The Federal Government, the livestock export industry, and animal welfare groups have released statements in relation to the public release on ABC television of video footage showing cattle being killed with sledgehammers in Vietnam.
Minister of Agriculture statement on mistreatment of cattle in Vietnam
Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said industry had suspended supply of cattle to three abattoirs in Vietnam after the release of disturbing footage showing the mistreatment of animals.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources commenced an investigation immediately after receiving the complaint and has met with Vietnamese authorities, who are also investigating the allegations.
Members of the industry body, the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, agreed to suspend several facilities last Sunday (June 12) pending internal investigations. ALEC is currently considering further measures in light of information contained in a complaint provided by the Department to exporters on Monday, June 13.
Since 2013 the Coalition has strengthened the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s capacity to apply penalties, to suspend, revoke or cancel licences for premises that are in breach and suspend or cancel permits for exporters that are proven to have done the wrong thing.
“Anyone viewing this footage would be shocked and upset at the mistreatment and we are taking these reports very seriously,” Minister Joyce said.
“The treatment is totally abhorrent and it is the very antithesis of the animal welfare standards the Australian Government has been working towards and promoting internationally.”
“The abattoir at the centre of the most serious allegations is a non-approved facility and it is alleged that Australian cattle were being supplied to this abattoir against Australia’s strict rules.”
“It has not yet been confirmed on the evidence available whether the cattle were originally sourced from Australia, however the Australian industry has already taken action to suspend all exports to identified Vietnamese abattoirs.”
Minister Joyce said Australia was the only country in the world that had a supply chain system in place that monitored exporters (ESCAS), which requires supply chain partners not to sell Australian animals outside the list of approved facilities.
The Coalition will continue to enhance the ESCAS system to improve welfare standards and ensure that those who are found to have breached our stringent standards are held to account.
Animals Australia first reported the incident on 9 June and the department immediately began investigations on receipt of the preliminary evidence on 10 June.
The department is experienced in regulating and working with the live export industry to investigate and address animal welfare concerns.
“I am confident their investigations will reveal what has gone wrong and what actions are required to prevent the mistreatment of Australian animals at ESCAS approved facilities in future,” Minister Joyce said.
The Coalition supports the live export trade not only because of the economic benefits to our nation but because of the social benefits of improving the food security and living standards of millions of people all over the world, including in countries where there are strong cultural preferences for freshly slaughtered meat.
The live export industry makes up approximately 12 per cent of Australia’s red meat exports.
Department of Agriculture statement:
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is undertaking an investigation into video footage of abhorrent animal cruelty at an abattoir not approved to receive Australian cattle in Vietnam.
The video footage is part of a complaint lodged by Animals Australia alleging that Australian cattle are being supplied to non-approved abattoirs in the Phu Xuygen district and that handling and slaughter practices being used in some Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) approved abattoirs in Vietnam do not meet ESCAS requirements.
The department’s first priority is to ensure the humane handling of all animals exported from Australia.
Exporters were immediately informed of the complaint so that urgent action could be taken to protect the welfare of cattle currently in Vietnam.
The department is requiring exporters to review all systems, processes and facilities in their Vietnam supply chains. To date, four exporters have notified the department that they are suspending exports to some of their facilities in Vietnam while they review their ESCAS arrangements.
The Australian Live Export Council has advised that all abattoirs in the Bai Do region are suspended under the six point plan for all exporters, as well as a feedlot and abattoir separately reported by two exporters as being non-compliant with ESCAS arrangements. This means that these facilities will not receive Australian animals until the suspension is lifted.
The department has informed Vietnamese authorities of the complaint and is working with exporters to identify ESCAS approved facilities named in the Animals Australia complaint.
The department is in the process of obtaining details of the number of animals in suspended facilities. Exporters will be required to supervise the management and slaughter of their animals in these facilities.
ESCAS is designed to consistently improve welfare outcomes for feeder and slaughter animals in markets that receive Australian livestock.
Through ESCAS, every incident reported by industry, third parties or discovered through audit findings is investigated and exporters are required to address any issue identified.
Regulatory requirements placed on exporters and supply chains by the department are assessed by independent auditors.
While Animals Australia informed the department of the allegations on 9 June, the first preliminary evidence required to start a formal investigation was received by the department late afternoon on Friday 10 June following a written request; further information was received on 13 and 15 June.
There is no reason to doubt that the animals depicted in video footage were exported from Australia, although the evidence provided to date does not include tag numbers or brands that confirms their origin or links them to individual exporters.
