THE Australian livestock export industry is bracing for fresh controversy with new video footage aired on Wednesday night on ABC television underpinning recent animal cruelty allegations.
A post on Animals Australia’s Facebook page promoting the Lateline episode said “investigators have recently returned from the largest live export investigation in history ... (and) what they found couldn’t be more damning”.
It’s understood the ABC program is focused on allegations of animal cruelty and breaches of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) overseas during the recent Eid al-Adha festival of sacrifice.
Western Australian-based exporter Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) is central to the allegations, and has now become a prime target for Animals Australia which has long campaigned for a total ban on live exports.
Animals Australia has previously expressed frustrations at the lack of action regulatory against LSS after from multiple complaints and Departmental investigations for alleged ESCAS breaches.
In a statement addressing the new controversy, LSS managing director Ahmad Ghosheh said he was aware of allegations around a “possible” supply chain breach in Gaza during the recent Islamic festival.
“LSS takes these allegations very seriously and does not tolerate the mistreatment of animals in any way,” he said.
He said LSS had been working closely with the Department of Agriculture over the past 11 months to identify and resolve issues within its Gaza supply chain.
That included formally advising the Department on November 5 last year that it had concerns about that supply chain, resulting in action to deal with possible issues. The subsequent action included an immediate voluntary suspension of exports to specific facilities and commencement of a detailed internal investigation into the supply chain in Gaza.
Mr Ghosheh said LSS had also deployed additional consultants and staff to the region to monitor compliance at ESCAS-approved facilities.
He said the company’s last shipment of livestock directly to Gaza was in mid-October 2013 and LSS cattle continued to be “legitimately transferred” from Israel to Gaza until a Department of Agriculture directive was issued to suspend further transfer of cattle on March 6, 2014.
“Consequently, a significant number of cattle have remained in the supply chain since this time,” he said.
“LSS has been advised by its importer that as of October 10, 2014 there are no remaining LSS cattle in the Gaza supply chain facilities.”
Video from Animals Australia - WARNING: footage may distress viewers
A statement to Fairfax Agricultural Media from the Department said “ensuring the welfare of Australian animals that are exported continues to be a key issue for the Australian government”.
It said the Eid Al-Adha was a high risk period for non-compliance with ESCAS requirements.
“Since Eid began, on 4 October 2014, and 21 October 2014 the Department of Agriculture has received reports of non-compliance with ESCAS requirements from Animals Australia,” it said.
“As the regulator of ESCAS the Department of Agriculture treats all reports on non-compliance with ESCAS seriously (and) ... reviews and assesses all evidence provided about non-compliance with ESCAS and investigations are undertaken where necessary.
“We are unable to comment on any ongoing investigations or specific cases.”
Earlier this week, Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Alison Penfold also posted a statement on Facebook regarding the alleged ESCAS breaches.
“ABC Lateline are expected to run a story tonight or tomorrow night on animal cruelty associated with the leakage of Australian livestock in several Middle Eastern markets,” she said.
“I have no doubt that the footage shown will show gross mishandling, treatment and slaughter of livestock whether of Australian origin or not.
“I have said it before and will say it again - it beggars belief in this day and age that we still see such treatment of animals even those destined for slaughter.
“Australia is not the world's animal welfare policeman and at some point in time local authorities in these countries and the OIE more generally have to step up to the plate and start to be responsible on their own turf for animal welfare.
“Australia can at least show a pathway for improvement including through our co-operation with the OIE and provision of our training expertise and our R&D.”
Ms Penfold said ALEC was contacted for comment on the issues of leakage from approved supply chains and provided the following statement:
“Leakage from approved supply chains remains the greatest challenge for industry in meeting its responsibilities for exported livestock,” she said.
“It has largely stemmed from the strong demand for healthy Australian livestock that have been reduced in number due to the imposition of ESCAS.
“While ESCAS has significantly assisted in improving welfare of Australian exported livestock, it has come with consequences, including the denial of supply of Australian livestock to many legitimate small local businesses in destination markets - particularly in the Middle East - that had previously relied on trading Australian livestock for their living.
“Such action has in some instances created a black market for Australian livestock which we are actively working to curb.
“Exporters have not sanctioned or approved leakage from supply chains but under ESCAS are responsible for such non-compliances.
“Where non-compliances are found the Department of Agriculture has taken action against exporters including adding additional conditions to shipments and curtailing supply chains.
“Exporters themselves have removed facilities from supply chains that have failed to meet the exacting standards of ESCAS - this includes failing to secure livestock within approved facilities.
“While the relative number of livestock that have leaked from supply chains is relatively small against the millions of animals that have been exported into approved supply chains - where handling and slaughter is done by trained personnel with appropriate knowledge and oversight of humane handling and slaughter procedures - it is the outcome of the leakage from approved systems that is often most severe and upsetting and reminds us why Australia has moved to establish welfare assurance along supply chains in overseas markets.
“In the absence of oversight and the training and support that comes with approved supply chains, livestock will most likely face poor treatment, handling and slaughter by people unskilled and untrained to undertake the task.
“In this regard, the manner in which some people treat livestock so cruelly and cause unnecessary pain and suffering, regardless of the origin of the animals, remains inexcusable, even in the absence of proper training and knowledge of appropriate handling.
“Such brutal treatment has no place in the livestock trade and is perpetrated by individuals outside of Australian supply chains that are not approved to handle or slaughter Australian livestock.
“It remains shocking for all to see and necessitates urgent action by local authorities and the OIE to immediately improve the welfare of livestock globally.
“Industry recognises that the leakage of Australian livestock from approved supply chains which leads to poor handling and slaughter reflects poorly on our industry and causes members of the public to question our commitment to animal welfare.
“We still remain the only live export country with a welfare assurance system that places the exporter as responsible for livestock through to the point of slaughter.
“While ESCAS is at times imperfect, in the main it is working and we are striving to root out those elements that undermine the effectiveness of the system.”
Ms Penfold responded to the Lateline footage overnight. Read ALEC's response.