Claire Petrie, Law
and Bills Digest and Rob Dossor, Economics
In the 44th Parliament the Government worked to streamline the regulatory regime for live animal exports and to establish and re-open export markets. However, evidence of supply chain breaches has sustained debate about the efficacy of the system and enforcement role of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Why export live animals?
According to the UN
Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Australia is the largest seaborne exporter of live cattle and
second largest exporter of live sheep. The question arises as to why Australia exports live
animals, rather than as chilled or frozen meat.
Generally speaking, countries with large Islamic populations
often require meat imports to comply with halal certification. While many
Australian abattoirs have this certification, importers often choose to import
live animals and rely on domestic abattoirs for processing. A number of
countries also use live imports as a form of industry development, as it
enables the importing country to keep the added value in their country.
Cultural preferences, such as the demand for freshly slaughtered meat (purchased
in ‘wet’ markets, which are generally open and non-refrigerated) dictate that
the animal is slaughtered locally and recently. Similarly, availability of
refrigeration in some countries which import livestock is limited, requiring
animals to be imported live and slaughtered locally.
The export of live animals is regulated
by the Australian
Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997, the Export Control Act 1982 and the regulations
and instruments issued under these Acts. The Export
Control (Animals) Order 2004 sets out the conditions for
export and requires the exporter to hold a livestock export licence and permit
and provide a Notice of Intention for export. Exported livestock must meet
importing country requirements. This may include mandatory pre-export
quarantine and the issuing of a health certificate confirming the animal meets health protocol requirements as negotiated between
Australia and the importing country.
Exporters must also comply with the Australian
Standards for the Export of Livestock and have
in place an approved Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). The ESCAS was initially implemented for Indonesia following the 2011
live export ban and subsequently rolled out to all countries. The system
requires the exporter to establish a system of control for transporting livestock
to a particular country, including tracing all livestock through an
independently-audited supply chain up to the point of slaughter.
Compliance with the system is primarily monitored
audits, which are submitted to the Department of
Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) during the year at a frequency dependent
on the facility’s risk rating.
A 2015 Departmental review found the system to be an ‘administratively
burdensome regulatory arrangement’, but nonetheless effective in improving
animal welfare outcomes. It noted the inherent difficulty of requiring
exporters to oversee off-shore entities not subject to Australia’s regulatory
requirements. The review recommended greater industry responsibility for
managing risks within supply chains, and clearer non-compliance guidelines.
to non-compliance findings, DAWR can: suspend or
revoke an export licence or use of a facility/supply chain; impose conditions
on an ESCAS approval or licence and/or refer the matter to the Commonwealth
DPP. Animal welfare advocates and some exporters have expressed frustration
with the absence of strong enforcement action by DAWR, which has primarily
responded to non-compliance by imposing conditions on export licences and ESCAS
In July 2016 DAWR cancelled
the licence of exporter Frontier International
Agri, after a consignment of dairy heifers sent to Japan tested positive for
Bovine Johnes Disease, causing Japan to suspend its cattle trade with
Since the 2013 election, the Coalition Government has sought to
streamline the regulatory scheme by:
- introducing a risk-based
audit framework in which audit frequency is determined by the facility
type, its inherent risks and the compliance history of exporters
the requirement for a Memorandum of Understanding to be in place for each
new export market which sets out the conditions under which the live trade can
- implementing ‘Approved
Arrangements’ between DAWR and an exporter which remove the need for
exporters to obtain approval for each consignment. These will be mandatory for
exporters from 1 January 2017.
The Government has also focused on establishing new
export markets in China, Cambodia and Thailand, and has reopened trade to
Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon and Egypt.
Reports of incidents on
livestock carriers and documented cruelty in importing countries have sustained
debate about the effectiveness of the regulatory regime and the future of the
livestock export trade.
In June 2016 the ABC broadcast
footage of Australian cattle being beaten with
sledgehammers in Vietnamese abattoirs. The industry-run Australian Livestock
Export Council suspended
exports to three abattoirs and announced an
independent inquiry into the systems in place to support ESCAS requirements in
Vietnam. DAWR subsequently
suspended 21 facilities in Vietnam and directed two
Australian exporters to cease supply to the Vietnam market.
The incident prompted debate about the Department’s
role in responding to non-compliance, with the ALP and the Greens calling for the
establishment of an independent office of animal welfare (see ‘The Commonwealth’s
role in animal welfare’ elsewhere in this briefing book). The Coalition has resisted
such calls, arguing the existing regulatory framework is sufficiently robust.
C Petrie, Live export: a chronology, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 18 July 2016.
L Ferris, ‘The effectiveness of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System’, Flagpost blog, 24 May 2013.
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