Investigation into a complaint from Animals Australia alleging non-compliance in January 2012

​​Background

This report has been prepared by the department following thorough investigation into video footage provided by Animals Australia on Friday 24 February 2012.

Regulatory framework

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) regulates the export of livestock under the Export Control Act 1982, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997, the Export Control (Animals) Order 2004 as well as the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock among other legislation, orders and regulations.

In order to receive approval to export a consignment of livestock, the holder of a licence to export livestock must show how they will comply with the both the Commonwealth government’s regulations and the importing country requirements.

Since 6 July 2011, an exporter intending to export a consignment of livestock to Indonesia for slaughter or fattening (feeder) purposes must show that their supply chain(s), composed of feedlots (farms), transport links and abattoirs, comply with the new regulatory framework called the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

ESCAS requires an exporter to show that its supply chain(s) are under its control, that animals can be traced from export to slaughter (traceability) and that the animals will be treated in line with the 'Guidance on meeting OIE code for animal welfare outcomes for cattle and buffalo (Version 2.2)'. Further information about ESCAS and its requirements can be found on the ESCAS section of the DAFF website.

DAFF takes all alleged breaches of animal welfare seriously, including those relating to ESCAS. Exporters found to have breached the conditions of ESCAS in relation to control, traceability and/or animal welfare face regulatory action up to and including suspension or cancellation of their livestock export licence.

The exporter’s history of compliance with the relevant legislation, regulations and standards, including ESCAS, is considered when applications for the export of livestock are received and assessed by DAFF.

DAFF regulates the exporter and their ability to maintain control, traceability and animal welfare outcomes within their approved supply chain but does not regulate the individual entities (feedlots and abattoirs) within an approved supply chain.

Investigation

On the 24th of February 2012 the department received a complaint from Animals Australia, alleging that animal welfare breaches had occurred at abattoirs in Indonesia that might have involved cattle exported from Australia. The complaint included footage taken in January 2012. The department investigated the complaint to assess potential breaches of the regulatory framework and to determine if any regulatory action should be taken.

The footage was taken in four abattoirs in Indonesia. Australian exporters do not always have exclusive use of facilities in Indonesia so in undertaking the review the department looked to establish the connection between exporters and the specific incidents.

The footage was assessed against the 'Guidance on meeting OIE code for animal welfare outcomes for cattle and buffalo (Version 2.2)' by the animal welfare branch of DAFF. The investigation found that there were breaches relating to restraint, animal handling and treatment of Australian sourced cattle in two abattoirs that formed part of two exporters approved supply chains.

Information considered

The investigation was comprehensive and considered information from:

  • the complainant
  • the exporters
  • RSPCA
  • DAFF animal welfare experts
  • Meat and Livestock Australia, and
  • the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture.

This information was analysed against the regulatory framework to determine:

  • Whether the cattle in the footage were sourced from Australia
  • Whether the incidents in the footage occurred in approved supply chains
  • The nature of the incidents

Overall findings

In reviewing the footage and additional information, the department has established that;

  • Two abattoirs were not part of approved supply chains controlled by Australian exporters, nor were the animals seen in the footage sourced from Australia.
  • Footage of one abattoir, which is part of the ESCAS approved for North Australian Cattle Company (NACC), indicated that animal welfare breaches had occurred against animals sourced from Australia. It is the department’s view that the footage and other information indicate that NACC had reduced control within this supply chain against the regulatory framework.
  • Footage of another abattoir, which is part of the approved ESCAS for International Livestock Export (ILE), also indicated animal welfare breaches. The department considers it to be highly likely that these animals were sourced from Australia. It is the department’s view that the footage and other information indicate that ILE had reduced control within this supply chain against the regulatory framework.

Actions by the department as a result of findings

No action will be taken in the case of the incidents that were not connected to Australian exporters or Australian animals. There is no evidence in either of these cases to suggest that exporters have not complied with their responsibilities under the framework.

