ANIMALS Australia has succeeded in shutting down an abattoir in a foreign export market due to sheep-related breaches of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System.
A statement from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources - the live export industry’s ‘independent regulator’ - said Animals Australia provided new information, including video footage, on April 9 this year, alleging ESCAS breaches in Qatar.
The allegations included apparent on-selling of sheep to private buyers from the approved supply chain and mishandling of sheep at an ESCAS approved abattoir in Qatar.
ESCAS was introduced following the snap suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011 by the former Labor government, to allow tracking and traceability of exported Australian animals, despite transfer of ownership and animal protection laws that may exist in other countries.
The Department said supply of animals to the abattoir in question in Qatar was immediately suspended and any animals already at the abattoir have been removed.
“In effect, this means no further Australian sheep can be transported to or slaughtered at this abattoir,” it said.
“This is the first complaint the Department has received about sheep exports to Qatar since the rollout of ESCAS in 2011.
“Since March 1, 2018, Animals Australia has provided reports about non-compliant handling of animals in three markets and allegations of sheep outside their approved supply chains in five markets in the Middle East.
“The Department is investigating these reports.”
Amid the latest controversy surrounding shipments to the Middle East - ignited by video footage provided to 60 Minutes by Animals Australia which has an agenda to ban live exports - federal Labor took the opportunity to attack Barnaby Joyce on agricultural “bipartisanship” saying the former Agriculture Minister rejected it four years ago.
But the Opposition used that argument on live exports this week to gain leverage with the new Nationals minister David Littleproud, to make demands on trying to reverse relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale in northern NSW, asking that decision also be reviewed.
Mr Joyce has previously described ESCAS as making Australia “a clear world leader in the welfare of exported live animals” due to statistics that showed from a performance report that 8,035,633 livestock were exported with just 12,958 animals – or 0.16pc – experiencing a potentially adverse animal welfare outcome.
Labor said the abattoir suspension also highlighted the need to restore Labor’s independent Inspector General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, a position abolished by Mr Joyce.
“An Inspector General is required no matter which political party is in government to provide independent oversight – but the position is even more critical when Ministers like Barnaby Joyce promote such a poor culture in the Department,” a statement said.
“It is clear the Department has been unable to effectively regulate the live export sector over the course of the last 12 months – its reliance on information from activist groups confirms its failures.”
A spokesperson for the Mr Littleproud said the minister, like many others, was appalled by what he saw taking place on the hips and immediately took decisive steps to ensure the live export industry’s integrity but also ensure those doing the wrong thing are “nailed”.
“The regulator is urgently investigating information and footage provided of on-board conditions on a number of live export voyages to the Middle East,” a spokesperson said.
“The minister is engaging with the Opposition to increase sanctions and penalties for exporters who do the wrong thing and is exploring options to hold directors of exporting companies personally accountable for mistreatment of animals.”
Mr Littlproud also announced two reviews in response to the controversy - one into the capability, power and culture of the independent regulator (his Department) and another into sheep trade standards, during the Middle Eastern summer.
A whistleblower hotline was also launched last Friday - 1800 319 595 – to report any concerns regarding animal welfare breaches to the regulator.
The Department declined to comment on Labor’s criticism while the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council said on Twitter improvements to its operations were being trialled while the facility remained closed, ahead of an audit in the coming days.
The Department declined to comment on Labor’s criticism while the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) said on Twitter improvements to its operations were being trialled while the facility remained closed, ahead of an audit in the coming days.
Industry has worked rapidly to build an new race system at the Qatar abattoir suspended this week due to serious mishandling of Australian sheep. Improvements are being trialed while the facility remains closed, ahead of an audit in the coming days. https://t.co/1w7CFe1U5ppic.twitter.com/E79TyPeJNn— ALEC (@AustLiveExports) April 15, 2018
ALEC also said that the Department provided evidence on April 10 to the concerned exporter about the apparent ESCAS breaches, at the Qatar abattoir.
The exporter immediately notified the importer who closed down the slaughter operation for Australian sheep and the offending livestock attendants in the video were identified, removed from the job site and reprimanded.
The exporter directed its Middle East Supply Chain Consultant to Qatar who arrived late evening the same day April 10.
The following day, work began on an improved raceway leading into the abattoir to improve the flow of animals and reduce the risk of welfare being compromised.
The improved design is being tested while the abattoir remains suspended.
ALEC said the consultant collected and destroyed any non-compliant handling equipment like sticks and plastic pipe with suitable livestock handling aids recommended; including the simple but effective use of plastic bags waved/flapped in the air to encourage the movement of sheep.
Signage was installed as a reminder of penalties/punishment that can be applied for bad welfare and handling practices, including the use of any unapproved livestock handling aids.
ALEC also said early this week an independent audit is to be conducted by an Australian Government Approved Auditor and pending approval, the operational start-up of the facility will be monitored to ensure ESCAS compliance.
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