RSPCA Australia has warned the Federal government against watering-down live export industry regulations via the new Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) proposal, saying industry self-regulation has failed.
But the LGAP Standards Committee’s Independent Chair Dr David Kennedy says the new compliance regime is not a form of self-regulation.
And if implemented, he believes it can potentially achieve more for animal welfare globally than any quality assurance program, currently in existence.
LGAP is being pitched as an alternative to the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) that was rapidly implemented after the 2011 Indonesian live cattle export ban.
ESCAS aims to address public concerns about animal welfare standards through to the point of slaughter but has been resisted by some key export markets amid concerns about sovereign political interference.
But the Farmer review that also followed the Indonesian cattle crisis recommended the live export industry consider a supply chain quality assurance scheme to complement the ESCAS regulatory compliance regime.
The live export industry has subsequently advanced the LGAP project that started in 2014 to design a new system that maintains ESCAS animal welfare standards but remedies its perceived flaws.
However, in its submission to a 60-day comment period on the LGAP project, which closed last Friday, RSPCA Australia maintained its attack on the live export industry which it also wants banned.
RSPCA Australia’s Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said his group’s submission to the LGAP Standards Committee raised deep concerns over the industry’s “government hands-off proposals”.
Mr Goodfellow said the LGAP process was industry-driven and funded and promoted as being independent of government, to appease foreign markets that oppose ESCAS.
He said if LGAP didn’t remove Australian government regulation from the oversight process, why would it re-open markets like Saudi Arabia that have opposed ESCAS?
“History has shown that when the industry is left to its own devices, animal welfare is neglected and cruelty ensues,” he said.
“The industry does not have the confidence of the Australian community to self-regulate.”
But in an open letter released last week, Dr Kennedy said the invitation for public comment on the LGAP project was an inappropriate forum to voice general opposition to the livestock export trade and “Other channels are available to voice such concerns”.
He said LGAP wasn’t proposed to be a form of self-regulation and would not dilute ESCAS.
“LGAP has been developed to strengthen the assurance sought under ESCAS and strengthen the commitment, oversight and management of welfare along the supply chain,” he said.
Dr Kennedy said LGAP’s certification rules were intended to follow international guidelines like those of the World Organisation for Animal Health's (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code (Code), guidelines and standards published by ISO and the World Trade Organisation.
He said the system was being designed not just for Australian exported livestock but to certify any livestock facility “anywhere in the world” regardless of the country of origin, so long as the system’s standards are met.
“As such, LGAP, if implemented, has the potential to do more for animal welfare on a global basis than any program currently in existence,” he said.
“The standards development process is based on animal welfare science.”
Dr Kennedy said the LGAP development process was “far from a cynical exercise” with the Standards Committee being managed separately from the livestock export industry “and the industry respects the process”.
He said more than 30 organisations were directly invited to comment, including the OIE, the Australian Veterinary Association, Animal Health Australia, the Chief Veterinary Officer, World Animal Protection (WAP), RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia.
WAP Australia, RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia were engaged directly through face-to-face briefings during the research project, he said.
“It was the sincere hope of the LGAP Standards Committee that all organisations and individuals would contribute to this process in a constructive and considered manner,” he said.
The LGAP project has also involved a pilot program operated in three different ESCAS approved markets - sheep in Jordan, goats in Malaysia and cattle in Indonesia - over three months, which ended last December.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said no decisions had been made by government about whether LGAP could provide exporters with an alternative means of managing their ESCAS obligations.
The spokesperson said exporters would remain accountable for the performance of importers, feedlots and abattoirs they choose to use in their supply chains.
Australian Livestock Exporters Council CEO Alison Penfold said the live trade expected to face effective regulation and “even RSPCA would agree with that”.
“RSPCA has participated in several discussions on LGAP and despite their public commentary, they know more about the proposed program than to suggest this is an effort on industry self-regulation,” she said.
“The Australian government will remain the regulator of the Australian livestock export trade if LGAP is implemented.
“The trade has never self-regulated and any move to LGAP will continue to involve the Australian government.”
Ms Penfold said she expected the federal government would consider the LGPA project report in the context of it regulatory obligations, LGAP's ability to meet those obligations and its red tape reduction policy.
She said there was strong merit in developing a system that can be recognised and utilised by any government anywhere in the world and not be seen as an extension of Australian sovereignty, as ESCAS currently is.
“This is the heart of why Saudi Arabia does not accept ESCAS and why LGAP may be acceptable to them,” she said.
“To be clearer, LGAP could be recognised by the Australian government as demonstrating ESCAS compliance but in a Saudi context it could be seen by the Saudi government as Saudi facilities participating in a welfare conformance program that is not run by the Australian government.”