that fresh allegations of cruelty in Vietnam had been made by Animals Australia.
Ms Penfold said she had asked Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes to make the material available so exporters can begin addressing the issue, but had received no response.
“If our system has failed to pick up an issue, and somebody has failed to pick it up, tell us,” Ms Penfold said.
“That is something we have asked for consistently.
“They will certainly want to run a campaign, it is an election after all, and this will have potential maximum impact.
“Let us have immediate impact in our supply chains because they are telling us our systems aren’t working in some facilities, well then give us the information so we can do something about it.
“It is a strange situation that when people know there is a problem but they won’t tell you.”
The department said it’s first priority is to ensure the humane handling of all animals exported from Australia.
It said Animals Australia informed it of the allegations on Thursday, June 9.
However, the evidence required to start a formal investigation—including confirmation of the origin of the cattle—was received by the department late Friday following a written request, the department said.
It said a thorough investigation of the evidence has now begun.
Prior to receiving the information, the department said it had met with Vietnamese authorities, who have agreed to look into the allegations and report on their findings.
The department said it has also contacted all Australian exporters to Vietnam to advise that a comprehensive investigation will be conducted when the information is received, backed by the full force of the department’s regulatory authority.
“The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) was established to ensure international animal welfare standards are met at every point in the Australian live export trade.
“It is a condition of ESCAS that all exporters must maintain control of supply chains and the movement of exported animals. Exporters unable to maintain this control will have supply chains or market access revoked.
“While mistreatment of any animal is reprehensible, the department can only act to protect the welfare of animals exported from Australia in international markets.”
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council released the following formal industry response on Saturday morning:
“The inhumane treatment of animals is unacceptable to Australian livestock producers and exporters. We are focused on ensuring that the wellbeing and welfare of our livestock is provided for at all times.
So evidence of animal cruelty for any animal affects us and is taken seriously by the entire Australian red meat and livestock sector.
The Department of Agriculture & Water Resources (DAWR) has advised us that it has commenced an investigation following evidence provided to them by Animals Australia of the brutal use of sledgehammers to slaughter alleged Australian cattle at an abattoir in Vietnam.
The industry understands that the evidence provided to the Department today relates to an abattoir not approved to receive livestock exported from Australia, but that Animals Australia alleges Australian cattle are being supplied to non-approved abattoirs in the Phu Xuygen (Bai do) district and that non-approved practices are being used in ESCAS approved abattoirs.
The industry fully supports the Department’s decision to commence an immediate and thorough investigation. Australian livestock exporters have also taken immediate steps to interrogate control and traceability systems and will be announcing additional response measures in the coming days.
Australian livestock exporters are responsible for cattle to the point of slaughter and any movement of cattle to facilities outside of approved supply chains can constitute a critical breach of Australian regulations.
If any exporters are found to have deliberately breached their obligations then harsh penalties do apply.
As the representative organisations of the Australian livestock export industry, it is our responsibility to work with DAWR, Australian exporters and industry partners to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted and that swift action is taken to address any failure of facilities, supply chains or systems.”