THE National Farmers' Federation building has been hit by anti-live export protesters overnight as concerns about Australian cattle exports to Vietnam continue to escalate.
The NFF this morning tweeted a picture of the graffiti attack showing the words “Ban Live Exports” painted on the front sign of its Canberra head office, splashed with red paint.
“Another constructive and lawful midnight contribution from animal activists,” the NFF said in a tongue-in-cheek comment.
As first reported by Fairfax on Tuesday, the live export industry is facing renewed animal cruelty allegations after Animals Australia submitted a report last week to the Department of Agriculture regarding alleged sledgehammering of Australian cattle in Vietnam.
Disagreement over complaint provenance
The report arrives despite recent moves by exporters to increase animal welfare measures via the Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) in Vietnam, including adopting CCTV monitoring and tighter rules for ear tag verification. But an argument has also erupted over whether the Animals Australia complaint relies on new video evidence collected in April or on existing reports.
The Department is already investigating three recent allegations of cattle being moved outside approved supply chains in northern Vietnam, after three exporters self-reported non-compliance to the Department in March 2015.
“The current report from Animals Australia is being assessed to determine if it relates to any of the reviews underway,” a spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Animals Australia spokesperson Lisa Chalk said the most recent complaint “definitely” did not relate to the exporter reports from March, and was based on April video footage.
On Tuesday, Ms Chalk said an ESCAS complaint had been lodged with the Department relating to the “horrific sledgehammering to death” of Australian cattle in Vietnam.
Animals Australia has also requested a meeting with Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) representatives next week.
“Having assessed conditions on the ground, we have no confidence that the industry’s recently announced six-point plan will appropriately address issues,” Ms Chalk said.
“Vision obtained by Animals Australia investigators in abattoirs in Vietnam is considered so shocking and distressing that a decision has been taken to not publicly release it at this time.”
A Department spokesperson said there was no reason to not believe Animals Australia, but an investigation was underway to determine how the video footage linked to the March reports.
A statement today from the Department today said, “All reviews underway into non-compliance with ESCAS requirements in Vietnam are confined to a small region in northern Vietnam where some exporters have self-reported occurrences where cattle have been removed from the supply chain”.
Work within the law: NFF
NFF president Brent Finlay said Australian farmers are regarded internationally as having strong farm animal welfare standards.
“As exporters, we recognise that there are risks to the welfare of Australian livestock if they leave approved supply chains,” he said.
“This is why there are robust measures in place to strengthen control and traceability and to prevent facilities and importers who breach our standards from receiving Australian livestock.
“In addition exporters are actively helping to improve the way animals are handled and slaughtered in overseas markets by training over 7500 workers and helping to improve facilities with more modern infrastructure and equipment.”
Mr Finlay said the NFF respected the right of others to have different points of view, and also expected those points of view to be advocated in a constructive and lawful way.
“Unfortunately, attacks of this type on Australian farmers and their workers are far too common. Trespass in the middle of the night, wilful vandalism of property and use of threatening language is not constructive and it is against the law,” he said.
“Animal activists who take the law into their own hands disrespect the process of community engagement in animal welfare by those who are genuinely committed to improvement.”
Systems in place
ALEC CEO Alison Penfold said self-reports from exporters normally include not only the nature of the breach but the corrective action taken to fix the problem.
“Industry is becoming increasingly frustrated that the parties that have in their hands the details of the latest incident have yet to share that information with exporters, despite the fact that industry has a system in place to investigate and deal with the perpetrators of breaches of our supply chain,” she said.
“The agreement put in place by exporters includes consequences for breaches, but it seems ‘legal’ are coming before ‘animal welfare’.
“I understand the Department of Agriculture have their investigation processes underway so I have contacted Animals Australia and requested the information and hoping for a positive response today.”
After opening about two years ago, Vietnam has become the second biggest market for Australian live cattle importing 181,542 head in 2014 – up from 67,000 the year before.
Ms Penfold said two Vietnamese importers had been suspended since industry met in late March to implement tighter supply chain measures, but if there was fresh evidence of another breach of those standards it would be dealt with as per the agreement.
“We’re angry that people would to choose to breach, not only a contract but also their responsibility to animal welfare.”
Australian Greens animal welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said the new allegations were “further evidence that the live export trade must end”.
“This shocking report again highlights that the welfare of stock exported from Australia cannot be controlled from a desk in Canberra,” Senator Rhiannon said, pushing for onshore cattle processing as a solution.
No live ex ban
But Mr Joyce today ABC Radio on Wednesday the federal government would not be issuing a blanket ban on the Vietnamese market but individual exporters could be penalised, pending the investigation outcome.
“Like all these things when there’s a problem we investigate it (and) we find out if we need to take action,” he said.
“If we need to suspend someone’s licence … then we will do that but we won’t be suspending the whole trade.”
Mr Joyce said the ESCAS system was designed to try and prevent animal cruelty issues and “no other nation has it”.
“There are 100 nations in the world that export live cattle (but) we are the only country that has a process that tries to follow these things through,” he said.
“If this happens with other nations who export live cattle they just let it go through to the keeper.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott backed his Agriculture Minister.
“We're certainly not going to rush into making the sort of mistake which the former government made,” he said.
“We will carefully investigate any allegations, if there's anything in them we will take appropriate action but the last thing we'll do is close down this trade,” he said.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the trade should not automatically be suspended, but the Minister should be making sure the export markets were audited.
“We should be making sure that we punish where we see these breaches,” he said.