A thorough investigation of all evidence provided to date is underway.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council statement:
Animals Australia have now released the graphic and horrific video footage what is believed to be Australian cattle being killed with sledgehammers in Vietnam to the ABC to publically highlight this inhumane practice.
“Australian livestock exporters agree sledgehammering is an abhorrent inhumane practice that has no place in a modern society and must be stamped out,” the CEO of the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council Alison Penfold said today.
“I have watched this footage and it is some of the most graphic footage of cruelty I have ever seen. This is slaughter at it cruellest and most sickening. Of course we don’t condone this practice.”
The Department of Agriculture & Water Resources (DAWR) has commenced an immediate audit of exporter control and traceability systems for Vietnam.
After horrific vision of cattle being inhumanely slaughtered at Indonesian abattoirs was aired in 2011, the trade was banned until strict new regulations which made Australian exporters responsible for animal welfare in the export country until the animals slaughter allowed the trade to continue.
“We take our regulatory requirements very seriously, there is no shifting of responsibility or sidestepping the issue, if individual exporters, feedlot or abattoir systems have faltered in detecting these serious problems, then they must be sanctioned,” Ms Penfold said.
“What has been shown here does not fit with our vision of ‘no pain, no fear’ and we must and will be held to account for it.”
The Department of Agriculture & Water Resources (DAWR) has announced an investigation into the involvement of Australian cattle in the brutal slaughter methods which involves abattoirs in Hanoi and the Phu Xuyen district which are not approved to receive livestock exported from Australia.
For Australian exporters the consequences of a deliberate ESCAS breach are severe and if proven can range from suspension until additional conditions are met, taking action against an exporter’s licence to referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions resulting in criminal sanctions such as fines or imprisonment.
“I can’t believe we are back here again after all the work that has gone into control and traceability of Australian cattle over the past 12 months in Vietnam,” Ms Penfold said.
In April 2015, we announced a six point plan for Vietnam supply chains to try and address these emerging concerns as the market grew rapidly, and to ensure ESCAS is consistently applied by all exporters and importers.
With the cooperation of Vietnamese importers, more than 500 CCTVs were placed in almost 200 approved abattoirs in Vietnam to address animal welfare groups’ concerns about the possible mistreatment of Australian cattle and that they could be taken out of the approved supply chain.
To implement the plan in the past twelve months exporters have:
Placed over 50 new staff in market to oversee supply chains;
Installed over 500 CCTV and electronic monitoring systems in over 190 facilities;
Provided over 300 hand held stunners, including to facilities that are not ESCAS approved; and,
Made a total investment of over $4 million in control and traceability measures in Vietnam.
“You simply do not make this level of financial investment as a business if you are not committed to meeting your responsibilities in animal welfare,” Ms Penfold said.
“ALEC will not tolerate any member that brings the industry into disrepute and is prepared to severely sanction members, including expulsion.”
ALEC members are working to respond to the Departmental audit and currently examining the information provided by the Department. Further measures may be taken in response and announced in the coming days.
World Animal Protection statement:
The footage of Australian cattle being sledge hammered to death in Vietnam is sickening.
It was taken at an abattoir in Hanoi where an Animals Australia investigation found Australian cattle are sledgehammered to death on a nightly basis.
The investigation has evidence indicating tens of thousands of Australian animals are leaving approved supply chains for non-approved slaughter houses in Vietnam where death by sledgehammer is common. This includes abattoirs where the cruel practice of forcing animals to intake water to inflate their weight is also prevalent.
Animals Australia has further documented Australian cattle being incorrectly stunned with Australian supplied captive bolt devices, with the butchering process commencing whilst the animals are still alive. This takes place in both Australian government approved and non-approved abattoirs. Ear identification tags have also been removed so that cattle cannot be traced back to the exporter responsible for them.
In the last two years over half a million Australian cattle have been exported to Vietnam. In 2016, 20 to 30 thousand have been exported to Vietnam each month.
Nicola Beynon Head of Campaigns for World Animal Protection in Australia said:
“With public confidence in the traceability system in tatters, the government has no choice but to suspend exports to Vietnam to spare further animals from horrific abuse.
“If anyone had any faith in the Department of Agriculture’s ability to regulate the live export trade and protect animals from abuse, it has surely been shattered” said Ms Beynon.
Despite repeated breaches in multiple countries, not one exporter has had their licence suspended or been prosecuted.
“A responsible government would protect animal welfare, and the wider livestock industry, and phase out high risk live exports entirely in favour of an exclusively chilled and frozen meat trade”, concluded Ms Beynon.
