A MARKET assessment is underway in Vietnam following six Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) non-compliance reports released by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) last week in its Regulatory Performance Report for March 1 to May 31, 2019.
The report highlighted the significant number of cattle exported to 13 countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam - the two largest markets - with a total of 263,053 cattle and 1106 buffalo exported during the three months.
As at May 31, 33 consignments of livestock had been exported by sea to Vietnam in 2019, including 90,560 cattle and 397 buffalo.
During this time DAWR completed six ESCAS assessments and one self report, four of which were outstanding from February, 2019.
Three of the reports involved Vietnam and four export companies including Livestock Shipping Services (LSS), International Livestock Export Pty Ltd, Purcell Bros Pty Ltd and the North Australian Cattle Company Ltd.
In the past DAWR has published assessments of 45 reports relating to non-compliance in Vietnam, of which 44 were recorded against exporter supply chains or facilities.
A report related to the Purcell Bros Pty Ltd export company's first and only consignment of 1067 cattle and 99 buffalo to Vietnam in July 2018, revealed that "a total loss of traceability with unknown animal welfare outcomes was 743 head - 644 cattle and 99 buffalo".
In November 2018 Purcell Bros reported to DAWR that 543 cattle and 50 buffalo had been removed from the approved supply chain to "unknown locations" and the "feedlot staff had tampered with the closed circuit television cameras monitoring the facility".
Three weeks later a further 11 cattle disappeared under similar circumstances.
It is unclear how the remainder of the cattle were removed from the approved supply chain.
After face-to-face discussions with the Vietnamese importer, Purcell Bros was led to believe that all cattle had been slaughtered within the supply chain although no evidence could be provided by the importer.
The company's staff remained onsite until all the remaining cattle were slaughtered to ensure compliance with ESCAS.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) said several of the reports released last week detailed high numbers of cattle leaked from approved supply chains in the Vietnamese market and it had taken "immediate action when made aware of the critical non-compliances in Vietnam, commissioning and a world leading supply chain traceability firm to independently assess and report on the current supply chains in Vietnam".
ALEC said the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and the Independent Regulator were immediately notified.
The assessment is underway with the final report due to be released in August.
ALEC said the assessors have been in market and their initial findings were that wide-scale leakage was not occurring, however there were areas that could be significantly improved in a small number of supply chains.
ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said ALEC was committed to actioning the final findings of the assessment swiftly.
"As an industry we must always uphold the highest standards of animal welfare, which includes the highest standards of traceability in-market which exporters are responsible for," Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
"All ALEC members are bound by its Code of Conduct and breaches to this code of conduct will be considered by ALEC's conduct committee.
"Non-compliance with ESCAS requirements is not tolerated by the Livestock Export Industry.
"ALEC has repeatedly expressed that when these issues emerge, they must also be promptly and thoroughly investigated by the regulator, with the results made public and appropriate sanctions enforced against all relevant supply chain participants."
ALEC will continue to engage with the exporters that have been under investigation, to ensure corrective actions were implemented.
Last week LSS said that in May 2018, during an ESCAS audit, DAWR identified non compliances in its Vietnam supply chain, including errors in verification of livestock control and traceability requirements under ESCAS for about 870 cattle, poor handling during live streaming of CCTV by animal welfare officers in an abattoir and independent audit reports showing inconsistencies.
LSS immediately deployed staff and consultants to the region and conducted significant internal investigations to address all non compliances.
LSS began exporting to Vietnam in 2016 and at the time of the audit it had 58 abattoirs and six importers in its supply chain.
LSS export manager Paul Keenan said the DAWR audit process provided the outcomes that an independent audit should provide.
"This process was valuable for LSS and has lead to some significant internal changes," Mr Kennan said.
"Two new full-time staff have been employed, dedicated to Vietnam operations and we have administration staff working solely on Vietnam ESCAS administration and compliance.
"Since resumption exports to Vietnam in November, 2018, LSS has had no non-compliance issues and continues to provide ongoing verification of improvements to DAWR."
Vietnam is a relatively new market compared with Indonesia and is a "trader" based market where livestock are sold to many small butcher/abattoirs which increases risks of leakage and animal handling which is not ESCAS compliant.
LSS said as with the National Livestock Identification System in Australia, human errors and technology adoption has challenges.
"The systems in Vietnam are still in their infancy and industry is looking to the future to streamline these systems as the market matures," LSS said.
"Industry has spent a lot of time and money on developing the Livestock Global Assurance Program and we look forward to the newly formed company Animark moving into this space to future proof our industry."
LSS managing director Ahmad Ghosheh said "LSS is committed to ESCAS compliance and has invested significantly in all markets it exports too, this not only improves welfare outcomes for Australian livestock but also local livestock".
"We know there is always more to be done and we will continue to invest in our supply chains so they uphold Australia's position as leaders in animal welfare."
DAWR said nine Australian exporters had approved supply chains to export livestock to Vietnam.