Slaughter practices still cruel
Comments attributed to Prime Minister Tony Abbott during his Jakarta visit last week demonstrate a lack of understanding of the live export trade to Indonesia and the issues surrounding the public uproar that led to the suspension of the trade in 2011.
Mr Abbott says that his visits to Indonesian abattoirs show that standards there are equivalent to Australian standards and the suspension of the live cattle trade was the result of the former government reacting “in panic at a TV programme”.
Many Australians remember only too clearly the horrific cruelty shown in the ABC’s Four Corners programme, A Bloody Business, in May 2011. While it was distressing for many viewers, the ABC’s decision to show the cruel reality of live cattle slaughter that occurs and continues to occur in some foreign facilities is to be commended. Indeed, the former Australian government’s response to suspend the live export trade to Indonesia was a response to the outpouring of shock and dismay from the Australian public who, at last, were informed in a most confronting way of how Australian cattle were being treated in Indonesia.
The trade suspension and the introduction of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS), where livestock can only be exported to abattoirs that meet minimum international (OIE) standards, was put in place as a direct result of the exposure of this cruelty and public reaction. It was hardly a panic over the TV program itself.
It would appear that Mr Abbott seeks to simplify the issue by touring slaughter facilities and pronouncing them to be up to Australian standards. But there is more to the slaughter process than bricks and mortar.
The requirements for Australian abattoirs are set out in the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (AS 4696), Abattoir Licensing Acts and Animal Welfare legislation in each jurisdiction, and the Commonwealth Export Control (Meat and Meat Products) Orders 2005. These standards cover not only the quality of the facilities but also the conduct of the employees towards the animals to be slaughtered.
Animals must be handled and slaughtered in a way that avoids unnecessary injury, pain and suffering. Staff must be trained and competent to carry out their duties and abattoir owners and their employees can be prosecuted under the relevant legislation if they fail to meet these standards. Abattoirs are subject to regular auditing by state and federal agencies, and may also be inspected by the RSPCA. Export abattoirs are required to have a Department of Agriculture veterinarian on site during operating hours and most also have a designated trained Animal Welfare Officer.
Most importantly, except for a tiny proportion of animals covered by religious exemptions, Australian abattoirs are required to effectively stun all animals to render them unconscious prior to slaughter.
In contrast, Indonesian abattoirs are not subject to minimum standards or independent audit. Recent regulations for veterinary public health include only broad statements for animal welfare with no enforceable penalties for animal cruelty or abuse. Current practices in Government-owned abattoirs do not require stunning, nor any minimum standards of animal welfare prior to or during slaughter.
As a result, animals are still roughly handled, cruelly roped or stressfully rotated and restrained for prolonged periods before the neck is cut when fully conscious and a slow, often prolonged, death ensues. Cattle are even hoisted alive before slaughter in some facilities. Many are systematically manipulated after the neck cut and butchered by knife while still alive. While the introduction of industry-appointed auditors and OIE standards has improved practices in those abattoirs that are ESCAS-accredited, in order to receive Australian cattle, it remains the case that the treatment of animals in the overwhelming majority of Indonesian abattoirs is significantly worse than would be considered acceptable under Australian standards.
ESCAS is a vast improvement on previous arrangements, but unfortunately it does not provide Australian animals with the same welfare standards that would apply if they were slaughtered in Australia.
It is a disgrace that it took a media investigation to show the Australian public the awful truth about how Australian animals are treated in some countries when animal welfare groups including RSPCA Australia have brought these issues to the attention of successive federal governments time after time.
The RSPCA would have preferred that government and industry had recognised the problems earlier and listened to advice. Instead, Australian animals continued to suffer and the crisis that followed the ABC television program required urgent action. It could have been prevented.
The Australian public will not tolerate the possibility of a recurrence of the cruelty they witnessed in 2011 and without ESCAS and a commitment by the federal government to work towards increased animal welfare throughout the supply chain, the live export industry will always face an uncertain future.
The industry, the Australian public and Australian animals deserve much more than ill-informed posturing aimed at impressing a foreign government.