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Live Exports - Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 24 May 2011


Senator SIEWERT:  You said that you are still sending off Mark 1 boxes, and we are talking about Mark 4 boxes. How many Mark 4s are you aware of that Indonesia is currently using?

Senator Ludwig:  We can take it on notice and then the MLA will be here later on this evening—

CHAIR:  They are likely to have an accurate estimate of it.

Senator SIEWERT:  Thank you. We will be back for MLA. You said that one of the problems with Mark 1 was the way they were being used. What is the appropriate way that you would use Mark 1 boxes?

Mr Glyde:  Mark 1 is an improvement over a previous stunning practice. Mark 4 is an improvement over Mark 1. Mark 1 is used in a circumstance where there is no power. As I understand it, Mark 4 boxes require power to operate the hydraulics and the like. It is the question of continuous improvement, trying to find mechanisms that will lead in different circumstances and in different countries to improved animal welfare outcomes.

Senator SIEWERT:  I understand the point that you are making. Ms Evans made a comment earlier about the way the boxes are used and that there should be more investment—

Senator Ludwig:  No, it was not the way the boxes are used—and I do not want to put words in Mr Glyde's mouth. The important part here is that there are some more technical issues that the MLA may be able to deal with later on this evening. If you have got a specific issue about how a particular implement should or should not be used—

Senator SIEWERT:  Minister, I understand that I should be asking some questions of MLA. There was a statement made about 'it's the way the boxes are used and there needs to be more training', and I want to know how you could be trained to use one of those Mark 1 boxes so that they are not inhumane.

Dr O'Connell:  I think that what Ms Evans was doing at the time was explaining what that review study had said—that there needed to be additional training— rather than having an opinion of her own about how this should happen. The review said that you needed to have the training for the use as well as the installation. 

Mr Glyde:  You may well get more from MLA, where they are a bit closer to the actual practices, but Ms Evans was talking about the review process, and the review process reported that there should be greater emphasis on training and use.

Senator SIEWERT:  If it is in fact possible to make them more humane.

Mr Glyde:  The point I was trying to make was that a Mark 1 restraining box will have an improved animal welfare outcome from not using a restraining box. You are then asking whether there is a more humane method than using a Mark 1 box and—

Senator SIEWERT:  No, I was picking up on the comment on mark 1 boxes, which I took to mean you could make mark 1 boxes more humane, and I want to know how you can do that. That was the way I took the comment from Ms Evans, and if I have misinterpreted it I will take that on board, but I understood that to be related to training, and I am not sure how you do that, how you make them more humane.

Senator HEFFERNAN:  The difficulty is to get the head up—and you use a sharp knife.

Senator SIEWERT:  Senator Heffernan, I will put you across the other side of the table in a minute!

CHAIR:  I think you should take him out the back.

Mr Glyde:  I will let Jo speak for herself, but the point we are trying to make is to have as best an outcome as you might get from a mark 1 box you have to be trained in the use of it. That was the point we were trying to make. You need both the actual mark 1 box but also the operators of it to be trained.

Dr O'Connell:  So these were effectively a crush type affair.

Senator SIEWERT:  I know what they are.

Dr O'Connell:  As opposed to trying to pull an animal down through a leg and into a ring bolt, so the point is that if you have a crush type affair you need training to be able to use that crush properly in order both to use it efficiently for the purposes of killing the animal, but also for its welfare outcomes.

Ms Evans:  If I can just add—I commented before that in response to the independent report, Meat and Livestock Australia did put out an action plan themselves on how to address the recommendations and I am happy
to table a copy of that, but it is available on the web. And that does go through the kinds of actions that they suggest would improve the use of the mark 1 boxes.

Senator SIEWERT:  Ok, thank you. Earlier, Ms Evans, when Senator Coonan was asking about stunning, you made a comment about there are other potentially humane methods you could use?

Ms Evans:  I said there are other ways to improve animal welfare.

Senator SIEWERT:  I beg your pardon.

Ms Evans:  This was the discussion that Mr Glyde was essentially commenting on, that there are all sorts of steps that can improve animal welfare from where it might currently be in these facilities, and there are gradations along the way.

Senator SIEWERT:  Ok, thank you. I know Senator Coonan was asking about some of the international standards, and as I understand it, in Australia, the Animal Welfare and Product Integrity committee has made some comments about restrain of species, and keeping those animals in an upright position. Is that correct?

Mr Murnane:  Sorry, Senator, which committee?

Senator SIEWERT:  The Animal Welfare and Product Integrity Committee. And it has also made comments about restraint boxes, is that correct?

Mr Murnane:  I am sorry, Senator, it does not come immediately to mind.

Senator SIEWERT:  Would you take that on notice, please?

Dr O'Connell:  There is a lot of work goes through that committee, the AWPIC committee, so we would have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT:  If you could, and take on notice what advice it has been provided and what has been the response to that advice. Thank you, that would be appreciated. Can I now go back to the issues around live sheep, please. As a response to the process that you put in place after the issues around live export to Egypt, you introduced the process of—you call it a closed loop system, don't you?

Dr O'Connell:  Correct.

Ms Evans:  If I can just clarify that the one closed loop system that we do have in Egypt is for cattle; it is not for sheep.

Senator SIEWERT:  Okay, it is not for sheep. I beg your pardon on that one, then. So it is basically only to approved loop feedlots and abattoir, isn't it?

Ms Evans:  The one closed loop system that we have in place again is in Egypt and is for cattle. 'Closed loop' basically means that from the time the animals arrive at the facility until they leave as a processed meat product they do not leave the facility at all. There is a system of radio frequency ear tags and the location of the animals is tracked as they move through the facility. It is audited to make sure none of the animals have gone missing. That is what 'closed loop' means.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you been evaluating that process?

