THE Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has found no evidence to support an allegation of cruelty to Australian cattle in an Indonesia abattoir, stemming from a complaint made by Animals Australia in October last year.
The investigation was also let down by the somewhat embarrassing failure of a key witness to give evidence, backing their original assertions.
Late yesterday, the Department released the findings of its investigation into the alleged incident, which suggested Australian cattle were slaughtered using traditional roping methods at an abattoir in West Java on September 27 to 28 last year.
The traditional slaughtering method doesn’t meet animal welfare guidelines, or the OIE standards, set out under the government’s new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS).
The Department said its investigation sought and obtained information from a range of sources including industry and Animals Australia, concluding there was “no evidence to support the allegation”.
“There is therefore no reason for DAFF to take any regulatory action in this case,” the statement said.
“No photographic evidence was provided by the complainant and the original informant was not prepared to be questioned.”
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council declined to comment on the outcome, with CEO Alison Penfold saying the investigation found there was no non-compliance.
Greens NSW Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon raised the incident during a hearing of the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs Committee last November.
Senator Rhiannon alleged the animal cruelty was witnessed by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) staff at the Chittagong abattoir on September 28 - but they failed to report the ESCAS breach.
MLA Trade and Economic Services General Manager Dr Peter Barnard said MLA staff and consultants had visited the Cibinong abattoir to conduct analysis - but was unsure of the exact date.
Senator Rhiannon was unhappy the breach was not reported to the Department and it was left to Animals Australia to make the actual complaint.
However, Dr Barnard said MLA’s role was “not as a policeman or regulator”.
“Our role is to assist supply chains with ESCAS compliance and we conduct that role diligently,” he said.
He was also forced to defend ESCAS, saying it had been embraced by industry to a “remarkable extent” and led to “remarkable results”.
“The fact that in Indonesia you have over 80 percent of animals there now stunned is a remarkable change in that country in the period of - just over a year,” he said.
“So the feedback that we have been giving government is generally positive.”
In a later media statement, Senator Rhiannon said, “MLA appeared to wash its hands of reporting supply chain breaches”.
In Senate question time later that month, the Senator urged Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig to impose an obligation on MLA to report incidents of animal cruelty and any suspected ESCAS breaches they observed or became aware of.
Animals Australia and the Cattle Council of Australia were contacted for comment on the investigation result but did not respond before deadline.
Meanwhile, the Department is also conducting a range of investigations into alleged ESCAS breaches - some serious and some minor - but says it is unable to comment further until those investigations are complete.
The current investigations include issues with consignments to Pakistan, Kuwait, Mauritius, Israel, Indonesia and Qatar.
The Department was also reluctant to comment on reasons behind delays in implementing ESCAS in the Saudi Arabian market.
The delay is one of the reasons behind projections live sheep export numbers will fall to about 2 million head in 2013; the lowest level in 20 years.