Pressure on Australia’s livestock export trade to Israel is mounting again following the release of footage in the country allegedly showing Australian cattle being mistreated on Western Australian cattle properties.
The footage was secretly filmed by two Israeli animal activists who had secured jobs on several Western Australian cattle stations.
The Times of Israel newspaper reported on Wednesday that the covertly filmed material shows workers on WA cattle properties “beating, kicking, electrocuting, standing on and shooting at animals for fun, denying them painkillers and vet visits to save money”.
The paper noted that WA cattle properties send live animals to Israel for fattening and slaughter, and observed that Australia is “regarded as one of the more enlightened suppliers of cattle for the meat industry”.
It said calves were filmed dying “for lack of water or mother’s milk”, sick animals not treated and calves were dehorned without pain relief.
The Times of Israel article said that while Israel was regarded as a “vegan capital”, it also has the fourth largest per capita consumption of beef and veal in the OECD, behind Brazil, the US and Argentina. Annual beef consumption per person in Israel in 2018 stood at 20.5 kilograms.
Israel has imported just over 60,000 feeder cattle, mainly young bulls from WA, from Australia so far in 2019, according to MLA trade data to October 31. That ranks Israel as Australia’s fourth largest cattle export market this year behind Indonesia (571,036 head); Vietnam (214,021) and China (113,733).
The Times of Israel said Israel imports about 90 percent of its beef each year, with around a quarter of that volume coming from Australia.
However, a series of highly publicised animal mistreatment issues have undermined political and public support for the livestock import trade in Israel in recent years.
That opposition reached a crescendo in November last year when Israeli parliamentarians passed without opposition the preliminary stages of a Bill which sought to phase out all imports of cattle and sheep to Israel from Australia and Europe within three years, and to transition entirely to the import of chilled meat.
However, the Bill has not been able to proceed beyond that point with two elections since that time failing to deliver a fully functioning Government in Israel. Opposing political parties are negotiating to resolve the impasse but if one party is unable to gather the 61 signatures required to form Government by December 11, Israel will be forced to a third election in the space of a year.
The animal activist group responsible for the footage, Sentient, has indicated its representatives spent time at five WA locations over a two-year period.
The WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development is believed to be investigating the footage.
One property understood to have been included in the footage is Kilto Station, which is currently leased by Yeeda Pastoral Company.
Yeeda Pastoral chair Mervyn Key expressed shock and horror at the footage.
“Yeeda Pastoral Company is aware of a documentary that aired on Israeli TV focusing on animal cruelty on cattle stations in Australia,” he said in a written statement.
“Yeeda is shocked and horrified to see these acts of totally unacceptable cruelty carried out against cattle on various Australian cattle stations, including on Kilto Station, which is currently leased by Yeeda Pastoral Company.
“Yeeda was unaware of the cruel acts carried out and the fact these despicable and horrific acts were filmed by undercover reporters some time in 2018.
“Yeeda strongly condemns these acts of cruelty. It is not what Yeeda stands for and contrary to Yeeda’s core values and principles.
“Yeeda adheres to the highest standards of animal welfare at our stations and processing plant, including employing a full-time animal welfare officer.
“We have already appointed independent investigators to analyse the footage in the documentary so that we can find out exactly what happened and why it happened, identify the culprits and ensure they are appropriately dealt with. This investigation has commenced.”
She said transparency was something the Kimberley Pilbara cattle industry embraced, and producers must be held accountable for the welfare of their cattle.
The footage of poor handling, dehorning without pain relief, shooting sick animals and the disposal of carcasses was distressing, regardless of whether they were a breach of welfare laws. Comments recorded of individuals working in the yards about euthanising cattle and the non-use of pain relief we also concerning, and did not reflect the seriousness with which our industry considers animal welfare, Ms White said.
“Whenever poor handling amounts to a breach of legal requirements, the State regulator should investigate and, where appropriate, any guilty parties should be prosecuted.
“The best-practice approach to welfare which most of our producers are embracing exceeds the legal standards.
“Consumers and the community, both here and in our export markets, have ever-increasing expectations around animal welfare. I know the overwhelming majority of producers share those values and expectations.
“In regions like WA’s north where there are still relatively significant numbers of horned cattle, there is a clear majority of producers using pain relief products. People are also investing in polled genetics to remove the need to de-horn over time.
“Producers know that investing in pain relief and modern genetics is good for the cattle and good for safer animal handling.”
