TWO live exporters have been banned from sending Australian cattle to the Vietnam market, by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
The Department’s formal suspension was made as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations exported cattle have been mistreated by sledgehammering in abattoirs, outside of accepted regulations, in the burgeoning Vietnamese market.
An inquiry started last month when video footage supplied by animal rights activists was ultimately broadcast on ABC television, during the federal election campaign.
It formed part of a renewed push to expand political pressure to ban live exports and also to boost the ALP’s election policy proposal to implement an Independent Office of Animal Welfare.
A statement posted on the Department’s website last Friday said an ongoing investigation was being conducted into the serious allegations of animal cruelty, from the Vietnam market.
It said on receiving a complaint, exporters were immediately directed to account for all animals in their supply chains with strict supervision and handling conditions applied.
“As a result of the ongoing investigation, the Department has now suspended 21 facilities in Vietnam, including three feedlots and 18 abattoirs,” the statement said.
“The Department is conducting exporter control and traceability audits for all eight exporters with supply chains in Vietnam, due to be finalised by the end of July.
“As a result of these audits to date, two exporters have been directed to cease supply to the Vietnam market until effective measures have been put in place to address animal control, traceability and verification processes.”
The Department said additional conditions had also been placed on four exporters as a result of the ongoing supply chain audits, including increased reporting requirements.
Another was additional monitoring and supervision by in-market staff to ensure all animals in those supply chain were handled in accordance with standards required under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
The Department said any further regulatory action to address issues identified through the audits would be determined once the findings for each exporter were completed.
“Through ESCAS, every incident reported by industry, third parties or discovered through audit is investigated,” the statement said.
“Exporters are required to address all issues identified by correcting the problems found or by removing non-compliant facilities from their supply chain.
“The Department’s first priority has been to ensure the humane handling of all animals exported from Australia.”
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold has been contacted for comment on the Department’s recent suspensions.
When the allegations were first raised, Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said the video footage taken by undercover investigators was “profoundly distressing” and preventable but had been ongoing in the market.
On June 10, the Department said video footage shown to departmental staff by Animals Australia the day before “depicts abhorrent and indefensible treatment of cattle at an abattoir not approved to receive livestock exported from Australia”.
It also said Animals Australia had also alleged Australian cattle were being supplied to non-approved abattoirs in the Phu Xuygen district and of non-approved practices being used in ESCAS approved abattoirs.
“It is a condition of ESCAS that all exporters must maintain control of supply chains and the movement of exported animals - exporters unable to maintain this control will have supply chains or market access revoked,” a statement said on June 10.
A statement from Minister Barnaby Joyce on June 16 said industry or ALEC members had suspended the supply of cattle to three Vietnam abattoirs, in response to the issue.
“The treatment is totally abhorrent and it is the very antithesis of the animal welfare standards the Australian government has been working towards and promoting internationally,” he said at the time.
“The abattoir at the centre of the most serious allegations is a non-approved facility and it is alleged that Australian cattle were being supplied to this abattoir against Australia’s strict rules.”
But Mr Joyce said Australia was the only country in the world with a supply chain system in place that monitored exporters - the ESCAS - which required supply chain partners not to sell Australian animals outside of approved facilities.
He said the Coalition would continue to enhance the ESCAS system to improve welfare standards and ensure those found to have breached “our stringent standards” were held to account.
In justifying calls for a ban, Animals Australia and the RSPCA said the ESCAS regulations were failing and could not guarantee animal welfare outcomes in export markets.
They also called for tougher penalties against exporters for any proven animal welfare breaches.
RSPCA Australia said it wrote to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader urging them to take action to suspend the Vietnam market, pending a comprehensive, independent supply chain management investigation, in response to the incident and other allegations of non-compliance.
ALEC chairman Simon Crean said the video footage was indefensible but stressed industry had committed additional resources to supply chain management improvements in the Vietnam market, including increased animal welfare training and staff and CCTV cameras in facilities.