A JOINT six-point plan demanding additional measures for the live export industry to urgently address supply chain breaches and animal cruelty concerns in Vietnam has been submitted by Animals Australia and RSPCA.
The plan was tabled during a meeting with the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) in Canberra on Wednesday where concerns about animal welfare standards and ongoing supply chain leakage in the Vietnam cattle market were “forcibly” discussed.
It calls for exporters to place a voluntary suspension on trade until ALEC can make a public declaration that Vietnam supply chains are secure.
“Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia oppose live animal export, but while it continues, our focus is to ensure that exported animals are treated as humanely as possible and, at the very least, in accordance with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS),” the plan states.
“Having examined the six-point plan presented by ALEC we have no confidence that existing initiatives will address core issues that have contributed to this ongoing situation.
“The current situation in Vietnam is grave and one that requires urgent and unprecedented action.”
Cut off supply
The plan’s leading recommendation said live exporters should voluntarily agree to not apply for further export permits to Vietnam until ALEC can publicly declare their confidence that supply chains in Vietnam are secure.
It said that type of action has been exhibited previously through voluntary suspensions relating to Egypt, Bahrain and Pakistan markets, when serious animal welfare issues were exposed.
As revealed by Fairfax Media, Animals Australia lodged a complaint earlier this month with the federal Department of Agriculture alleging breaches of ESCAS standards in Vietnam.
Animals Australia spokesperson Lisa Chalk said the Department of Agriculture was handed video evidence of the recent alleged complaint, showing the “horrific sledge hammering to death” of Australian cattle in Vietnam.
She said the Department had also requested Animals Australia to not provide specific details of the complaint or the video footage to ALEC.
However, she said ALEC was shown video footage of sledgehammering from an Animals Australia investigation “to reinforce the individual welfare impacts on animals that endure it”.
Robust discussion: Penfold
ALEC CEO Alison Penfold said the meeting today proved a robust discussion with the three groups all putting forward their views “forcibly” in a well-intentioned meeting.
Ms Penfold said the six-point plan submitted by RSPCA and Animals Australia would be considered thoroughly by ALEC and responded to in due course, “noting the agreed urgency to deal with issues in Vietnam”.
“It is important that action is taken where it has most effect to make the trade in cattle sustainable,” she said.
“That includes minimising the risk of adverse welfare outcomes and having a plan to deal with them when they occur.
“We remain frustrated that the footage of this most recent incident has not been provided to ALEC and industry to be able to deal with issues under our own six-point plan.”
Ms Penfold said the footage shown at the meeting of Thai bulls repeatedly being hit on the head with a sledgehammer was “distressing and reflects why industry itself has moved to implement additional measures in the market”.
The move by RSPCA and Animals Australia comes after exporters moved to implement additional supply chain controls in Vietnam after a meeting with importers in March.
The industry plan placed additional conditions on the market above ESCAs requirements, including CCTV cameras in every approved feedlot and abattoir and ear tag verification.
Two years ago, the Vietnam market opened and has grown rapidly, importing 67,000 head in 2013 and about 182,000 in 2014.
Despite the recent complaint, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised the Vietnam market would not be closed, along with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
“Like all these things when there’s a problem we investigate it (and) we find out if we need to take action,” Mr Joyce said last week.
“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 prevent animal cruelty issues and “no other nation has it”.
No confidence: Animals Australia
In a statement today, Animals Australia chief investigator Lyn White said her group had “no confidence” that ALEC's current six-point plan would address either the current scale of non-compliance with ESCAS in Vietnam or prevent Australian cattle from continuing to be “sledgehammered to death”.
She said exporters have been aware of the situation in Vietnam for two years but have “continued to prioritise gaining new clients and increasing their market share”.
“Increased and independent oversight is clearly needed to stop the ESCAS system being corrupted and compromised and our additional six-point plan addresses this need,” she said.
“Australians will be profoundly shocked to learn that animals from other countries are being sledgehammered to death in Australian approved facilities.
“This cannot continue. It makes a mockery of any suggestion that Australia’s presence in the market has improved animal welfare.
“We are seeking a commitment from exporters to not allow sledgehammering in any of their abattoirs since they have the capacity to do so.”
Bad to worse: RSPCA
RSPCA Australia chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones said the situation for cattle in Vietnam has gone from bad to worse “with no effective intervention by the government or industry”.
She said the measures proposed at today’s meeting are “obvious, reasonable and indisputably required considering the scale of non-compliance and the associated dire outcomes for animals”.
“The industry’s admissions last week that ‘everyone’s operating outside the system’ were extraordinary,” she said.
“Equally astonishing was the government’s response that they won’t be doing anything about it - considering exporters were openly admitting to breaking the law.”
Animals Australia-RSPCA - Six-point plan:
Point 1: Voluntary suspension of trade until ALEC can make a public declaration that Vietnam supply chains are secure.
Point 2: All animals (cattle and buffalo) regardless of their country of origin to be restrained and stunned in accordance with Australian ESCAS regulations in ESCAS approved abattoirs.
Point 3: Where ESCAS facilities exist in traditional slaughter villages, or in proximity to traditional slaughterhouses, exporters commit to supplying restraint and stunning equipment to all facilities.
Point 4: Commit to scanning of ear tags at ESCAS abattoirs post-slaughter and for this process to be captured by CCTV cameras. Associated vision to be supplied to the Department of Agriculture in conjunction with monthly reconciliation reports.
Point 5: Log in details to CCTV provided to Department of Agriculture.
Point 6: Supply chain access granted on a biannual basis to a suitably qualified independent auditor appointed by RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia.