One of Victoria's oldest abattoirs has been sanctioned and four staff moved after a secret video revealed the mistreatment of animals, including pigs and newborn calves.
More than 170 hours of vision from inside the Riverside Meats Abattoir shows calves being beaten and stabbed with metal prongs, as well as a pig being repeatedly shot, before taking six minutes to die.
The disturbing footage also shows animals being prodded with electric stunning devices on the neck, face and head, instead of on the side of the head.
It is the second time in three years the regulator overseeing abattoirs, PrimeSafe, has taken action against the company.
It is believed the vision was sent anonymously to animal rights group Animals Australia three weeks ago, who then passed it on to the authorities. Victoria's Chief Veterinary Officer has been asked to investigate animal cruelty allegations.
Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes said there was an "obvious culture of violence" at the abattoir, with the vision showing "equipment designed to reduce suffering instead being used as torture devices inflicting dreadful cruelty".
"A stunning device in the wrong hands, or used incorrectly, becomes a weapon. The pain and extended suffering endured by these animals is totally inexcusable," she told the Bendigo Advertiser.
Ms Oogjes said the footage contained shocking instances of animal cruelty, including:
- Calves and sheep being repeatedly stabbed in the neck, face and head with the metal prongs of an electric stunning device;
- The routine misplacement of stunning equipment, likely resulting in many animals being paralysed but fully conscious and feeling pain while slaughtered;
- Dairy calves and sheep escaping from restraint boxes and falling onto the kill floor, scrambling over dead and dying animals;
- Workers beating confused baby dairy calves to move them to slaughter;
- Workers responding to fearful and panicked animals by beating them, swearing at them, laughing at them and roughly throwing them back onto the kill table; and
- Distressed cattle attempting to jump out of the metal slaughter restraint box .
In one of the worst examples, a pig in a cattle restraint box suffered multiple shots from a captive bolt gun, before being shot twice with a rifle. The ordeal lasted more than six minutes, Ms Oogjes said.
PrimeSafe said the video includes both recent and historical cases.
Weekly audits have been ordered until Riverside Meats can demonstrate it complies with Australian standards, which requires animals to be stunned by electric pulses administered to either side of the brain.
Managing director of Riverside Meats, Chris Peat, said in a statement that while he did not agree with animal activists illegally entering properties to film, his family had been disturbed by the actions captured on video.
"Animals deserve better treatment. We are a farming family with enormous respect for our animals. This is distressing to us, and we will take action."
He supported the installation of 24-hour CCTV surveillance of its Echuca meat processing facility, with independent monitoring.
"Australians love their meat, and they deserve to be assured that it is produced ethically and humanely."
He said it was difficult to change the attitudes, practices and culture of the way the industry has operated for decades. He said the four workers had been moved to other roles.
In 2013, a number of workers at the same abattoir were given formal warnings and the owners promised infrastructure and training upgrades, after similar vision emerged.
Animals Australia is calling on the Victorian government to introduce CCTV cameras in all abattoirs and for footage to be independently monitored.
"If this is what's happening in an abattoir that should be under increased scrutiny, we can have no confidence whatsoever that similar abuses, or worse, are not occurring in other slaughterhouses throughout Victoria, Ms Oogjes said."
The PrimeSafe investigation is ongoing.
- This article first appeared in The Age