THE federal government has accepted recommendations from an industry review into the handling of breeder livestock for export markets, making several improvements to cut red tape and improve animal welfare standards.
But a move to rule out lifetime traceability for exported breeder livestock has angered leading vocal animal rights group Animals Australia.
The recommendations came out of the Industry Government Implementation Group’s (IGIG) review into the export of breeder livestock.
The review was recommended by the Farmer Review into Australia’s livestock export trade which was implemented following the Gillard government’s June 2011 suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the IGIG had ruled in line with the Farmer Review by finding it wasn’t “practical or reasonable” to impose arrangements on industry and government to ensure visibility of animal welfare for the entire life of exported breeder animals, which can spend more than 10 years in the importing country.
“Although this trade has its complexities, we are taking steps to ensure that breeder animals will be afforded an acceptable level of care,” Minister Ludwig said.
“Added exporter responsibilities will be put in place to ensure acceptable animal welfare outcomes will be maintained at the first breeder facility in the importing country.”
Minister Ludwig said the review looked at the current system and processes and identified improvements to better ensure the welfare of exported breeder livestock.
He said the breeder trade was an important part of Australian primary industry.
MLA and LiveCorp’s 2012 statistical report on the live export trade said 77,000 dairy breeder cows were exported for the year valued at $176.9 million and 37,000 beef breeder cattle were exported at $77.5 million, representing a volume increase of 110 per cent on 2011.
No statistics were recorded for breeder sheep volumes from the 2.8 million sheep exported in 2012 - but for 2011 the report says 12,500 breeder sheep were exported from Australia, valued at $3.2 million.
Minister Ludwig said the IGIG has identified ways to strengthen the trade’s future by enhancing the animal welfare conditions while managing the regulatory impact.
He said a big part of the review was improving how to certify livestock are legitimately being exported as breeders.
The recommendations also dealt with occasions where animals are exported as breeding livestock but were found to be unsuitable for breeding.
“When these animals are held in the same facilities as feeder animals, industry will now ensure processing in accordance with ESCAS regulations, including traceability and animal welfare requirements,” he said.
“This will help to manage the perceived risk that breeder exports could be used to avoid ESCAS requirements.”
However, Animals Australia accused the government of putting industry’s views and profits ahead of adequate animal welfare regulations, with the review failing to recommend measures to protect exported breeder animals from cruelty.
Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said it was unacceptable that tens of thousands of Australian cattle, sheep, buffalo and goats will continue to be exported with no adequate safeguards in place and most to countries where there are no laws to protect them from cruelty.
Ms White - who played a central role in the government’s suspension by exposing animal cruelty in 12 Indonesian abattoirs via ABC’s Four Corners program - said the government was saying industry self regulation had ended.
But, “they are putting responsibility for the welfare of exported breeder animals straight back into the hands of industry”.
“In effect, the recommendations in this review provide no reassurance whatsoever that animals will be treated humanely,” she said.
“In addition, exporters will only need to assess the first facility that animals go to.
“There is nothing to stop these animals being moved to other facilities and no measures to protect them during transport and slaughter in the importing country.
“The lack of independent assessment and oversight remains a key flaw in any government proposals that purport to protect the welfare of animals.
“At the very least, Australia should set as a benchmark that animals exported for breeding and slaughter purposes can only go to countries that have enforceable animal protection laws in place.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for the vast majority of animals exported from Australia.”
But Minister Ludwig said he was pleased to endorse the review’s recommendations that demonstrate “the Australian Government and industry’s determination to increase our standards for the welfare of exported breeder livestock, while also supporting the sustainability of the live export trade”.
Animals Australia’s response also referred to a controversial incident last year where Australian sheep and breeder dairy cows died on a Sheikh’s property in Qatar.
The incident resulted in a government investigation on the back of a complaint made by RSPCA Australia.
A ruling handed down by DAFF in March this year found no breaches of Australian regulations occurred in relation to the death and mistreatment of 60 Australian breeder cattle on the Al Waab farm in Qatar, with no regulatory action taken against the Australian livestock exporters that supplied the animals.
At the time, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) CEO Alison Penfold said the Farmer review had noted that the breeder trade was complex and life-time traceability difficult to achieve.
She said ALEC didn’t support full life-time traceability for breeder cattle because they can be on-sold many times over that period.
But she said the industry was conscious of welfare requirements for breeder cattle, which are high value animals with longer life times, and worked with customers to ensure they were only exported to acceptable facilities.
Review recommendations By August 2013 a review of the criteria used to confirm the legitimacy of breeding livestock consignments will be completed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and industry;
By August 2013 Australia’s livestock export industry will establish industry-based arrangements to manage the risk associated with Australian breeder livestock moving into slaughter chains where they are held in an ESCAS facility. By the end of 2013 DAFF will require a declaration from an exporter confirming due diligence has been undertaken to ensure acceptable animal welfare outcomes will be achieved at the first breeder facility in the importing country. Industry and government will continue to pursue improvement in the implementation of international animal welfare standards – government through the OIE and export businesses through support to breeding facilities and through animal welfare research, development and extension materials.
For further information on the DAFF report on breeder livestock exports, click here.