THE live export industry still has a long way to go to improve transparency and build social licence - but stakeholders are firmly committed to animal welfare, says Australian Live Exports Council (ALEC) chief executive officer Alison Penfold.
While she welcomed the recent re-opening of live trade with Egypt - after the market was suspended in May 2013 due to “intolerable cruelty” – and Bahrain, Ms Penfold said there can never be a guarantee that there won’t be instances of poor animal handling in the future.
“But what I can guarantee is that we’ll take every step necessary to mitigate the risk of those incidents occurring,” she said.
“I know that a lot of people like to judge the export industry’s performance purely on compliance with ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System) - I think that’s an unfair judgement.
“If industry wasn’t committed to welfare, then we wouldn’t be investing millions of dollars in training thousands of people in our supply chains in good animal welfare.
“We’ll put in place those necessary mechanisms, people on the ground, training and facilities, improved infrastructure, to do the best job possible to mitigate the risk of incidents occurring again.”
Ms Penfold said the live export industry had come already a long way in terms of transparency following the events that led to the June 2011 snap suspension of the live trade to Indonesia, but “we still have a long way to go”.
“There’s still a veil of secrecy around the industry, and I can understand and appreciate, when the community sees incidents of cruelty that’s then their benchmark for judging the way we operate,” she said.
“We have to do a lot better – not only about demonstrating the sorts of welfare improvements we’re making in-market, but also communicating better on some of the dilemmas we face.
“For example many in the community would like us to have stunning in all markets and indeed we have a policy of encouraging stunning in all markets.
“We’ve achieved high levels of stunning in Indonesia and have stunning in other markets like Vietnam, the Philippines and Jordan.
“But in other markets our challenge is that there are public policy decisions made by governments that we have to comply with.
“So we’re working through that framework through organisations and our customers on the ground to see ways of introducing stunning but it’s not something we can achieve overnight.”
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said repeated animal welfare issues in live exports would be dealt with “to the best of our ability”.
But he said it would be foolish to make a statement that “problems are never going to arise”.
“It is just the same as saying, ‘well we’re never going to have another accident on the roads or there will never be another person who ever commits a felony or there’s never going to be another fight at a pub’,” he said.
“You can’t make these sorts of statements - but what you can say is that our management process is always being improved and best adapted to try and minimise these risks.
“So that is what we will do.”
Mr Joyce said Australia was the only country in the world that had an ESCAS system, to help safeguard animal welfare.
“We are at the forefront of improving animal husbandry conditions and we do that by being engaged in the marketplaces.
“Indonesia is one classic example; we’ve gone from (pre-slaughter) stunning at 16 per cent, to stunning at around about 90pc.
“This has come about by our engagement in the industry; not by us running away from the industry, so I am proud of the system that we have in place.
“I am proud that Australia is the only country in the world to do it but if we were to say ‘we’re going to have a perfect world’, all you would do is lose all of your markets.”