The effectiveness of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System

Following the release of graphic film footage that depicts the inhumane treatment of cattle in Egyptian abattoirs, questions have again been raised about the effectiveness of Australia’s current live export arrangements.

The footage, obtained by Animals Australia, was filmed in October 2012 and April 2013 by Egyptian vet, Dr Mahmoud Abdelwahab and was aired on the ABC's 7.30 report. As a result, Australia suspended all live exports to Egypt on 3 May 2013. While acknowledging the ‘abhorrent abuses’ suffered by the cattle in the footage, the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, the Cattle Council of Australia and the National Farmers’ Federation maintain that animals should continue to be exported to Egypt. The three industry bodies have requested that the Government apply the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) to trade in Egypt (which applies to all other countries Australia exports to).

  Under the ESCAS framework, Australian exporters will need to ensure that:
  • animals will be handled and processed at, or better than, the internationally accepted standards for animal welfare established by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
  • they have control of the movement of animals within their supply chain
  • they can trace or account for animals through the supply chain and
  • they conduct independent verification and performance audits of their supply chains against these new requirements.
Would the application of the ESCAS regime to trade in Egypt prevent future abuses? There are three issues to consider.
The first is whether ESCAS performs better than existing controls. As Dr Malcolm Caulfield, legal adviser for Vets Against Live Export (VALE), points out, anti-cruelty measures for Australian live exports to Egypt have been in place since 2006. After banning live exports to Egypt in 2006 following reports of animal cruelty, Australia signed two Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with Egypt and removed the ban later that year. While not considered to be a legal document, the MOU on the on the Handling and Slaughter of Australian Live Animals was given legislative effect under the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Export of Live-stock to Egypt) Order 2008 (this Order was further amended in 2011). The Order requires exporters to make arrangements with authorities in Egypt and approves the use of two establishments: Ain Sohhna (approved in 2008) and Adabaya (approved in 2011). The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has stated that the MOU also requires that ‘international animal welfare standards be applied to the handling of Australian livestock (sheep and cattle) as well as some specific handling requirements for Australian cattle’. VALE further referred to information published by DAFF in 2006, which states that exporters are required to ‘declare that they have an arrangement in place with Egyptian exporters to insure that the terms of the MOU are given effect’.
The main difference between existing controls and the ESCAS system is therefore that the obligation lies with Egyptian authorities, rather than domestic exporters, to ensure that OIE standards are met. This position was confirmed by Senator Ludwig in responding to a question on notice.
Interesting though, in its ‘timeline for implementation of the regulatory framework’, DAFF does not differentiate between the arrival regulatory arrangements that apply to Egypt and the arrangements that exist under ESCAS. It is unclear whether DAFF would view implementing ESCAS in Egypt as necessary.
A second consideration is that even if ESCAS applied in Egypt, would it would prevent future incidents of the sort shown in the footage? While ESCAS was implemented as a response to the public outcry concerning cattle being mistreated in Indonesia in 2011, other incidents have occurred since then in countries where ESCAS applies.
Thirdly, while ESCAS appears to provide somewhat stronger protection than instruments such as MOUs, enforcement of the regime remains an issue. Effective enforcement by Australia is inevitably limited where the events occur outside the Australian jurisdiction. It is further hampered by a complex mix of Commonwealth Acts, codes, MOUs, orders and private industry codes that make up the live export regulatory framework.
Minister Ludwig, in defending Australia’s record on live export, has stated that ‘we have a system where the community has confidence that 99 per cent of the animals that are sent overseas ... have a good animal welfare outcome’. As reported in the Australian, ‘he based that on the number of complaints received by his department and his own confidence’. DAFF has announced that they have formally written to Egyptian authorities requesting an investigation in line with the MOU.
However, past experience suggests that it will remain difficult to ensure that Australian livestock being sent overseas are not subject to the same cruelty that occurred in Egypt.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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