Australia has arguably the strictest system in the world to ensure our exported sheep and cattle are treated as humanely as possible.
Livestock exports are an important, ongoing trade for Australia. The industry employs around 10,000 people, contributes significantly to the country’s economy, supports many rural and regional communities, and underpins better economic returns at the farm gate.
The livestock trade contributes to the food security of millions of people in importing countries across the world, particularly in markets where there are strong cultural and economic preferences for fresh meat.
Australia has arguably the strictest system in the world to ensure our exported sheep and cattle are treated as humanely as possible. Furthermore industry has achieved a high level of compliance with Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
The livestock export trade has experienced a period of sustained growth, reaching $3 billion since this government came to office in October 2013. Our international market share and reputattion has been built on our ability to supply international markets with some of the highest quality, cleanest and most sustainably produced livestock in the world.
Nobody condones animal cruelty, least of all the Australian Government. All allegations of breaches of animal welfare standards are taken very seriously. While challenges remain, it is worth noting that more than 99 percent of the 11 million animals exported under ESCAS have done so without issue and in accordance with international animal welfare standards.
Australia’s leadership in the trade has provided a significant opportunity to positively influence animal welfare conditions in importing countries. Industry has delivered training to more than 8 000 people working in supply chains in Asia and the Middle East, including animal welfare officers, who help improve animal handling and husbandry techniques and increase the use of stunning equipment.
At the LiveXchange conference held in Darwin in November 2015, Dr Temple Grandin, a world renowned animal behaviour expert, noted that she has observed ‘light years’ of improvement in cattle handling and animal welfare under ESCAS arrangements.
The Australian Government understands and shares your concerns about reports of non-compliance with ESCAS, including recently during the religious festival, Eid Al Adha. I can assure you the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is already investigating these allegations. You may not be aware that Australia is the only country working in market during Eid to improve animal welfare outcomes, including through preparing additional control systems to strengthen ESCAS arrangements.
Regarding penalties, the department has several tools of increasing severity available to effectively manage suspected or confirmed non-compliance by Australian exporters, including suspending facilities or supply chains, as was the case following recent allegations of non-compliance in Israel and Vietnam. Each action taken imposes significant additional cost on exporters and encourages compliance with ESCAS. More often than not these are supported by a range of corrective measures implemented by exporters such as additional staff training and upgrades to infrastructure.
Although criminal prosecution is an option, it can take a number of years to complete. This reflects the significant complexities involved in pursuing criminal actions against an Australian party for a breach of animal welfare standards occurring on foreign soil and typically involving foreign parties.
The latest ESCAS regulatory performance report, released on 10 December 2015, outlines in detail the full range of regulatory, corrective and preventative actions to be implemented by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, exporters and industry during the reporting period (1 July–31 November 2015). These reports are released quarterly by the department. The full report is available on the department’s website.
While we are constantly striving for improvement, it is important to remember that the introduction of the ESCAS has seen animal welfare outcomes improved not only for Australian exported livestock but also domestic livestock and those sourced from other countries. The government will continue to work with industry to change the way we regulate the trade to improve animal welfare outcomes, reduce costs for industry and realise greater opportunities for Australian producers and exporters.
The government accepts that there are a wide range of views on the issue of livestock exports within the community however we remain strongly committed to ensuring that this important trade can continue under the world-leading standards that are currently in place.