NACC and ILE have been identified as not having demonstrated an appropriate level of control throughout their approved supply chains. In the cases of these exporters, the following actions have been taken in relation to current and future consignments:

  • The abattoirs identified in the footage have been removed from the exporters’ approved supply chains.
  • If the exporters seek to include either abattoir in future supply chains they will have to show that corrective and preventative actions have been completed to ensure the non-compliances do not reoccur. An initial independent audit will also need to be completed at each abattoir to ensure the changes have occurred before DAFF will consider approving the abattoir in an exporter’s supply chains.
  • The exporters will be required to undertake further activities at each abattoir in their supply chain where animals are slaughtered without stunning using the Mark 4 (including copy or custom) restraint boxes as follows;
    • A designated animal welfare officer must be present during slaughter.
    • Further independent audits are to be conducted to ensure that the best possible control, traceability and animal welfare outcomes are achieved.

Further observations and proposed actions

The investigation made several observations with a view to reducing information and risk gaps in the current process of assessing and approving ESCAS:

  • Issues were identified regarding the lack of mechanical head and neck restraint with some Mark 4 restraint boxes. A review by the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer has been suggested to assess the compliance of such boxes with international animal welfare standards.
  • It was recognised that there is difficulty in identifying slaughter lines in abattoirs that have multiple slaughter lines and that there are risks involved where abattoirs can contain both approved and unapproved slaughter lines. It has been suggested that further information should be sought from exporters during the approval process to assist in this regard.

These observations will be addressed further by the department and by the Industry Government Implementation Group.

The combined investigation report is available on the website.

Frequently asked questions

[expand all]

Question: What is the outcome of the investigation?

Answer: The investigation identified four abattoirs in the footage. Two of these abattoirs were part of an approved Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

There is evidence of non-compliance with the ESCAS animal welfare performance targets in these two abattoirs. The two abattoirs were found to have slaughter and handling practices that were not consistent with international animal welfare guidelines as required under the ESCAS.

The Secretary of Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry accepted the recommendations of the report and has taken regulatory action against two exporters indentified in the investigation, International Livestock Exports and North Australian Cattle Company
This regulatory action comprises:

  • Removing the two abattoirs where the breaches occurred from the two exporter’s approved supply chains\
  • Placing additional conditions on the two exporters including having animal welfare officers present in all abattoirs in their approved supply chains where cattle are slaughtered using the Mark 4 restraint box without stunning.
  • Increasing the intensity of auditing of the exporter’s approved supply chains where cattle are slaughtered using the Mark 4 restraint box without stunning.

Question: Will DAFF be implementing all the recommendations?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What about the other two abattoirs?

Answer: The department has investigated the footage taken at the other two abattoirs and will not be taking any action as there is no evidence the animals involved were sourced from Australia, nor did it show slaughter lines that were part of an approved supply chain.

Question: Why haven’t the exporters been fined?

Answer: While these breaches do not involve specific fines, a range of other actions have been taken including:

  • Removing the two abattoirs where the breaches occurred from the two exporter’s approved supply chains
  • Placing additional conditions on the two exporters including having animal welfare officers present in all abattoirs in their approved supply chains where cattle are slaughtered using the Mark 4 restraint box without stunning
  • Increasing the intensity of auditing of the exporter’s approved supply chains where cattle are slaughtered using the Mark 4 restraint box without stunning.

The additional animal welfare inspection and audits will impose a cost to these exporters that their competitors do not have to currently bear.

In addition to this, the exporters will be under greater scrutiny. If there are further breaches they face serious penalties, including potential loss of license.

Question: What triggered the investigation?

Answer: The investigation was undertaken in response to a complaint from Animals Australia of alleged breaches of animal welfare requirements of ESCAS. The complaint included footage taken in January 2012 of abattoirs in Indonesia.

Question: How long did it take to prepare the report?

Answer: 12 weeks.

