Exporter facing welfare scrutiny

Melissa Williams and AAPCountryman
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International Livestock Exports (ILE), part of the Perth-based Emanuel Exports group, is under investigation for non-compliance with the Federal Government's new exporter supply chain requirements.

The investigation was announced last week after new footage of Australian sheep being slaughtered at Kuwait's Al Rai market was released by Animals Australia showing a sheep being dragged across a concrete floor, put on top of a recently slaughtered animal and having its throat cut with a knife several times.

It is the second time ILE has been subjected to an investigation for allegedly not complying with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

The first investigation into ILE and the North Australian Cattle Company was undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in March this year after a complaint by Animals Australia that alleged animal welfare breaches involving Australian cattle had occurred in Indonesian abattoirs.

Through that process, DAFF found no evidence that the exporters had not complied with their responsibilities under the ESCAS framework in two out of four abattoirs investigated.

It took regulatory action to remove the other two abattoirs identified from the Animals Australia Indonesian footage from the exporters' approved supply chains and imposed greater animal welfare inspections and audits on the companies.

This first DAFF investigation took 12 weeks to complete and department deputy secretary Phillip Glyde said at the time that if there were further ESCAS breaches in these exporters' supply chains, they faced additional penalties - including possible loss of their export licence.

A DAFF spokesman said he could not speculate about how long it would take to complete the second investigation, which was launched last week in the wake of the Kuwait footage and a subsequent complaint lodged by Animals Australia on Thursday.

He said it was likely to be some weeks before any outcomes were released.

This Animals Australia complaint alleged Australian-sourced sheep were being offered for sale and slaughter outside an approved supply chain in Kuwait.

The DAFF spokesman said the department had notified the relevant exporter/s involved and was working with them and the complainant as part of the investigation process.

DAFF would not comment about the possibility of penalties being imposed on the exporter/s, saying this would be inappropriate until the investigation was complete.

But it did say there were appeal mechanisms available and complaints could be made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

DAFF said it was the responsibility of Australian livestock exporters to ensure they met ESCAS requirements and the department's role to regulate exporters and their ability to maintain and control traceability and animal welfare outcomes within approved EASCAS supply chains.

Kuwait was one of the tranche one countries that needed to meet ESCAS requirements by March 2012.

Emanuel Exports managing director Graham Daws said the company was not commenting on the latest investigation until it had carried out its own checks and reviewed the Kuwait footage.

He said compliance with ESCAS was extremely difficult, complicated and expensive for exporters, who were committed to ensuring good animal welfare outcomes.

Mr Daws said ESCAS compliance issues were restricting the flow of Australian sheep into the live export trade and farmers had felt the implications of this with lower saleyard prices in recent weeks.

"Sheep prices are going south quicker than iron ore prices," he said.

"There are plenty of markets and inquiry from customers but exporter ability to meet the new (ESCAS) requirements is limiting the volumes of sheep going out.

"This is across the board for sheep and cattle.

"In any new system it is going to take time and animal welfare (since EASCAS introduction) has improved dramatically, which the industry and exporters are supportive of."

Mr Daws said through the ESCAS system, his company had agreements and contracts through the supply chain and relied on everyone in the supply chain to meet their requirements. This was audited and checked.

He said there were many solutions to reduce the costs and complications of ESCAS, and the industry, through the Australian Live Exporters Council was working on this issue.

Labour backbencher Kelvin Thomson said the latest footage of Australian sheep being abused at a Kuwait market called into question the effectiveness of Australia's live-export rules and DAFF should be stripped of its role in overseeing EASCAS. He said it could come under the department of health.

Mr Thomson said the latest allegations were serious and if it was proved that exporters had sold animals outside the approved supply chain, they should be stripped of their licences.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie used the Kuwait incident as a prompt to re-introduce a private member's Bill to parliament this week, calling for mandatory stunning of all Australian livestock before slaughter in overseas markets.

The Bill is similar to the one Mr Wilkie had before parliament last year, which lapsed after it was denied debating time.

He said his Bill would cover cattle, sheep and goats. Debate on his latest Livestock Export (Animal Welfare Conditions) Bill 2012 was adjourned.

RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones has backed Mr Wilkie, calling for the Government to immediately require the stunning of all live exports before slaughter.

"First Indonesia, now Kuwait - how many times do we have to see these breaches before something more is done?" she said.

Animals Australia said it had reported abuse of Australian sheep at the Kuwait Al Rai market in 2010.

Campaign director Lyn White said the market was the scene of the worst abuses of Australian sheep she had documented during the past nine years.

"That hundreds of Australian sheep were for sale there shows a blatant disregard by the exporter for their regulatory obligations," she said.

Greens WA animal spokesman Lynn MacLaren has called for an end to live animal exports and for meat processing to be shifted back to Australian shores.

First Indonesia, now Kuwait - how many times do we have to see these breaches before something more is done?

RSPCA CHIEF SCIENTIST BIDDA JONES

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