ESCAS targets risky business

24 Mar, 2015 02:01 PM
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Australian livestock exported overseas are treated humanely in almost every instance

A NEW risk rating system will see livestock facilities deemed 'poor performers' audited for animal welfare issues more closely than those who are meeting requirements.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said new auditing requirements - which will come into effect next month - will apply a risk-based approach to determine the frequency of audits for facilities in Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) supply chains.

The reforms will provide stronger assurance for the welfare of exported animals through increased audit requirements for facilities that fail to meet required standards, while saving industry almost $2 million, he said.

“The recent report into Australia’s live export assurance system demonstrated that Australian livestock exported overseas are treated humanely in almost every instance and in accordance with international animal welfare standards,” Mr Joyce said.

“The government is now introducing changes to the audit system designed to recognise strong performance and increase the scrutiny of higher risk facilities.

“Facilities in the live animal export supply chain with a higher risk or a history of poor performance will now be subject to an increased number of audits, while the number of audits conducted for facilities with a record of good performance may be reduced.”

Mr Joyce said that all facilities of the same type were currently subjected to the same number of audits per year regardless of their performance, but under the new system, supply chain facilities will be assessed as low, medium or high risk to determine audit frequency.

Low risk facilities will require audits at a minimum rate of once per year, medium risk facilities will require audits twice a year, while high risk facilities will require audits four times a year – raised from the previous maximum of three for any given facility.

“A risk-based approach to ESCAS auditing will allow auditors to focus on areas of greater risk, and will also encourage exporters to use facilities with a good record of compliance," Mr Joyce said.

“It will also result in approximately 30 per cent fewer facility audits in the first year, estimated to reduce industry’s audit costs by almost $2 million.”

In addition, the Department of Agriculture has revised the guidance documents for use by exporters and auditors, to administrative costs and provide more consistent assessments.

The Department is also reducing the frequency of its ESCAS reporting. Previously it published a separate report for each investigation into ESCAS non-compliance allegations, but it will now produce reports covering specific periods of regulatory performance.

RSPCA Australia chief scientist Bidda Jones has heavily criticised the new ESCAS reporting regime, accusing the federal government of reducing transparency on live animal exports.

“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.

Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) chief executive Alison Penfold welcomed the RSPCA's recognition that ESCAS had improved standards in Australia’s live export markets, and said the Department’s changed reporting approach should not suggest the industry was trying to reduce transparency.

“Indeed there is seemingly far more information available about the trade, including non-compliances, than there is on most other agricultural industries in this country, including the RSPCA’s own Approved Farming Scheme,” she said.

The Australian livestock industry invests over $7 million a year to improve animal welfare and have trained more than 7000 people in overseas markets in better animal handling and slaughter practices.

Mr Joyce said the recent review also showed that since the ESCAS system was introduced, 8,035,633 livestock were exported with just 12,958 animals – or 0.16pc – experiencing a potentially adverse animal welfare outcome.

“These are very strong results that show that the system is working,” he said.

“However, everyone would agree that improving animal welfare outcomes continues to be a challenge.

“Through ESCAS, we know that more than 900 facilities across 19 countries now meet the World Organisation for Animal Health recommendations for animal welfare. Each one has been checked by independent internationally recognised auditors,” Mr Joyce said.

The revised risk-based ESCAS auditing requirements are scheduled to come into effect on 1 April 2015.

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READER COMMENTS

john pasqua
27/03/2015 11:36:04 AM

end all cruel live export of innocent animals now.
Traci
27/03/2015 11:46:56 AM

I'm horrified that we are still exporting animals live. In this era of modern technology surely we can process the livestock here and ship the meat to their specifications refrigerated. After all, aren't we the ones with the power here. We have the meat. They want the meat. It should be on our terms.
Shirley Bethune
27/03/2015 11:47:08 AM

ESCAS, reformed or otherwise, do not reflect the truth about Australian animals once they have left our shores. They promote 'out of sight, out of mind' principles which are either appallingly naïve or just plain appalling.
Barb
27/03/2015 11:58:44 AM

The RSPCA says: The following serious problems with the ESCAS auditing process: • there is no requirement for Auditors to have specific training in animal welfare • the Govt does not see the actual audit reports – it receives a summary provided by the exporter • an abattoir could fail multiple audits and the Govt is not required to be informed: this would not be recorded in their compliance history • a once-year audit is no indication of how a facility functions daily • exporters can choose their auditors and use them across multiple facilities.
Mary
27/03/2015 12:06:02 PM

Shipping animals overseas to countries without adequate protection is abominable . We all know standards are not adhered to. Reducing facility checks is not the way to go, the exact opposite. The only way to resolve this issue is to cease Live Animal Export to any country . It is cruel and Inhumane to sentinent creatures with no voice. The Australian people do not agree with the government on live export of any living creature.
Vivien
27/03/2015 12:37:02 PM

So if monitoring for standards wasn't working before to protect animals, how come you think they don't need monitoring at all any more. I despise you people, I really do, you haven't got a clue about life for humans or animals. May you never rest in peace.
Sylvia
27/03/2015 12:53:18 PM

This Government is totally irresponsible when it comes to laws regarding the humane treatment of animals in the live export industry. The live animal export is an industry that is cruel and incredible inhumane...not the Australian way or the way a modern society should behave. Ban live export now and stop dividing our community.
Joanne Mills
27/03/2015 1:00:36 PM

ESCAS already fails animals dismally, as evidenced from investigations in multiple receiver countries. Behind the rhetoric, this reform will not help animals at all. The only way to prevent their abuse, suffering and cruelty is to end Live Exports completely.
Katie
27/03/2015 1:02:14 PM

Is this an April Fools Day joke?? All this from the minister who supports Ag-Gag. This man wouldn't have a clue as to what is happening to these poor animals and obviously couldn't care less. BAN LIVE EXPORTS!! Look at New Zealand and they still survive Shame on Barnaby Joyce and his government.
Taz
27/03/2015 1:07:36 PM

Yet again our government putting profits before animal welfare - we need an independent office for animal welfare to regulate all animal based industries
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