WARNING: Images could be distressing to readers
UPDATED 9am: ANIMALS Australia says its new investigation in Israel has further highlighted the failure of Australia's live export regulatory system.
A complaint, lodged by the organisation in late May, alleges welfare concerns over cattle processed at an abattoir in Israel approved under the federal government’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
Both the Australian and Israeli governments are now investigating treatment of livestock at the Dabbah abattoir, located in Deir Al Asad, which is facing lengthy closure after failing to meet religious slaughter requirements.
The Australian Federal Department of Agriculture said the recent complaint includes footage of cattle slaughter practices which could be distressing to the community.
“The Australian government shares the community’s concerns about the welfare of animals,” the department said in a statement.
ESCAS was established to maintain the livestock export trade while delivering positive animal welfare outcomes after the live export suspension of 2011. The system enables the Department to review the performance of exporters, investigate complaints and incidents of non-compliance, compel industry to adopt additional measures to mitigate risks and to take action against exporters under relevant legislation when necessary.
The image above allegedly depicts an animal being 'rushed' to slaughter while still conscious in an Israeli abattoir.
Animals Australia said the graphic footage was screened across Israel last night and documented by hidden cameras in a major Israeli abattoir accredited under ESCAS.
The activist group said the footage shows Australian cattle having their tails deliberately crushed, throats brutally sawn and being hoisted by one leg while still obviously conscious - which all breached Australian and international animal health (OIE) standards.
“Not even the presence of CCTV cameras could deter workers from breaking tails and failing to check that animals were unconscious before hoisting them to the ceiling for processing,” Animals Australia chief investigator Lyn White said.
“Kosher slaughter in Israel already involves cattle enduring the extreme stress of being tipped upside down and having their throats cut whilst fully conscious.
“To then have workers subjecting clearly conscious and distressed animals to such wanton cruelty is simply appalling.”
Animals Australia said its complaint lodged with the Department had also been provided to Israeli authorities over the past two years, two of Israel’s major ESCAS approved abattoirs, “have now been exposed for terrible cruelty”.
“That Australian cattle could be subjected to such abuse in an approved abattoir presents further evidence that this system is fatally flawed,” Ms White said.
“Once again without the efforts of Animals Australia, the 'regulator' wouldn't even know that Australian regulations are being breached.”
Animals Australia demanded CCTV be made mandatory in all ESCAS-approved abattoirs, with remote access being provided to the Department in Australia.
"Live exporters are presenting CCTV on its own as the answer yet clearly it's not, as CCTV was operating in this Israeli abattoir,” Ms White said.
“Unless the Department has remote access to CCTV it will not act as a deterrent to workers engaging in abuse.
“The technology is there and there is no reason why this cannot be a regulatory condition imposed on exporters.
"Three years into this system, we are seeing horrific cruelty continue in various countries as a result of an abject failure of the Department to mete out any meaningful repercussions for serious breaches.
“Even if Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce is indifferent to animal suffering, he shouldn't be indifferent to the fact that his regulations are a laughing stock that no party involved in this trade fears.”
Animals Australia said an Israeli government investigation was underway into the Dabbah abattoir, located in Deir Al Asad which is now facing lengthy closure due to failing to meet religious slaughter requirements.
The government’s report on ESCAS released earlier this year said Israel was one of several importing country authorities which had initiated their own responses to allegations of poor animal handling and slaughter.
“In at least three cases, an importing country’s authorities took action,” the report said.
“For example, in December 2012 reports of animal welfare problems at an abattoir in Israel received widespread media coverage in Australia and Israel.
“The Israeli government was quick to act and started its own investigations into the allegations.”
The report said the Israel market had 70 feedlots and nine abattoirs and, since ESCAS was introduced in September 2012, Australia had exported 164,289 sheep and 173,877 cattle there with 0.05 per cent (179 animals) affected by non-compliance.
“There have been eight allegations of non-compliance with ESCAS requirements in cattle and sheep exported to Israel,” the report said.
“Six investigations have been completed and no non-compliance was recorded in five of these cases.
“Four of these reports concerned the handling of livestock during unloading from ships by port workers and have since been addressed by animal welfare handling sessions for port workers arranged by exporters, additional oversight by Israel’s port authorities, and additional reporting to the department from shipboard veterinarians about the standard of animal handling during unloading.
“One investigation found that cattle exported to Israel and moved to Gaza had moved outside of their approved supply chain, and there was also poor handling and slaughter in an abattoir within the supply chain.
“A major and a minor non-compliance were recorded and regulatory action was taken.
“In addition, Israel has conducted its own investigations under its domestic legislation where allegations of animal mistreatment have been reported.”
The Department also received two further reports of non-compliance with ESCAS requirements for cattle - one from a third party and one self-report by an exporter – with investigations ongoing.
Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) and Otway Livestock Exports (OLE) both issued statements saying the mistreatment of animals in their supply chain was unacceptable and they were taking immediate steps to improve welfare standards at the abattoir in question.
LSS said since being made aware of the allegations it had worked with the facility’s owner/operator to ensure that livestock remaining in the supply chain – supplied by the company - are controlled and managed in a way that prevents harm.
LSS said those steps included:
• Immediately dismissing several employees at the facility found to be acting not in accordance with standard operating procedures and operations,
• Immediately having the operator of the facility agree to full management and control of the livestock slaughter process coming under the authority of Australian representatives in the market,
• Engaging and sending directly to the facility an Australian qualified veterinary consultant to review and assess slaughter procedures with full control and authority to modify and correct any process in the supply chain,
• Commencement of an immediate intensive re-training and specialist evaluation program around point of slaughter operations to ensure OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) standards are met on a consistent basis.
“LSS is working closely with the Department of Agriculture on the matter and is keeping them fully informed of ongoing corrective actions,” the company's statement said.
“LSS has invested and continues to invest heavily in programs in Israel and throughout the wider Middle East region.”
OLE managing director Alan Schmidt issued a statement saying both he and the company’s livestock general manager Graham Brown were on site and had been formally in control of processing at the abattoir for the past 72 hours.
Mr Schmidt said the video footage and OLE’s subsequent investigation had identified a breakdown in management oversight in the plant which reflected on both management and the Australian owners of the ESCAS supply chains.
Control of slaughtering had now been formally handed over to an independent former Australian government veterinarian, he said.
Livestock processing was also being monitored by OLE representatives and an operations manual and procedures for the receival, handling and slaughter of livestock were being revised and rewritten, he said, with additional staff training.
“While management at the plant have taken responsibility for what has taken place they have also dismissed a number of staff from the facility whose actions regarding livestock have been unacceptable and outside the established guidelines of the plant,” he said.
“New video CCTV equipment is being installed within the plant - feed from these cameras will be made available.
“This incident has been and will be on an ongoing basis systematically and comprehensively dealt with.”
The image above allegedly depicts an animal having its tail broken before slaughter in an Israeli abattoir.