Ms Evans:  The closed loop facility is the one facility that the Australian government does inspect. We do that jointly with MLA. We did that before it opened to make sure it met the requirements we were looking for and the OIE standards. We do that on a random basis regularly under its operation.

Senator SIEWERT:  How much was invested in that?

Ms Evans:  In terms of Australian government funding, I would have to take it on notice. There was a small amount provided for the ear-tagging system.

Senator SIEWERT:  Is there consideration being given to any more? 

Ms Evans:  There is at this point one other facility that is looking for accreditation, but it has not yet been approved.

Senator SIEWERT:  Where is that?

Ms Evans:  It is also in Egypt and it is also for cattle.

Senator SIEWERT:  You are monitoring it. Has there been assessment of the animal welfare benefits through this new system? I appreciate that you have been monitoring it, but has it been assessed as being a substantial improvement in animal welfare? Has there been an independent look at that?

Ms Evans:  In order for the facility to be approved it has to, according to our assessment and the assessment of the Meat and Livestock Australia representative, meet OIE standards. All of the animals that are processed in that facility are handled at OIE standard.

Senator SIEWERT:  The reasoning for Australian investment in that facility?

Ms Evans:  The reason for the investment of the funding per se was simply to ensure they had a tracking system that was able to provide for the kind of auditing of the system that we were looking for at that stage.

Senator SIEWERT:  Sorry, I was not clear. That was what it funded, but what was the reasoning behind it?

Ms Evans:  The closed loop system that was implemented in Egypt was in response to an earlier issue with animal welfare handling in Egypt. There were systematic problems with animal welfare practices that were clearly against OIE standards. There were documented instances of the tendons of cattle being cut as a method of restraint, which is specifically in the OIE standard as unacceptable. There were also instances of gouging of the eyes of the animal and other treatments which are again specifically excluded in the OIE standard. Because that was a systematic concern in Egypt it was decided to move in that instant to a closed loop system.

Senator COONAN:  Does this happen in Indonesia?

Ms Evans:  That type of abuse is not something that I have seen evidence of. It has not been brought to my attention.

Senator SIEWERT:  What restraint boxes were they using, if they were using any, in Egypt?

Ms Evans:  In the closed systems?

Senator SIEWERT:  Previously.

Ms Evans:  I would have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT:  What is the new closed loop system using?

Ms Evans:  The closed loop system—and I will have to take it on notice to confirm this—does use a restraining box. I am not 100 percent sure if it is straight upright or if it tilts.

CHAIR:  Senator Colbeck and I visited that facility a couple of years ago, so he is an expert. I did not want to see it.

Senator SIEWERT:  Does it use mark 1 or mark 4?

Senator COLBECK:  I have not seen whether it is a mark 1 or mark 4, so I cannot tell the difference. It is hydraulically operated.

Senator SIEWERT:  Nearer to a mark 4.

Mr Glyde:  I suspect that the representatives from MLA will be in a position to help you out more than we have been able to, I am afraid.

Senator SIEWERT:  How many cattle do we export to be Egypt?

Ms Evans:  I have statistics here. The total of cattle exported to Egypt in 2010 was 56,441. That is from the MLA.

Senator SIEWERT:  So I should double-check with them. In terms of the process, all 56,000 cattle would not go through this closed loop system now, would they?

Ms Evans:  Yes, they do.

Senator SIEWERT:  So all of the Australian cattle that are exported now go through this closed loop system.
Ms Evans:  The only exports allowable to Egypt for cattle must go through the closed loop system.

Senator SIEWERT:  Are you then looking at the welfare standards of other importing countries to see if they are carrying out the same practices that Egypt was carrying out before the closed loop system was put in?

Ms Evans:  The kinds of practices that I described before really were very extreme and systematic, so they were not isolated incidents. It was systematic use of those practices in the slaughter of the cattle. We are not seeing that same systematic abuse in other countries. That is one difference. The other difference is just the volume. As I mentioned, there were 56,000 into Egypt and over 760,000 into Indonesia in 2009, so the practicalities are quite different in different countries.

Senator SIEWERT:  I understand that. It means a hell of a lot more cattle, if the numbers are larger, would be suffering if other countries were carrying out those same practices. What would the position of the department be if other countries were found to be carrying out the same practices but on a larger scale?

Senator Ludwig:  If there is any evidence of that I would encourage people to bring it to the attention of the department so that we can investigate it. One of the things I have done since coming to this portfolio is start to work with both the animal welfare groups and the live animal export industry to improve animal welfare outcomes, in addition to Minister Burke's program of $3.2 million to improve live animal welfare outcomes for export.

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote to industry in January on this very issue for them to bring forward a plan because I had heard concerns expressed similar to those you raised at the last additional estimates. I asked them to bring forward a plan to deal with all of those issues and to demonstrate a way of continuously improving animal welfare outcomes, particularly in Indonesia. They have presented me with a plan. I do not endorse that plan. I want to be able to see that they are implementing it and moving it forward. I have raised the issue with them since then at a conference I attended in Katherine, where I spoke about where they needed to demonstrate that they were continually working on a program of improvement for animal welfare outcomes. I think all of that is critical for the industry to continue this trade.

The trade is important to Australia. The figures are about $1 billion worth of export income. It supports about 10,000 jobs, many across areas in far Western Australia, as you know, and in the Northern Territory. It also employs a significant number of Indigenous people in  the Northern Territory. So all of this means that it is incumbent upon industry to continue the improvement in animal welfare practices in the markets they send cattle to.


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