Question: Why did it take so long to prepare the report?

Answer: This is a serious issue and it was important to get the investigation right. The investigation was a comprehensive process; we needed to identify the cattle, abattoirs and exporters involved.

Question: Who conducted the investigation?

Answer: The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry conducted the investigation.

Question: What information was used as part of the investigation?

Answer: This investigation took place under Australia’s new system for live exports, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

The System includes procedures to investigate allegations of animal welfare breaches and to take appropriate action where required.

The investigation considered:

  • the formal complaint and video footages sent to DAFF by Animals Australia
  • the analysis of the video footages provided by the RSPCA
  • the animal welfare assessment of the video footages by DAFF Animal Welfare experts
  • ESCAS documentation previously provided by each exporter, including the independent audit reports
  • information provided by each exporter in response to the footage
  • Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) advice on cattle characteristics to aid in the identification of cattle sourced from Australia and information on the Mark 1 and Mark IV restraint boxes
  • information from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture on the identity of abattoirs seen in the video footage, and whether they slaughtered local cattle.

Question: Will these recommendations prevent this from occurring again?

Answer: It is difficult to control conditions in other countries, and that’s why we are working with exporters and implementing a new system to try and ensure that animals are treated humanely.

The current live export system requires several regular audits however they are not a constant monitor of every activity in the supply chain.

As we receive audit reports and exporters and abattoirs become more familiar with the new system, we can expect the levels of compliance to improve.

When failures occur, we will thoroughly investigate and take appropriate action, as we have done in this case.

Question: How many animals have been exported under the new system?

Answer: Since the introduction of the new regulatory framework in July last year, close to 330, 000 cattle and 435,000 sheep have been exported under ESCAS requirements to five countries. ESCAS is now being progressively rolled out to Australia’s other main livestock export markets.

The new regulatory framework was implemented for the Indonesian feeder livestock market in July 2011. Since that time and up until the end of 2011, there were more than 186,000 cattle exported under the new arrangements.

From 1 January 2012 to 24 April 2012 there have been more than 102,000 feeder cattle exported to Indonesia.

As of 1 March 2012, the new regulatory framework applied to Tranche 1 countries (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey).

From 1 March 2012 to 24 April 2012 there have been more than 273,000 sheep and 7,000 cattle exported to Tranche 1 countries.

Question: Why were the problems with the Mark 4 box not picked up earlier?

Answer: The Australian Chief Veterinarian Officer (ACVO) conducted an assessment of Mark 1 and 4 restraint boxes in August 2011. That assessment found that proper use of the Mark 4 box for restraining and casting cattle for non-stun slaughter generally complied with elements of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Code – Chapter 7.5 Slaughter of Animals.

The ACVO advised that the Mark 4 boxes as seen in the video footage had some differences from those assessed in the initial evaluation report including lack of a head or neck restraint. The poor animal welfare outcomes using the Mark 4 box in these exporter chains can be attributed to problems restraining the head, implementation of sound standard operational procedures, and lack of training.

Question: Shouldn’t all Mark 4 boxes be banned?

Answer: No. If they are used correctly they assist in assuring that animal welfare guidelines are met.

Questions: Isn’t it in the best interests of the animal to make stunning mandatory?

Answer: The ESCAS system is based in international animal welfare guidelines provided by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) which permit slaughter without stunning.

The Australian Government is encouraging the use of stunning. Exporters are progressively moving to stunning in more abattoirs but there is currently no requirement to do so.

Media

  • Ministerial media release: Minister welcomes independent regulator's report
  • DAFF media statement: Conclusion of investigation into alleged breaches of animal welfare - statement by Philip Glyde, Deputy Secretary
  • DAFF media statement: Investigation report into the alleged breaches of animal welfare - statement by the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Mark Schipp
  • DAFF media statement: DAFF commences regular reporting on performance auditing of exporter supply chain assurance systems
Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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