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Dept of Ag report recommends ESCAS rollout in Egypt

James Nason, 18/03/2014

The Department of Agriculture has recommended that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) be introduced in Egypt before Australian livestock exports to the country resume.

The recommendation follows an investigation that has taken 10 months by the Department to complete into video footage provided by Animals Australia in May last year, which documented alleged breaches of international animal welfare standards involving Australian cattle in Egypt.

The same video footage also contained video interviews with an Egyptian veterinarian alleging wide-ranging animal welfare failures in Ain Sokhna and Ismailia, the two Egyptian abattoirs approved to process Australian cattle.

However the investigators noted that despite repeated attempts they were unable to contact the veterinarian during their investigation, and they also alluded to reports they had received that the veterinarian may have had a number of “commercial conflicts of interest” with respect to both Ismailia and Ain Sokhna abattoirs “that may have influenced the allegations of animal welfare abuse made in his review”.

Egypt has operated under a ‘closed loop’ system since it was initially closed to Australian livestock on welfare grounds in 2006 and then re-opened following the signing of two Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) between the Australian and Egyptian Governments in 2008.

The MoUs required that Australian animals had to be unloaded into quarantine upon arrival in Egypt regardless of their health status, that Australian animals could only be slaughtered at mutually-approved abattoirs supervised by the Egyptian General Organisation for Veterinary Services (GOVS), and that the livestock be tracked and accounted for using Australian NLIS tags.

The Egyptian market was not included in the rollout of the ESCAS system from late-2011 in all other international markets because it was already operating as a closed loop system.

The most recent exports of Australian cattle to Egypt were sent in two shipments in June and July 2012, one to Ain Sokhna and one to Ismailia.

In July of that year, Egypt indicated it would no longer accept cattle that had been treated with Hormone Growth Promotants (HGPs), and as a consequence, no further shipments of Australian cattle have been exported to Egypt since that date.

On 1 May 2013, Animals Australia gave officials from the Department of Agriculture (DA) seven videos alleging mistreatment of cattle in two abattoirs in Egypt. The videos were said to have been recorded between October 2012 and April 2013 at the Ain Sokhna abattoir and Ismailia abattoirs, and showed cattle that were likely of Australian origin.

The videos documented a bull being slaughtered in a holding pen and other cattle handling procedures that appeared to fall short of OIE recommendations for welfare, while some videos also contained interviews with an Egyptian veterinarian and an Egyptian worker at the abattoirs.

In the interviews the veterinarian and the abattoir worker raised allegations that the slaughter box in the Ismailia abattoir placed too much pressure on cattle and in some cases caused their ribs to break; that cattle could escape from the slaughter restraint box; that box restraints did not facilitate effective slaughter; that workers were hoisting cattle and starting to process them before they were dead at both abattoirs, and that there was no training of workers and no supervision from

Australian inspectors or Egyptian veterinarians.

The subsequent investigation found that Australian animals were present at the abattoir at the times the video was said to have been taken (October 2013-April 2013), and although the date the video was filmed could not be proven via metadata, there was also no evidence that the videos were not made on the dates stated.

The Departmental and Egyptian Government investigators found that some of the animal handling and slaughter practices documented did not meet OIE animal welfare recommendations, and found that the animal handling and slaughter practices at the Ain Sokhna abattoir were not compliant with the operations manual, but practices at Ismailia were compliant with the operations manual.

The investigators said they also reviewed the allegations made by the Egyptian veterinarian and abattoir worker, but despite a number of attempts to contact the veterinarian they did not receive a response.

The report said the investigators had received reports that the Egyptian veterinarian had a number of “commercial conflicts of interest with respect to both Ismailia and Ain Sokhna that may have influenced the allegations of animal welfare abuse made in his review”.

In the Ain Sokhna abattoir, the joint Australian-Egyptian investigation found:

  • There was a breakdown in management control of slaughter practices and animal welfare outcomes that conform to OIE recommendations were not reliably being achieved;
  • The slaughter restraint box could not be reliably operated to achieve OIE recommendations for animal welfare;
  • Animal handlers and slaughter staff were not adequately trained or supervised to deliver animal welfare outcomes that conform to OIE recommendations;
  • Slaughter knives were too short and insufficiently sharp to conform to OIE recommendations;
  • An electric prodder was connected to an electric fence electricity supply unit and used inappropriately therefore it did not conform to OIE recommendations;
  • Baulking and other hazards were present in the lead-up race;
  • Noise distraction, such as thrown metal pieces of equipment, was not controlled by management.

In the new Ismailia abattoir opened in 2012, the joint investigation found:

  • The cattle races leading into the abattoir were in good order. Shade cloth was used to prevent distractions and enable good cattle flow;
  • There was non-slip flooring;
  • Staff had been trained in cattle handling. They handled cattle in a low-stress way that conformed to OIE recommendations;
  • The abattoir uses two well maintained standing (i.e. non-rotating) slaughter restraint boxes;
  • Supervising staff manages slaughter operations in an organised and coordinated manner with teams understanding their job and working together;
  • Slaughtermen had long knives that were very sharp and well maintained. All observed cattle were effectively slaughtered with a single stroke once their neck was raised in the hydraulic chin rest;
  • The time from the cut to unconsciousness was within expected timeframes and appropriate checks for unconsciousness and death were carried out;
  • Cattle were not shackled and hoisted until unconsciousness was confirmed;
  • The investigation team took measurements of the hydraulic restraint arrangements of the slaughter restraint box and were satisfied that the operation of the slaughter box would not break ribs. The team inspected carcases in the dressing room after hide removal and carcase splitting and found no sign of rib trauma in any slaughtered animals.

The Investigation concluded that slaughter practices at Ain Sokhna did not conform to OIE recommendations or the Ain Sokhna work instructions.

The investigation found video footage of a white bull being slaughtered in a holding pen at Ismailia did not comply with OIE recommendations, but said there was no evidence to suggest that the actions in the video were standard or common practice at Ismailia.

No evidence was presented to confirm the allegations made in the interview videos and transcripts provided.

The investigation concluded that the slaughter practices at the Ismailia abattoir did conform to OIE recommendations and the Ismailia operations manual.

The investigation found that the MoU framework for cattle exports to Egypt has not consistently delivered animal welfare outcomes that conform to World Organisation for Animal Health recommendations.

As a result the investigators have recommended that the Department of Agriculture implements the ESCAS regulatory framework in Egypt before exports of slaughter and feeder livestock from Australia to Egypt resume.

“The ESCAS regulatory framework includes regular oversight by independent auditors and is more likely to deliver consistent animal welfare outcomes,” the report said.

Animals Australia response:

Animals Australia provided the following statement in response to the DA investigation report this afternoon:

“This investigation outcome reiterates once again that where there are no local laws to regulate the behaviour of workers, exported animals will always remain at risk of cruel treatment – regardless of MOUs and regardless of whether ESCAS is in place.

“We are constantly seeing that the paperwork that is in place purportedly to protect the welfare of exported animals is not worth the paper it is written on.

“It needs to be remembered that OIE guidelines are not an appropriate benchmark for good animal welfare. They are simply intended to prevent the worst abuses. If Australian cattle are again exported to Egypt they will be subjected to completely inhumane restraint devices that tip the terrified animals upside down so that their throat can be cut whilst fully conscious.

"In relation to DA findings in the Ismailia abattoir, animals are not going to have their tendons slashed in yards when there are Australian government officials present.

"That this incident happened in the first place shows that it was seen as a locally acceptable way to deal with a difficult animal and so there are no guarantees whatsoever that it will not happen again.”

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