The Australian Livestock Exporters Council says exporters meeting in Brisbane yesterday committed to a range of additional initiatives to improve animal welfare transparency and accountability, as the industry struggles to maintain public support in the wake of the latest televised footage of animal mistreatment.
ALEC chair Simon Crean said the initiatives amount to significant reforms designed to drive “major cultural change” in the industry.
Exporters voted to support the establishment of an Inspector General for the Welfare of Exported Animals, a policy that has long been pushed by the Federal Labor opposition.
Mr Crean said the role of Inspector General would help oversee independence and cultural change in the industry and work constructively with exporters to improve animal welfare outcomes.
He said exporters also endorsed immediate changes to on-board protocols and longer term reforms.
Mr Crean said exporters support the appointment of an independent observer, under the direction of the regulator, to travel on voyages to the Middle East during the 2018 Northern Hemisphere summer.
Reduced stocking density and additional welfare safeguards and indicators would also be applied to all shipments of Australian sheep to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere’s high summer period.
The measures will be presented as part of the industry’s response to the McCarthy Review, which was announced by the Agriculture Minister last week.
Exporters also unanimously voted in favour of the establishment of the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP).
LGAP is designed to deliver improved Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) compliance by applying responsibility for welfare across international livestock export supply chains.
“Industry must lead the way in improved animal welfare outcomes and in building a culture and vision that supports this, in alignment with community expectations,” ALEC Chairman Simon Crean said.
“Today, the livestock export industry delivers on its commitment to change,” Mr Crean said.
“Exporters are listening to the community and acting decisively to achieve change in the industry. The welfare of the animals and the future of our industry depends on it.”
ALEC says the next stage in the reform process is to work closely with the Minister for Agriculture, including on the establishment of LGAP and his Department’s ongoing regulation of the livestock export industry.
RSPCA brands response weak
The RSPCA said it would welcome the establishment of the long-awaited independent office to oversee animal welfare, but says it is not a solution to the live export crisis.
It is calling for exporters to commit to a halving of stocking densities, an end to May-to-October exports, and a concrete plan to phase out long-haul live sheep exports altogether.
“The RSPCA strongly supports independent animal welfare oversight, and has called for an independent office for some time,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Science and Strategy Officer Dr Bidda Jones.
“But Australian taxpayer dollars should not be spent trying to achieve ‘cultural reform’ in the live export industry, which has profited for decades off animal suffering and repeatedly dodged every possible opportunity to improve or change,” she said.
“That money should be spent protecting farmers as they adjust their businesses and exit this trade once and for all.”
The RSPCA said science and evidence shows stocking density must be at least halved to achieve any meaningful improvement to animal welfare.
“Yet this is the same industry that said a mere 10pc improvement in stocking density would wipe out up to 100pc of their profits.
“It’s a business model that can’t make money if animals don’t suffer.
“Live exporters have had decades of chances to show leadership in animal welfare, and they have failed time and time again. There’s always another disaster around the corner.
The RSPCA said the industry should welcome an RSPCA observer onto the next eight shipments if it is serious about transparency. “The RSPCA has made the offer, the live export industry hasn’t accepted it,” Dr Jones said.
The RSPCA said LGAP was not the anounced, and amounted to “self-regulation via the back door”.
“This is not an industry that can be trusted to do the right thing,” Dr Jones said.
“And finally, while heralding immediate change, live exporters are also going to sit on their supposed commitments for another three weeks – until they see what the government review says.
“This is just more secrecy and weasel words from what is currently Australia’s most hated industry.”
“A serious response to the community’s concerns would be halving stocking density, stopping May to October exports, and locking in plans to phase-out the trade.
“Anything less is an insult to the tens of thousands of taxpaying Australians who continue to demand real change,” she said.