Animal welfare groups are calling on the federal government to resist efforts to “water down” regulation of the live export industry.
In a submission to the LGAP (Livestock Global Assurance Program) Committee, RSPCA Australia said new proposals from industry would lead to self-regulation and less government oversight of an industry which has seen serious breaches in animal welfare.
RSPCA Australia’s Senior Policy Officer Jed Goodfellow, said the submission to the Committee had raised concerns over the implications of the “government hands-off” proposals from the industry.
“The LGAP process is industry-driven and funded,” he said.
“It has been promoted on the basis that it is ‘independent of government’ and may appease foreign markets that have opposed the current Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).”
LGAP describes itself as a joint research project that is “focused on developing a global conformity assessment program that protects the welfare of animals and fosters continual improvement and the attainment of best practice.”
Goodfellow said the industry needs to answer some questions regarding claims that LGAP would operate independent of government.
“What does ‘independent of government’ mean, if not self-regulation, and why is this program expected to open markets that have opposed the ESCAS, like Saudi Arabia, if it does not remove [government] regulation from the process,” he said.
LGAP consultant Peter Schuster told the ABC making the program “independent of government” does not mean the level of regulation is lessened.
“The consequences for delivering welfare outcomes lie more proportionately with each element of the supply chain, so if it’s an abattoir or a feedlot in a foreign market, the consequences of delivering or not delivering against a required animal welfare outcome lies more specifically with that particular unit, rather than with an exporter who is back in Australia,” he said.
Goodfellow said the RSPCA will object to any proposals to remove strong government oversight and regulation of the industry.
“History has shown that when the industry is left to its own devices, animal welfare is neglected and cruelty ensues,” he said.
“The industry does not have the confidence of the Australian community to self-regulate.”
Goodfellow believes the LGAP also seeks to shift the responsibility for the humane treatment of exported animals, from exporters to the abattoirs and feedlots in foreign jurisdictions.
“While we welcome further quality assurance focus on these facilities, Australian exporters must continue to bear ultimate responsibility for the welfare of animals sent into these markets,” he said.
“Reducing this responsibility will reduce their incentive to ensure their supply chains are able to comply with animal welfare standards before animals are sent to them.”
Vets Against Live Export (VALE) has also registered its opposition to dilution of standards with an open letter to Alison Penfold, the CEO of the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC).
“The substantive point, so far as VALE is concerned, is that it is a fundamental principle of animal welfare that animals used for food should be slaughtered as close to their source as possible,” Foster wrote.
“Live export of animals from Australia is inconsistent with this principle, particularly where animals are transported aboard ships for long durations, in overcrowded conditions, exposed to extremes of weather and other conditions inconsistent with maintenance of good animal welfare.”
Foster added that live exports are unacceptable to the Australian public because of the way animals are treated in certain overseas destinations.
“We know that Australian animals continue to suffer unacceptably both on live export voyages and during transport and slaughter in overseas countries,” she said.
“We regard your present proposal to put regulation of welfare into the hands of the owners and operators of overseas facilities as nothing more than a cynical exercise by those who stand to profit from this unacceptable and unethical trade.”
VALE did not make a submission to LGAP, describing the process as “prescriptive”.
Penfold replied to VALE and said LGAP is an ongoing research project of the industry, and as such, “no decision has yet been taken to move to implementation.”
She added that the project commenced in July 2014, with a project team that includes experts specialising in areas such as project management, the live export industry, animal welfare and the development and application of technology solutions.
“In accordance with an earlier scoping research project, the research project was to develop a certification program, applicable to any market and designed to provide assurances that animals continue to be treated in accordance with international guidelines (ESCAS) up to and including the point of slaughter,” she said.
Submissions to LGAP closed on January 29.