ANIMAL rights activists are pressuring the Brazilian government into Australian equivalent animal welfare regulations, in response to recent allegations of cruelty in live export markets, exposed by undercover ‘investigators’.
A statement on the Animals Australia website with accompanying images and video footage highlights ‘witnesses’ accounts of the mistreatment involving live cattle exported from Brazil to Egypt and Lebanon.
The Brazilian ‘investigation’ was carried out by Animals International which is the global subsidiary of Animals Australia which has spearheaded the local, emotion-charged anti-live exports campaign.
The activist investigation into animal welfare standards, underpinning one of the world’s biggest beef exporters, has employed tactics like those used to try and shut down Australia’s live export industry, which have ignited public backlash to create political pressure to force regulatory reforms.
But while the Brazilian campaign’s underlying intent is to demand a total ban, activists have also urged the foreign government to adopt Australia’s regulatory standards if the trade continues to overseas markets, as per the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) which invokes international rules and benchmarks for animal welfare.
ESCAS was introduced in all of Australia’s livestock export markets following the 2011 Indonesian cattle trade ban to secure and safeguard ongoing market access.
The tracking and traceability system has enhanced welfare outcomes like the rate of pre-slaughter stunning escalating rapidly from 5 per cent prior to the Indonesian ban to about 95pc now – while also improving outcomes for non-Australian livestock.
But ESCAS has also been deeply criticised by the local livestock export sector for imposing hefty, additional regulatory costs on industry, to meet the Australian public’s demands for animal welfare treatment in importing countries.
Exporters also believe ESCAS has blocked or limited access to other markets and put them at a competitive disadvantage to other livestock exporting countries that they compete against, like Brazil, which don’t trade under the same international standards and therefore face lower regulatory costs.
However, reporting about the mistreatment of Brazilian cattle exported to Egypt and Lebanon said Animals International was now urging the Brazil government to introduce a regulatory system to make Brazilian exporters legally accountable for ensuring supply chains in importing countries meet international standards, “such as occurs with Australia’s live export trade”.
“Brazil sends tens of thousands of cattle to Egypt and the Middle East to be killed for their meat each year and is looking to grow this trade (but) there are no laws in destination countries to protect animals from extreme cruelty,” Animals International said.
In the media statement, the activist group’s Latin America Director Luis Carlos Sarmiento said “Our investigation found animals being subjected to cruel handling and slaughter methods that would not be acceptable in Brazil and that breach international welfare standards”.
“In Brazil, cattle are stunned unconscious before slaughter due to humane slaughter legislation,” he said.
“However, this is not the case in Lebanon where attempts to restrain fearful animals routinely lead to brutal treatment like eye gouging and tail twisting.
“All animals exported from Brazil suffer painful fully-conscious slaughter.
"Brazil exports boxed beef to every country it sends live animals to, including significant amounts to Egypt where horrific animal cruelty is systemic.
“It is unethical and illogical to force animals to suffer in the live export trade when there is a viable and more economically valuable alternative."
Brazilian based Fórum Animal President Elizabeth MacGregor said the live exports issue was “still unknown” to Brazilian society but investigations were “essential to raise awareness” to pressure authorities like the Agriculture Ministry to “take the necessary measures to end this cruelty”.
The statement said Animals International was urging the Brazil government to introduce loading and shipboard standards to protect animals as required under Chapter 7.2.3 of the OIE Transport of Animals by Sea guidelines; ensure a government veterinarian accompanies all livestock shipments by sea; and require mandatory reporting of illness/injuries and deaths on ships and the public disclosure of that information.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council CEO Simon Westaway said the Brazilian activist expose and underlying demands showed Australia continued to be “upheld as the global benchmark in animal welfare regulations and standards in the international transportation of livestock”.
“As one of the largest livestock export nations, our industry has successfully transitioned to these world leading standards,” he said.
“We naturally welcome calls for other live exporting countries to make the necessary step change towards ensuring the highest standards in animal welfare, akin to the introduction of an ESCAS, are now being considered and in time replicated and introduced.
“The Australian livestock export sectors continued commitment to push for improved global standards in animal welfare in livestock transportation is a primary driver behind the now advanced work taking place by industry to introduce the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) progressively over coming years.”
Statistics from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) show that Australia has exported no livestock to the Egyptian and Lebanese markets in the past year; despite Egypt importing about 250,000 head for 2017.
In 2016, Lebanon received about 12,000 head of livestock exported from Australia but imported none from here in the four years before that.
Egypt also imported no livestock from Australia in 2016 but took 25,199 head in 2015, more than 100,000 in 2014, none in 2013 and 16,500 in 2012.
The latest six-monthly report to federal parliament, on live exports animal welfare performance and shipments by sea, that’s required as per governing regulations for the industry, shows that of the 444,968 cattle exported there was 552 mortalities (0.12pc), and of the 776,471 sheep exported 3839 mortalities (0.49pc) and no mortalities for the 703 buffalo exported from Australia.
An MLA report also said Brazilian live cattle exports “declined substantially in the past
few years, mostly due to its high reliance on the Venezuelan market, which accounted on average for 80pc of total live cattle exports”.
It said shipments fell from 817,297 head in 2013-14 to 281,116 head in 2016-17.
“Like beef exports, live cattle shipments have also increased shipments to other markets such as Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt in the past fiscal year, but are still far from the volumes shipped to Venezuela,” it said.
MLA’s report said the Brazilian cattle herd has been moving through a rebuilding phase, with numbers rising since 2013 and reaching approximately 215 million head in 2015 but still maintains the second largest cattle herd in the world, only behind India.
“However, the period of retention is ending and production growth is expected to return,” it said.
“Market access and sanitary status remain Brazil’s major obstacles to increasing its presence in global markets, particularly in Australia’s key export markets, where Brazil currently doesn’t have access, such as Japan, Korea, the US and Indonesia.”