ESCAS reports ‘sanitised’, says RSPCA

23 Feb, 2015 06:00 AM
Comments
9
 
This government is reducing the amount of information and surrounding it in what we’d call ‘spin’

RSPCA Australia has accused the federal government of reducing transparency on live animal exports to serve industry “spin”.

RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist Bidda Jones heavily criticised the Agriculture Department’s new reporting regime for the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) which was unveiled last week.

Rather than producing individual detailed reports of investigations into alleged breaches of ESCAS once concluded, the Department will now publish periodic reports, summarising investigations and adding industry related statistics.

But the RSPCA said the Department would now be producing a half page of “sanitised” information when reporting ESCAS investigation results, which was the “bare minimum”.

Dr Jones said anyone who wanted a full report of an ESCAS investigation would now need to make an application under Freedom of Information laws. Only producing half page summaries of ESCAS investigation reports – rather than making the full reports freely available – was a regressive move for an industry that’s faced intense public scrutiny in recent years, she said.

“This government is reducing the amount of information and surrounding it in, to be honest, what we’d call ‘spin’,” she said.

“And it’s worth noting that in the actual ESCAS report which came out in January, the government said it didn’t know how well the reported ESCAS non-compliances actually reflected the true non-compliance rate.

“Basically they’re admitting they don’t know the true rate of non-compliance in these supply chains.

“And they should not be listing (export) countries as “Incident Free’ if they don’t know that they are in fact incident free.”

Dr Jones said producing significantly smaller reports removed the broader context of ESCAS non-compliance investigations and also reduced the capacity for external parties to scrutinise how the Department reached any decisions, on regulatory action.

“All they’re publishing now is a couple of paragraphs outlining the complaint, what the exporter says and the action taken by the Department, so you’re not able to look between those things and examine any decisions,” she said.

“But that information is important for anyone to see, so they can scrutinise what’s gone on, including journalists.”

Dr Jones said the new reporting regime resulted from a conflict of interest due to the Department being a regulator of live exports and also responsible for promoting the industry.

She said RSPCA also believed a problem existed in the way the Department talked about compliance with ESCAS in its reporting of animal welfare outcomes.

“The Department doesn’t get a copy of the report that the auditor makes when they visit a facility,” she said in relation to ESCAS supply chains.

“They just get a form that’s a summary document and all that tells them is whether a facility is compliant or not.

“So if an auditor goes into a facility and sees any non-compliance and is told it will be fixed, that information doesn’t get passed onto the Department.

“The bottom line is – if they are recording 100pc compliance at the time of the audit there are two possible explanations.

“One is that the standards in these overseas facilities are always perfect and the other is there’s a problem with the way the auditors are reporting.

“But we believe the problem lies in the audit system and the method of reporting.

“It’s not accurately reflecting what’s going on with these facilities and unfortunately the only time we get any independent information is when Animals Australia visits somewhere and takes video footage and makes a report.

“The exporters are not providing any information, the government is providing less information than before and the industry is becoming less and less transparent.

“We’re never going to say ESCAS hasn’t been an improvement on what was there previously.

“But if we are to have faith in this system we need to have faith in this auditing process.”

Dr Jones said to improve ESCAS transparency, the Department could: request individual audit reports; ensure auditors are not chosen by exporters; ensure a requirement to track ESCAS non-compliances over time; and ensure exporters can’t use the same auditor, at multiple facilities.

She said independent oversight – someone who knows about livestock handling and slaughter but is independent of live export companies – could also be introduced.

“The latest ESCAS investigation reports have been drained of all meaningful information and this new format is clearly intended to present the live export industry in the best possible light,” said Dr Jones said.

“The Australian community has made it clear they won’t have the wool pulled over their eyes when it comes to the treatment of Australian animals overseas and the government would be foolish to think otherwise.”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Jo Bloomfield
23/02/2015 7:20:48 AM

1/2 Of course RSPCA seem to be forgetting the fact that Animals Australia themselves are making complaints that are based on someone told someone who told them (#16 Israel) and then not giving details of who supplied the information of the informants won't give further details. Or what about others again lodged by AA with no photos, no videos no information. (#3 Indonesia & #6 Pakistan) or what about the #10 compliance investigation into the Egypt, the vet so happy to appear on TV to slam Animal welfare for AA wouldn't talk to DAFF.
Cam
23/02/2015 8:48:00 AM

What i don't seem to understand is that if I thought some townie was abusing their kids, I would call the relevant authorities, if I thought some townie was abusing their pet dog I would also call the relevant authorities. However, AA seem to think if they thought some farmer was abusing their livestock it's OK to break into their private property, setup cameras and spy on them, and don't give me the whole "well they are producing food for us so we should be allowed to see what they do". Go out there and ask the farmer for a look around, you don't need to break in.
Full of it Bloomfield
23/02/2015 9:31:39 AM

Such a relief that Jo Bloomfield knows all the confidential details of ESCAS complaints. (not) Shame she couldnt spend her time working toward greater compliance levels by exporters and farmers alike.
angry australian
23/02/2015 10:01:10 AM

Kettle,pot,black. This coming from an organisation that is remunerated by several states to "enforce" animal welfare laws. And yet seemingly the ABC and AA can find alleged cases of cruelty the RSPCA are incapable of finding or prosecuting. Bidda Jones I strongly suggest your mob clean up their own backyard or is this just a way of deflecting scrutiny from the RSPCA's failings?
Jo Bloomfield
23/02/2015 11:41:35 AM

ESCAS reports aren't confidential until the recent changes they were all available via the web. I just happen to read them. I sell to live export, I want to know where my cattle are going and what conditions they may encounter.
Doug
24/02/2015 3:35:58 PM

I doesn't matter what this industry does or what ESCAS results are. We will NEVER please the bleeding heart Animal Libers including (RSPCA). This bunch will never shut up never stop harassing us. Live Export is a SUCCESS!!
Katrina Love
24/02/2015 4:40:09 PM

Cam - AA does not break into private property and if you're making that allegation in a public forum, you'd best provide the evidence or retract your accusation.
Katrina Love
24/02/2015 4:45:33 PM

RSPCA spookily right on the money again - they have certainly lifted their game. This industry needs to be MORE transparent, not less and this government and its Agriculture Department's Minister need to start addressing the ongoing ESCAS breaches by imposing harsher penalties, including denial of export licences for those repeat offenders, NOT burying the offences in periodic reports that gloss over all the details in an attempt to portray this vile industry in a kinder light.
duststorm69
25/02/2015 2:38:11 PM

Cam, Animal Welfare problems on farms don't exist generally on a "view good welfare as you tour the farm" visit. The problems generally occur when no one else is about; when day to day operations are taking place in the paddocks, yards, shearing sheds. Laziness, short tempers, lack of organisation, not being aware of (or choosing to ignore) the welfare acts and codes of practice, and poor facilities (and greed) are all reasons that (many)..owners, managers, overseers, farm workers etc practice bad animal welfare practices… and improve them when a visitor is present.

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