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.