Major push for international standard

18 Jul, 2016 02:00 AM

THE push for international laws on animal welfare standards is gaining momentum as the extent of the cultural bridge between Australia and its live trade partners becomes more evident.

Reports of Vietnamese abattoir workers lashing out physically at Australians they believe want to destroy their livelihoods has highlighted the dangers of a lack of understanding of different cultures.

Leading agriculture commentators say the aim should be improved welfare standards for all cattle and sheep, not just those from Australia.

Frustrations with one-off breaches to Australia's world-first assurance scheme need to be tempered with an understanding of the wider animal welfare consequences of Australia 'pulling out' of live trade, they argue.

Australian Farm Institute executive director Mick Keogh said Australia's share of the global live trade had been declining.

Romania, Somalia and other Northern African countries were rapidly taking over what used to be Australian sheep markets and South American and Indian suppliers were moving in on its cattle markets, he said.

"What 99.9 per cent of people in Australia don't realise is that live exports of animals is growing rapidly as trade barriers come down," he said.

"If Australia withdraws, the market will source the same livestock from other suppliers and there is no question they have lower animal welfare standards.

"There is no other country that has any of elements of our Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

"Indonesia and Vietnam recognise Australia has more reliable and higher quality supply and are therefore willing to accommodate our standards.

"That doesn't mean people on the ground make sense of them.

"One only has to travel overseas to realise sensibilities around animal welfare are completely different in other cultures.

"It's an enormous challenge."

Futureye managing director Katherine Teh-White agrees.

The specialist social-licence-to-operate consultancy has been working with the livestock export industry for the past three years.

She said Australian exporters had, by default, become responsible for animal welfare in foreign countries which have very different cultures, traditions and religious rights and that created enormous complexities, she said.

Ms Teh-White said amazing change was being created.

"In the Middle East, where Australia has exported to for some time, we have been evolving cultural norms for some time," she said.

She pointed to the introduction of a ticketing system during Eid al Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice), where the Australian industry has facilitated a shift from buying animals on the side of the street and slaughtering them at home to families purchasing a processed carcase.

"To facilitate those sort of changes over and over in different cultures is a huge task and one animal activists need to be party to," she said.

"If they see, as their ultimate goal, improved animal welfare implemented all over the world, then Australian live export will be their friend to achieve that.

"There is opportunity for alignment but we don't see that yet.

"There are those still saying ban live export in the interests of animal welfare.

"The outcome of that potentially is on-going practices they feel is repulsive.

"It's an interesting conundrum - if you care about animals, it should be all animals."

Ms Teh-White said Australian live exporters currently faced a degree of cost their competitors did not and that was creating an uneven playing field.

"They have to take a level of responsibility beyond what the majority have to," she said.

"An international set of laws is what we should be aiming for."

Both exporter staff and animal rights activists have spoken about being in physical danger when trying to gain access to some processing facilities in Vietnam.

Animals Australia said its investigators were chased and threatened at knifepoint and had their equipment destroyed.

Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold said it was a problem exporter staff had faced when trying to gain access to non-approved facilities to talk to owners about how to work together to improve facilities.

"It has been more dangerous lately since the latest story," she said.

The RSPCA and Animals Australia's call for all facilities in Bai Do to be upgraded with modern restraint boxes and stunning equipment if there are to be any approved facilities in the village was "an admirable goal and one we would in principle share but it is challenging to achieve this when the villagers feel threatened", she said.

"If we want to help stop the practice of sledgehammering we have to do it in a spirit of co-operation.

"Sledgehammering is the only way they know how to slaughter and they have done so for decades. We want to see it stop but megaphone diplomacy isn't going to work.

"Getting in to talk to them in a non-threatening way has been made difficult by the villagers being threatened by Australians who they think want to take away their businesses.

"I hope the stakeholder meeting proposed as a recent initiative can help all those interested see a bigger picture but one that involves no sledgehammers."

Ms Penfold said the Australian government also needed to take a far larger role in terms of international leadership on animal welfare.

Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

is the national beef writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media.


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