Friday, 18 May 2012

Govt's animal welfare checks lack teeth: activists

EDMOND ROY: The Federal Government is coming under renewed pressure from within its own ranks to demand all Australian cattle sent to Indonesia are stunned first before they're slaughtered.

The Agriculture Department has tightened controls for two exporters as a result of video footage taken by Animals Australia revealing animal cruelty in four Indonesian abattoirs.

The Government insists it all goes to show the regulatory system is working.

But animal welfare advocates and some concerned Labor MPs say that's not the case.

They say the breaches only came to light when activists went public with footage of the cruelty.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Less than a year after new regulations were put in place, two live cattle exporters have been found to have breached the animal welfare rules.

The Department of Agriculture oversees the new regime for processing Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs.

As a result of animal cruelty filmed by Animals Australia and shown on the ABC's Lateline program three months ago, it's taken action against the North Australian Cattle Company and International Livestock Export for using meatworks where breaches occurred.

Neither company will have its export licence withdrawn or suspended. Instead, the regulator, that is the secretary of the Department, has decided the two exporters won't be able to send cattle to the two offending abattoirs, they'll have to have animal welfare officers in all the remaining Indonesian abattoirs in their supply chain and auditing will be stepped up.

The Prime Minister, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and assistant secretary at the department, Phillip Glyde, all have one message.

JULIA GILLARD: What this news shows today is that the system is working.

JO LUDWIG: What the report today shows evidence of is a regulatory system at work…

PHILLIP GLYDE: … and the investigation and the regulatory action that flows from it shows that the system is working.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: While the Minister, Senator Ludwig insists the new system provides checks and balances the community expects for the live export trade to continue, Lyn White from Animals Australia says the system is fundamentally flawed.

LYN WHITE: I think the flaws are so clearly shown in the system that it took Animals Australia once again to highlight breaches and bring them to the attention of the Government before action was taken.

Any system that is reliant on a charity to be its watchdog simply cannot be relied upon to protect the welfare of animals.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor backbencher, Kelvin Thomson, has long campaigned for mandatory stunning of cattle before they're slaughtered, he says the export companies should have had their licences suspended or cancelled.

KELVIN THOMSON: In my view 37 breaches is way too many and the two exporters should have their licences suspended or even cancelled. I note that the department's deputy secretary has said that if further animal welfare breaches occur they would face the possible loss of their export licence but you have to wonder how many chances they get.

When the trade was resumed last year after being suspended, the Government said the industry was on notice. So I think the public would expect that any exporters still found to be treating animals inhumanely would be run out of the industry.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Steve Georganas is another concerned Labor MP.

STEVE GEORGANAS: The concerns are that when this sorry saga first started we heard that the Government said that the industry was on notice. So I think that when we see these incidences occur over and over again, there's certainly a lot of concern whether it's all working or not.

The issue that I have is that once again these breaches were brought to light, not through the self-regulated industry but through Animals Australia and Lyn White.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Agriculture Minister and the Prime Minister and the department all say that this shows that the system is working, that a problem is brought to the attention of the Government and then it's dealt with.

STEVE GEORGANAS: Well I'm pleased that the problem has been brought to the attention of the Government but as we've said over and over again, we know that these incidences are occurring far too often and that's where the concern is.

And again, the breaches were brought to the attention through Animals Australia, not through the self-regulation. So I think at some point we have to sit and look at the entire industry, the way they're operating and how we ensure that we take the cruelty out of this industry.

We need to insist on mandatory stunning.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Government is loath to do that and clearly isn't willing to do it. So how are you going to get the Government to change its mind?

STEVE GEORGANAS: Well look I think through discussions with the Minister. We'll continue doing all that we can through the forums that we have available to us as government members.

And I'll certainly be continuing to do that and so will many of my other colleagues. And I think at some stage the Australian public is going to get sick of it.

EDMOND ROY: Steve Georganas, federal Labor backbencher, ending Alexandra Kirk's report.
Original Article Here

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