RSPCA AUSTRALIA will accompany Animals Australia when the two groups meet with the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) in Canberra today, to discuss growing concerns about animal welfare standards in the Vietnam cattle market.
The meeting between ALEC and its traditional antagonists - which both want live exports banned - resulted from a new report on animal cruelty allegations lodged with the Agriculture Department earlier this month.
As revealed by Fairfax Media, Animals Australia lodged the Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) complaint saying it had evidence of the “horrific sledge hammering to death” of Australian cattle in Vietnam.
The issue sparked further public debate about the live export trade’s future and efforts to improve animal handling methods in developing export markets like Vietnam.
The Vietnam market opened about two years ago and has grown rapidly, importing about 182,000 head in 2014 – up from 67,000 the year before.
'Keen to listen': Penfold
ALEC CEO Alison Penfold said the meeting at 1pm today in Canberra would be mostly face-to-face with Animals Australia and RSPCA representatives, but others would be participating by phone - including an ALEC board member, with ALEC chair and former Labor Party power-broker Simon Crean currently overseas.
Ms Penfold said her group was “keen to listen” to what the live export industry’s two biggest critics had to say about the latest supply chain issue and find areas of potential common ground.
She said the meeting was “quite overdue” given it was the first time she’d met formally with Animals Australia since starting at ALEC in February 2012.
ALEC also holds periodic but informal meetings with RSPCA. Ms Penfold said, however, communications have taken place via email with both groups.
“There’s too much of an adversarial approach to these issues,” Mr Penfold said.
“We may not agree on every issue but I’m hoping we can find some common ground and a degree of co-operation which I believe exists.
“We may not find it straight away, and that common ground may not be reached necessarily today, but that’s my ambition.
“We can definitely take a less adversarial approach to resolving issues.”
Supply chain leakages
Ms Penfold said she was not expecting the video footage of the alleged Vietnam incident to be shown at the meeting.
But she said the talks would address ongoing concerns about supply chain leakages which are occurring in Northern Vietnam, with cattle importers tempted to go outside of the ESCAS system after being offered higher cattle prices, in particular into China.
“I welcome the meeting and the invitation to meet and look forward to considering what they present,” she said.
Ms Penfold expressed disappointment that the opportunity to meet formally and collaborate on key issues periodically, with the RSPCA, Animals Australia and industry stakeholders, was lost as a consequence of the government removing the $1 million Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) after coming into government in 2013, amid moves to reduce government red tape and duplication.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has said the 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, who is unable to manage it, 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 one hundred 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.
“We do not do that – we do not accept this – so we will investigate it and find out if there is an instance that one of our live exporters are not able to control cattle within their system and we will deal with it. (But) there won’t be a general ban on live exports.”
Ms Penfold has said two Vietnamese importers have been suspended since industry met in late March, to implement tighter supply chain measures to resolve issues like supply chain leakages it was aware were occurring.
She said exporters have put in place additional control and traceability conditions on all importers in Vietnam to strengthen the integrity of supply chains and weed out any facilities or importers that refuse to meet Australian requirements.
“Those additional conditions include the placement of CCTV cameras in every approved feedlot and abattoir for monitoring by exporters.
“The CCTV rollout across the 80 plus facilities is underway with full implementation to be completed as a matter of urgency.
“Where breaches are found they will be treated harshly ahead of any conditions placed on exporters by Australian regulatory authorities.”