Footage of cattle being beaten with sledgehammers in Vietnam – a fate the livestock export industry itself has openly acknowledged can befall Australian cattle when they are sold outside approved supply chains – is currently being investigated by the Australian Government.
The Department of Agriculture has been investigating three incidents of Australian cattle involving the potential use of sledgehammers for the past two months, reviews which were initiated as a result of self-reporting by exporters in March (as documented on the Department’s live export regulatory compliance page here)
In the past week Animals Australia has also given footage to the Department of Agriculture which it says involves Australian cattle being “sledgehammered to death” in the country.
The group, which has released several videos documenting cruel treatment of Australian animals in the past, claims this footage is “too distressing” to release publicly.
The Department says it is now investigating the footage to see if it relates to the previous three incidents already being reviewed.
Australian cattle exporters have been shipping cattle in record volumes to Vietnam in the past two years in order to satisfy unprecedented levels of demand in the region for cattle.
However the rapid pace of growth in the market has resulted in some exporters supplying cattle to import customers who are either not ready to comply with the welfare standards required under Australia’s Export Supply Chain Assurance System, or not prepared to, which has led to Australian cattle in some cases being sold outside approved facilities and exposed to cruel handling practices.
Representatives of every live export company that supply Australian cattle to Vietnam held an emergency “hand on your heart” meeting in Hanoi in March (as reported by Beef Central here) where they undertook to ensure cattle would not be supplied to import customers who were not upholding the standards of ESCAS until appropriate systems were in place.
The exporters also agreed to adopt six new standards in Vietnam to prevent further supply chain leakages in future, including the use of 24/7 CCTV cameras to monitor supply chains and to undertake random physical inspections of customers’ cattle handling facilities (more detail on these standards was reported in this earlier article).
Whether the footage provided by Animals Australia to the Government was filmed before or after the Hanoi meeting is not yet known.
A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce confirmed to Beef Central on Tuesday that the Department recently received a report from Animals Australia alleging non-compliance with ESCAS in Vietnam involving the alleged use of sledgehammers.
Prior to receiving that complaint, the spokesman said the Department was already in the process of conducting three seperate reviews into ESCAS breaches in Vietnam potentially involving the use of sledgehammers. Each of these three reviews had been initiated as a result of exporters self-reporting non-compliance to the department in March, the month of the emergency meeting in Hanoi.
The spokesperson said the report from Animals Australia is being assessed to determine if it relates to any of the reviews already underway.
“The department continues to seek information from other exporters in the region to determine whether further non-compliance with ESCAS has occurred,” the spokesperson.
“The department has been closely monitoring the ESCAS system in Vietnam since March and is working with industry to ensure any problems are rectified and that the stringent animal welfare standards required are maintained.
“The Australian Government takes the issue of animal welfare extremely seriously and we will continue to work with industry to ensure all ESCAS requirements are being met by Australian exporters across all markets.
“The Australian Government remains totally committed to the live export trade, and when problems arise we deal with the specific problems – we don’t shut down an entire industry.”
In a post on its Facebook page Animals Australia says it has assessed conditions on the ground in Vietnam and holds grave fears about the ongoing situation for cattle in the country. It says it will be meeting face to face with industry representatives next week.
Australian Livestock Exporter’s Council statement:
The Australian Livestock Exporter’s Council issued the following statement on Tuesday night:
“No animal should be subjected to the cruel and outdated practice of stunning by sledgehammer – a practice banned by Australian exporters in our supply chains but unfortunately still used in the rudimentary non-approved slaughter houses in Vietnam”, Ms Penfold said.
“That’s why on behalf of exporters ALEC has talked publicly of this practice as a risk to the welfare of livestock that are illegally removed from our supply chains and why we have taken additional measures to address leakage.
“Exporters have themselves self-reported breaches of ESCAS to the Department of Agriculture but this latest report captures our worst fears for welfare – that Australian cattle have been illegally removed from our supply chains for quick buck processing in non-approved slaughterhouses in northern Vietnam.
“That’s also why all Australian exporters to Vietnam at the end of March put in place additional control and traceability conditions on all importers in Vietnam to strengthen the integrity of supply chains and weed out any facilities or importers that refuse to meet Australian requirements. (Copy of Agreement attached)
“Those additional conditions include the placement of CCTV cameras in every approved feedlot and abattoir for monitoring by exporters. The CCTV rollout across the 80 plus facilities is underway with full implementation to be completed as a matter of urgency.
“Where breaches are found they will be treated harshly ahead of any conditions placed on exporters by Australian regulatory authorities.
“We are taking are responsibilities to welfare seriously and moved independently of any regulatory requirement or third party report to increase our monitoring and put our own response to breaches in place.
“It is the industry’s intention to build Vietnam as a long term sustainable market but we will only do so with importers and facilities that share our commitment to animal welfare. That commitment includes in approved abattoirs 100% use of proper stunning before slaughter.
“Two importers have already been placed in suspension by exporters for breaching our conditions. That suspension is enforced by all exporters so no importer can shop around for alternative Australian supply.
“We mean business by continuing to trade with those Vietnamese supply chains that are committed to good standards of welfare and we mean business by refusing to trade with those that don’t.
“More broadly and once again in the interests of all livestock in the market, regardless of country of origin, we call on the OIE, the Government of Vietnam and the wider international community to work together to address the treatment of livestock in the interest of immediately stopping cruel slaughter practices and improving animal welfare. The Australian livestock export industry stands ready to support that effort in addition to the training and RD&E we are already providing.”