INTERNATIONAL Livestock Exports (ILE) has voluntarily installed CCTV cameras in four abattoirs in its Indonesian supply chain as an early response to the alleged animal welfare breaches raised earlier this year, which the government reported on last week.
It’s the first time CCTV cameras have been used to oversee animal welfare in the Indonesian market.
While other live exporters are supportive of the move, they say they won’t be following that lead any time soon.
ILE chief executive officer Mike Stanton said they responded immediately to the animal welfare claims - raised in February by Animals Australia - by introducing CCTV cameras and implementing stunning practices at the facility in question.
Mr Stanton said cameras would monitor animal handling practices in the four abattoirs at peak times.
But they won’t have animal welfare officers (AWOs) sitting in front of the TV screens watching 100 per cent of the time.
He said the AWOs would collect DVD footage and assess the vision for non-conformities around animal welfare.
If any non-conformities are found, they would take steps to improve animal handling practices, through increased training and up-skilling activities.
"This is all voluntary - we put these things in place and instead of taking five months to act we did so in the first month to improve animal welfare," he said.
Mr Stanton said the CCTV cameras would not necessarily be used to monitor any potential covert surveillance occurring in the abattoirs from extremist groups like Animals Australia, which he said was a concern and required increased security at all facilities.
But he said some facilities were owned and operated by the Indonesian government and exporters were unable to exert the same level of control at those facilities.
"We want extra security but that’s not a priority," he said.
"We want more monitoring, reviews and training and more stunning, because there’s a lot less area of incident when you use stunning effectively."
Asked about ILE’s CCTV instillation in response to the recent investigation, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold said she would leave it to individual exporters to comment on their individual circumstances.
But she said initiatives by individual exporters that strengthen their monitoring and compliance regime, in turn helping them meet the regulated standards of animal welfare, should be welcomed.
Other exporters, who declined to be named, said they could understand why ILE had installed CCTV cameras in its Indonesian abattoirs, but they would not be rushing to follow their lead.
They said Australian abattoirs were not required to use CCTV surveillance to monitor animal welfare.
They were also concerned it could lead to calls from animal rights groups and The Greens to stream the footage live.
Federal Agriculture Department Deputy Secretary Phillip Glyde said the instillation of CCTV surveillance in Indonesian abattoirs was a matter for individual exporters.
"We’ve been informed that some exporters are considering this as part of their audit process and at least one exporter has installed them in several facilities," he said.
"While the existing export assurance system is appropriate to ensure animal welfare outcomes, any further steps taken by exporters can only be a positive step for the industry."
But Animals Australia rejected claims that the installation of CCTV cameras and the presence of an industry-paid AWO in abattoirs would prevent cruel treatment.
Animals Australia investigator Lyn White said CCTV can only be an effective deterrent if workers know that their activities are being monitored by independent regulators.
"Why would anyone believe that a representative of the exporter at an abattoir would report breaches of standards to the Australian government that are contrary to the interests of his employer’s business?" she said.
Animals Australia applauded the thoroughness of the government’s investigation, but said the reports confirmed the industry was for all intents and purposes still self-regulating, and that dire risks to animals remained.
"The bottom line is that these breaches of the new system would not even have been identified and investigated were it not for Animals Australia investigators continuing to scrutinise this trade, so how can the government suggest that this new system is working?" Ms White said.
"Despite assurances the days of self-regulation were over, the government continues to have no day-to-day oversight of the operation of a trade it supports and endorses - a trade that time and again has shown its preparedness to put profit before welfare.
"A regulatory system that depends on a charity to be its watchdog, and on exporters to monitor themselves, is not a system that either producers or the community can have any confidence in."