Industry committed to 100pc pain relief use by 2025
Cattle Council of Australia president Tony Hegarty said the Australian beef industry was strongly committed to best practice animal welfare and wellbeing, and producers condemned any cruelty or unacceptable welfare practices.
“Good animal welfare is a legal requirement and animal cruelty is a criminal offence. These legal standards are the minimum requirements that we seek to exceed through ongoing efforts in research, development and adoption.
“Modern animal husbandry techniques, ensuring the health and safety of our employees and our livestock are at the top of our industry’s strategic priority list.
“The overwhelming majority of my fellow producers who uphold best-practice husbandry standards would share my sense of distress and, frankly, the sense of betrayal arising from evidence of livestock abuse.
“I’ve conveyed that to the RSPCA today at a meeting in Canberra where we discussed this matter and confirmed we share their concerns.”
Mr Hegarty said the industry had in a relatively short period of time progressed and supported the approval of several commercial pain relief products.
“Even though they have only been available to Australian producers relatively recently, we’re encouraged by the progress of uptake, albeit from a low base.
“As industry, we’re aiming for a usage target of 100pc by 2025.
“There are more than 45,000 beef cattle businesses in Australia and instances where welfare failures are exposed hurt the reputation of all producers, and the red meat sector’s entire workforce of over 190,000 direct employees.
Evidence of on-property welfare failures must galvanise our determination to push on with our ongoing research projects, including those to develop objective animal welfare measures and practical ways of measuring animal welfare on-farm and in real-time.”
Appalling footage demands action on cattle welfare: RSCPA
Mandatory pain relief for painful procedures and hastening moves toward breeding horn-free cattle are the very least the cattle industry must do to be sustainable and maintain public trust and its international relationships, the RSPCA said in response to the footage today.
The RSPCA said the footage shows stockpersons punching and kicking cattle and jumping on a downed animal, as well as dogs being allowed to attack restrained animals, and calves and cows being left to die slowly and painfully in the yards.
In addition, the footage shows ear tags being ripped out of ears, incompetent euthanasia and, if that wasn’t enough, horrific dehorning of cattle.
“The animals being dehorned are clearly in extreme pain and distress – it’s absolutely harrowing to watch,” said RSPCA Australia Senior Scientific Officer (Farm Animals) Melina Tensen.
“We have standards that are supposed to protect the welfare of cattle, but since these were endorsed by state and territory Agriculture Ministers in 2016, only South Australia has made them a legal requirement.
“And those standards still allow cattle up to 6 months of age (and in the case of rangeland cattle, up to 12 months) to be dehorned without pain relief – that’s simply not good enough,” said Ms Tensen.
“The industry must move more quickly to breeding polled (hornless) cattle, that don’t require dehorning.
“And, in the interim, the cattle industry need to commit to mandatory pain relief for dehorning and other painful procedures. We’re encouraged by the cattle industry’s commitment to achieving 100 percent pain relief use by 2025.
“The outright animal abuse shown by these workers is appalling, and completely unacceptable.
“People working with animals need to be competent – they need to have the skills to carry out the job effectively, but also the right attitude and behaviour towards animals in their care,” said Ms Tensen.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said serious sanctions should be applied to people who breach Australia’s high animal welfare standards.
“Animal welfare doesn’t stop at particular parts of the supply chain, it is somethng that must be adhered to no matter where it takes place, and any animal welfare breaches need to be thoroughly investigated by the relevant regulatory authorities and the serious, appropriate sanctions afforded to people who do the wrong thing,” he told Beef Central today.
Mr Harvey-Sutton said Israel was an extremely important market for Australian cattle and the Australian beef trade.
“It is a very reliable market, it is a market that has grown and is now our fourth largest, and it is incredibly important market.
“Considering the importance of the market, it is important that all the appropriate facts are presented in any dialogue around the market, and it needs to be accurate, as the industry can be subject to inaccurate inferences from clearly motivated news reports.
“As an export industry we have been making a huge effort to ensure animal welfare in market, and we have systems in place, and our receiving markets have always been very receptive to those, and supportive and understanding of the requirements for animal welfare.
“It is important that people understand that there are also stringent requirements in Australia.
“The footage that we saw is not representaitve of the vast majority of producers. That doesn’t excuse it, but it is important an accurate picture is portrayed and when instances such as these do happen, there really needs to be accountability from the regualtory authorities to make sure they are thoroughly investigated and sanctioned as appropriate.”