RECENT footage of treatment of Australian cattle being offloaded in Israel has prompted the RSPCA to lodge a formal complaint with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR).
The cattle were offloaded from the Maysora, a Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) vessel, in May 2019 after a delay of five days in port.
A total of 8152 cattle and 48,610 sheep were part of the consignment.
The RSPCA said footage and imagery obtained by Israel Against Live Shipments showed "poor handling practices including excessive electric prodder use and workers standing on the backs of cattle and painfully twisting the tails of cattle being offloaded".
"These practices are forbidden under Australia's mandatory Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), which was created more than eight years ago to stop this routine cruel treatment of Australia's animals overseas," the RSPCA said.
LSS has been exporting cattle and sheep to Israel since 1998 and has continually seen improvements in the mortality rates on board.
The company reported that mortality rates on the May voyage were 0.53 per cent (or 43 head) for cattle and 0.24pc (118 head) for sheep.
In an official statement last week LSS said the well-being and welfare of the livestock during the voyage and discharge had been reported daily to DAWR by the Australian accredited veterinarian (AAV) and an independent observer who travelled on the vessel.
"The AAV reported the voyage to have had good animal welfare outcomes during the voyage and discharge," LSS said.
"There has been concerns raised by activist organisations in Israel regarding handling of cattle and sheep during discharge and mortalities during and post discharge.
"LSS is investigating all concerns with the vessel, veterinarian, stockman and importer staff.
"LSS awaits the independent observer report to verify Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) compliance."
LSS export manager Paul Kennan said "at this stage there have been no breaches in ASEL identified".
"We will investigate all claims of non compliance and are conducting an internal review," Mr Kennan said.
"We continue to work with the vessel crew and importer staff to ensure there is appropriate training in animal handling.
"Discharge is hard work and all staff know they are constantly under the microscope."
LSS said the discharge in Israel attracted significant activist attention and there was filming 24 hours a day.
It said that staff, vessel crew and importer employees were aware of the filming, however livestock could behave unpredictably at times.
"During cattle discharge one difficult animal not moving forward can cause stress to at least 40 or more other animals behind and swift action is needed to ensure the safety of all animals and personnel," LSS said.
"We continue to train our people, adapt infrastructure and improve communication during discharge to avoid these events."
During the discharge of cattle the stockman and veterinarian reported four events that required extra attention on the loading ramp.
"Our staff and practices are constantly under the microscope and we are committed to always improving and acknowledge if there any improvements needed," LSS said.
"LSS welcomes advice from all parties if there are non-compliances identified in our supply chain and will always investigate them."
During the voyage a minimum of eight sheep are trained as "pilots" to lead other sheep off the vessel - a practice that has been "very successful and reduces over handling of livestock and promotes flow onto trucks".
During discharge of the sheep there were limited events that needed intervention on the discharge ramp.
The company said that there was a growing animal activists campaign both in Australia and Israel and LSS has experienced questionable activities by activists in Israel in attempts to raise non-compliances against their supply chain.
"LSS is committed to continuing good animal welfare outcomes and exceeding regulatory requirements," said LSS managing director Ahmad Ghosheh said.
"As an industry we need to get better at informing the community about what we do and how we do it."
A DAWR spokesperson said it was working to ensure animal welfare was central in the export of live animals.
"The department is aware of the footage related to the treatment of cattle at discharge and is looking into the matter, including whether any breaches of ESCAS may have occurred," the DAWR spokesperson said.
"Every incident reported is investigated, with ESCAS Regulatory Performance reports providing transparency and detailing actions taken by the department to ensure exporters are meeting their ESCAS obligations.
"We are seeking additional information from the exporter to clarify allegations of mortalities post discharge.
"For the voyage, sheep and cattle mortalities are well under the reportable mortality level of 1pc.
"The department notes that the vessel was accompanied by an independent observer, who reported that there were no abnormal or unexpected animal health or welfare issues observed during this voyage or during discharge.
"In addition to the report from the independent observer, all mortalities from this voyage will be reported to the Australian parliament and published online.
"Exported animals now have more space, better air quality and more consistent access to food, water and veterinary care during voyages."
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) said it advocated for the highest standard of animal welfare and supported Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie's position that animal welfare policy decisions must be based on science and evidence.
"ALEC is committed to continuous improvement in animal welfare outcomes and will continue to partner with the Australian Government to achieve this," ALEC said.