As we head to the election, World Animal Protection is calling for both major political parties to face up to the unacceptable risks in the live animal export industry and the inability of the Department of Agriculture to secure compliance.
RSPCA Australia has called on the Government to implement an immediate suspension of the live export trade to Vietnam, until the security of the supply chain is watertight.
RSPCA’s Chief Science and Strategy Officer, Dr Bidda Jones, said tonight’s “7.30 Report” broadcast of sickening footage of Australian cattle being sledgehammered to death proved that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) was an abject failure.
“Five years ago, we were promised by the live export industry and the government that this system would ensure that Australian cattle would be slaughtered according to minimum requirements”, Dr Jones said
“Tonight’s report shows that, five years on, Australian animals are still facing shocking treatment within and outside Australian Government approved slaughterhouses”.
“Since ESCAS was introduced in 2011, there has not been one export company prosecuted or had its licence revoked, despite repeated breaches”.
“Clearly, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has failed to adequately regulate the live export industry to ensure humane treatment of Australian animals”.
“There have been multiple reports of cattle being sledgehammered over recent years. In May 2015 and June 2016, Animals Australia provided the Department with evidence of sledge-hammering, showing the regulatory system was failing to protect cattle”
“RSPCA Australia is therefore also calling for the immediate establishment of an independent authority that will enforce live export regulations which are not compromised by the Department’s focus on expanding the live export trade”.
“More than 12 months ago the live export industry admitted it had lost control in Vietnam”.
”Despite the industry’s contention that it has spent ‘millions of dollars’ on its 6 Point Plan to improve the live export market, this investment has still not prevented cruel and barbarous treatment of Australian cattle”.
“We call on the Government to suspend the live export trade immediately to Vietnam. Its systems have failed, its Department has failed, the industry has failed, and the result is horrific treatment of Australian cattle”, Dr Jones said.
“Once again, cattle producers have put their trust in the live export industry and once again, they have been betrayed by the industry. The only way to prevent Australian animals from being subject to the atrocities we have seen tonight, and which occur every night in Vietnam, is to slaughter Australian cattle in Australian abattoirs to Australian standards, and export the meat. Meat exports are good for Australian animals, Australian farmers, Australian jobs and the Australian economy”, Dr Jones said.
Cattle Council of Australia statement:
Cattle Council of Australia has thrown its full support behind the independent inquiry into the Vietnamese live export market announced by the Australian Livestock Exporters Council.
The inquiry was announced by ALEC as one of many additional measures in light of new animal cruelty allegations from Animals Australia.
Graphic video footage of allegedly Australian cattle being killed with sledgehammers in Vietnam was broadcast by the ABC yesterday.
President of Cattle Council of Australia Howard Smith said the footage highlighted the vulnerabilities of the trade.
Mr Smith said Cattle Council supported the immediate independent investigation into the Vietnamese market.
“The practices being used in this footage were completely unacceptable and in violation of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) standards,” Mr Smith said.
“Animal welfare is of the highest importance to beef producers within any sector of the beef supply chain.”
“If grass fed producers can’t have reasonable confidence that their cattle will be looked after once they enter the supply chain, then there needs to be an independent review of that supply chain to ensure the welfare of cattle.”
Cattle Council recognise the importance of the ongoing live export trade to the Australian grass fed sector and will work with the Australian Livestock Exporters Council to ensure that while the trade continues, producers and consumers can have confidence in the system and the welfare of the animals.
Cattle Council fully support the additional measures put in place by ALEC, which include:
- A three month independent inquiry into the traceability and control practices, systems, standards and objectives intended to support the ESCAS animal welfare requirements in Vietnam. The inquiry will be conducted by a panel of experts and report publicly.
- The immediate suspension of cattle supply to any approved facility named in the complaint and under investigation by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
- Permanently ban the supply of cattle to any approved facility in Vietnam found in critical breach by the Department.
Cattle Council will continue to be involved in discussions with ALEC on measures to provide further transparency on supply chain activities.
Cattle Council remains supportive of ESCAS but has emphasised the importance of ensuring full traceability of Australian livestock and preventing leakage into non-approved facilities.
In January 2015 Government released a report into ESCAS stating that in the years since its implementation in 2011, the industry has continually improved the welfare of exported Australian livestock.
“The situation in Vietnam isn’t representative of the entire system, but with a failure such as this it is essential to review that specific market to ensure the welfare of the animals in that supply chain,” Mr Smith said.
Source: DAWR, ALEC, WAP, RSPCA, CCA