AUSTRALIA'S fastest growing live cattle market, Vietnam, has dominated animal welfare breaches in the latest federal government assessment on the performance of supply chain partners.
Sixteen of the 18 reports of non-compliance to the Australia's Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) received from March to August involved Vietnam facilities.
The other two were in Malaysia.
Many were self-reported by Australian exporters.
Animal rights groups say Australia's push for big expansion into this market has come at the expense of welfare.
Vietnam imported 282,952 head of Australian cattle in the last financial year, up from the 1441 head in 2011-12.
That latest financial year figure was a decline of 7 per cent on the previous year.
It's an attractive market, given the developing economy and increasing household incomes which are pushing up demand for red meat protein and the fact there is little refrigeration which suits the wet market and live trade system.
Australian exporters are also keen to establish alternatives to Indonesia, as cheaper Indian buffalo is making itself felt there.
The RSPCA says the latest ESCAS report provides an insight into the "shambolic state" of the Vietnamese market during a period in which exporters pushed for exponential growth.
However, the live export industry says the report reflects the strong commitment in improved animal welfare shared between exporters and the federal government following evidence of cruel treatment of Australian cattle in Vietnam early last year.
Exporters had proactively self-reported while also co-operating fully with the government's investigations into that incident, said the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC).
Conditions were placed on some exporters, including directions to two exporters to cease supply to the market until effective measures were put in place to address animal control, traceability and verification processes.
ALEC chief executive officer Simon Westaway said a regulatory response such as suspension was a serious and disruptive action, with significant commercial consequences, which sent a clear message to exporters and participants across importer supply chains.
"As an industry, we have resolved to strengthen our reporting protocols and renewed our commitment to the full implementation of ESCAS - and where necessary to take comprehensive action to shut-out non-compliant facilities and businesses," Mr Westaway said.
Through ESCAS, every incident reported by industry, third parties or discovered through auditing is investigated.
Exporters are required to address all issues identified by correcting the problems found or by removing non-compliant facilities from their supply chain.
More than 20 facilities in Vietnam had already been suspended, including feedlots and abattoirs, according to Mr Westaway.
That was a clear sign that ESCAS was working effectively, Mr Westaway argued.
"Cruelty is simply not acceptable, which is why it is important Australian exporters continue our work in emerging markets such as Vietnam, where our presence and on-going levels of training and investment in the supply chain is helping to drive unprecedented improvements in livestock handling and slaughter practices," Mr Westaway said.
But the RSPCA says there have been too many strikes without meaningful sanctions imposed against exporters.
The continual accrual of critical non-compliances without prosecution or licence suspension makes a mockery of the entire system, it said.
The RSPCA wants a complete overhaul of the regulatory system.