An official investigation into allegations of livestock cruelty in an Israeli abattoir last year has found that Australian exporters have no case to answer and will face no regulatory action.
The investigation was launched in response to a complaint lodged by the RSCPA with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on December 5 last year.
The complaint related to footage that showed cattle and sheep being subjected to cruel treatment in an Israeli abattoir.
The footage was reported to have been filmed by an undercover Israeli journalist and was broadcast on Israeli television and Australia's ABC 7:30 program in early December.
In lodging its complaint, the RSPCA alleged that the footage showed potential non-compliance under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), and also raised concerns that the same abattoir had passed an initial ESCAS audit, which had had not identified breaches of animal welfare guidelines.
Announcing the results of its four-month investigation today, DAFF said the handling practices shown in the footage were not consistent with ESCAS welfare standards.
However, investigators had determined that the footage was filmed before the first consignment of Australian cattle exported to Israel under ESCAS arrived in the country.
“As such, the footage does not represent a breach of ESCAS and no regulatory action will be taken by DAFF,” the investigation report states.
Under the rollout of the Federal Government’s welfare assurance system, livestock shipped to Israel after September 1, 2012, were required to comply with ESCAS.
The abattoir is included in an ESCAS-approved supply chain for Australian livestock exporter Elders International Australia Limited.
DAFF said that while the investigation report had independently confirmed that the animals in the footage "may have" included livestock of Australian origin, Elders had submitted that none of the animals in the footage were exported by their company.
“Elders cooperated fully with the regulator (DAFF) and ensured that no Elders animals could be handled by the abattoir until the outcomes of the DAFF investigation were known,” the report states.
DAFF said the abattoir had undertaken improvements to infrastructure and processes, and subsequent audits have shown that the abattoir is compliant with ESCAS.
The Israeli Government is currently conducting its own investigation of alleged breaches of international animal welfare standards, and that matter is before a court in Israel.
Live exports warn of 'false prophets' in RSCPA
In a statement issued to media following the DAFF report, Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold said the council welcomed its release.
"As the DAFF statement acknowledges, exporters fully cooperated with the investigation," Ms Penfold said.
"While no ESCAS non compliance has been found, a range of measures have been taken to improve animal handling and slaughter practices at the facility.
"ALEC also acknowledges and welcomes that the incident is being pursued by Israeli authorities.
"I note that RSPCA, in response to the investigation report, once again called for the banning of the livestock export trade but did not call for the closure or banning of processing in Australia after the horrific footage of abuse in a turkey processing plant last month.
"This double standard is obvious to most.
"As any reasonable person would appreciate, no individual involved in the handling and processing of livestock for slaughter condones animal cruelty, whether it be here or abroad. Instances of poor animal welfare have arisen in Australia and overseas and when they do what matters is that thoseresponsible take immediate action to identify, isolate and fix practices to ensure that practices meet international standards for the long term.
"That is no different internationally or in Australia.
"The livestock exporters continue to provide ongoing training and support throughout supply chains, including having animal welfare officers on the ground in supply chains. This is all part of our commitment to a continual improvement in animal welfare in the markets to which we supply.
"Those false prophets like RSPCA who continue to argue that domestic processing should replace livestock exports may wish to do the bidding of the meat workers union but for the rest of us involved in agricultural production and export in this country, we will focus on doing what is right by Australian farmers, the 10,000 plus people employed by the livestock industry and our many customers who demand live product as part of their food security needs."
The full investigation report can be read on the DAFF website here