Live-ex regulator unapologetic about stronger action

Live-ex regulator unapologetic about stronger action

Beef
CHANGE IS HAPPENING: Principal regulatory officer with the Department of Agriculture's live animal exports division Dr Melissa McEwen speaking at LIVEXchange in Townsville.

CHANGE IS HAPPENING: Principal regulatory officer with the Department of Agriculture's live animal exports division Dr Melissa McEwen speaking at LIVEXchange in Townsville.

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"We need to be seen as legitimate for your industry to stay on track."

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AUSTRALIA'S livestock export governing body is unapologetic about taking a stronger regulatory position as part of its mission to rebuild public trust.

The acting first assistant secretary of the Department of Agriculture's live animal exports branch Dr Melissa McEwen told exporters and producers at the industry's annual conference in Townsville this week that would mean more scrutiny on what they do.

"We don't want to be obstructionist but we know we have to take account of risks and regulate and that may mean stronger action than in the past," she said.

She likened changing the culture within the live-ex industry, and her organisation, to "playing chess while people are throwing bricks at you."

But change was needed and was happening, she said, and the key one was placing animal welfare at the centre of business.

"As a regulator we need to reflect public concerns and sentiments in order to maintain our legitimacy," Dr McEwen told the LIVEXchange conference.

"We have also been under attack and public faith in us has been seriously eroded.

"We need to be seen as legitimate for your industry to stay on track."

The Awassi footage equated to an existential crisis for the livestock export industry, Dr McEwen said.

"What it has raised was various challenges about the meaning of the industry beyond that incident," she said.

"The discussion grew from that particular failing into a wider discourse as to whether this industry should continue at all."

The reviews that followed made regulators think very deeply about what they do, how to manage welfare more broadly and how to effect change.

Change takes time, and it takes investment and a commitment and willingness from people, Dr McEwen said.

One of the big struggles was in how to use what is effectively trade-based legislation to deliver animal welfare, she said.

But new tools were proving invaluable.

"Independent observers have been a fantastic insight. We've been able to understand things about what happens on voyages much better," Dr McEwen said.

"That has given us the confidence to talk about the industry in a way we couldn't in the past."

Much of what has come from IO reports has been good news for industry, she said.

"Most major disasters like the Awassi tend to be multifactorial. It's not one thing that goes wrong," she said.

"By dealing with the little things we might be able to stop a hole going through to swiss cheese."

Ultimately, the key would be working together, Dr McEwen argued.

"We need to find ways to bring animal welfare advocates to the table," she said.

"That's challenging. Many don't believe live-ex should happen under any circumstances. But that doesn't mean we can't talk about what we do to improve animal welfare.

"Engaging the rational vegetarian will be part of the answer."

Life in the live animal exports division was all about managing risk and change, Dr McEwen said.

"Almost every day we have articles in the media and as a public servant that is challenging," she said.

"In this industry if innovation goes wrong it will end up on the front page and that's not good for ongoing industry sustainability.

"We have to find ways to innovate without risking the future of the industry."

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