Can we call these countries reputable trading partners?
Is our live cattle export industry still saying its monitoring systems are rigorous?
How many other instances have occurred that we haven’t been told about?
Are these breaches of our systems connected with the vast cattle stations in Australia currently owned by foreign entities?
Apart from the usual patter, what is the government going to do to stop this significant failure in our so-called credible systems?
‘Critical’ breaches of Vietnam live export trade see more than 1,500 Australian cattle left unaccounted for
NT Country Hour
More than 1,500 head of cattle and 99 buffalo from Australia have disappeared from approved feedlots or abattoirs in Vietnam over the past 13 months, according to a Federal Department of Agriculture report.
After the 2011 live export ban, the industry signed up to the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) — designed to ensure positive animal welfare outcomes for Australian livestock sent overseas.
Last week the Department outlined two critical, one major and one minor, non-compliance breaches in its latest ESCAS performance report.
One critical non-compliance report details how first-time exporter to Vietnam, Purcell Bros, was unable to account for the whereabouts of 644 cattle and 99 buffalo it had shipped to the country.
In November 2018 cattle and buffalo were moved from the company’s approved feedlot to unknown locations after feedlot staff had tampered with the CCTV cameras at the facility.
The feedlot owner denied any of the cattle were missing when Purcell tried to verify their whereabouts, but the owner was unable to provide any evidence.
According to the ESCAS report, “the feedlot owner seemed to have complete disregard for ESCAS requirements despite verbal advice to the contrary”.
The department determined Purcell’s response was insufficient and the incident would be taken into account when considering any applications from the importer or feedlot.
In a separate incident, exporter Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) could not account for “nearly 1,000 animals” it shipped to Vietnam, which the company did not report to the department within the time period required under ESCAS rules.
Eventually, the company was able to track down where the animals went, determining that of the 872 cattle, 471 were traced to approved abattoirs and 401 died or were euthanased in feedlots.
According to the department, LSS had taken corrective action to manage the situation and had implemented systems to address any future issues.
LSS managing director Ahmad Ghosheh said in a statement, “LSS is committed to ESCAS compliance and has invested significantly in all markets it exports to”.
“We know there is always more to be done and we will continue to invest in our supply chains so they uphold Australia’s position as leaders in animal welfare.”
Exporters commission independent review of trade
In response to the non-compliance reports, the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) commissioned an independent company to conduct a ‘market assessment’ to report on the supply chain in Vietnam.
ALEC CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton said Australian cattle did not commonly leak from the supply chain in Vietnam.
“I am very confident to say these instances are anomalies in the system, leakages are not widespread, which is fortunate,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
“However, leakage is not what we expect; we expect our exporters to uphold the highest levels of traceability, because traceability is important in securing animal welfare, which is our highest priority.
‘Suspend supply chains’: RSPCA
The RSPCA said the department’s reports demanded a serious response from both government and industry.
“Even to the point, where they suspend supply chains, pending a full comprehensive and independent review of ESCAS arrangements in Vietnam,” RSPCA spokesman Jed Goodfellow said.
He said the critical non-compliance findings came in a “long line” of incidents involving Australian cattle exported to Vietnam.
“We’ve seen in these reports multiple incidents of abattoir and feedlot workers tampering with CCTV systems, and also open hostility towards exporter staff when they try to maintain supply chains,” Mr Goodfellow said.
“We’ve [also] seen in the past the forceful removal of animals from supply chains, even in the presence of exporter staff, so this really does give a sense that there is a cultural opposition to the ESCAS in Vietnam — certainly in some supply chains in Vietnam — that we need to look at more systemically across the entire market.”
The RSPCA opposes the live export of animals for slaughter, and since 2015 has called for an independent review of ESCAS in the Vietnamese market.
“Even though it is only a third of the size of the Indonesian market, it has three times the number of non-compliances over the last several years … that’s a factor the Australian Government needs to take seriously,” Mr Goodfellow said.
“We’ve seen in the past in 2013 sledge hammering of Australian cattle in Vietnam, in 2015 and 2016, very prominent incidents that were displayed on national television in Australia that caused significant public concern.
“So we really do need to see the Australian Government and industry taking a very serious response to this issue … even to the point, where they suspend supply chains, pending a full comprehensive and independent review of ESCAS arrangements in Vietnam.”
However, Mr Harvey-Sutton said if ESCAS rules were working effectively, the trade was compliant.
“There is consistent concern that there is an attraction for animals to leave the supply chain, but if our systems are working properly that is not an issue,” he said.
ALEC hoped to receive a report on the Vietnamese trade from its independent auditor by August.
“We will eagerly await what the outcomes of that report, and any recommendations coming from that report we are committed to actioning,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.