On 5 December 2012 DAFF received a formal complaint from RSPCA Australia alleging potential non compliance under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) in an Israeli abattoir. The complainant also raised concerns that the initial independent ESCAS audit report had not identified breaches of animal welfare guidelines.
Video footage was supplied and the abattoir was identified as Bakar Tnuva abattoir in Israel. The investigation confirmed that the abattoir was an approved ESCAS for one exporter at the time the footage was taken, namely Elders International Australia Limited (Elders). Elders has submitted that the animals in the footage were not exported by their company. The investigation independently confirmed that that, while the animals in the footage may have included animals of Australian origin, any Australian sourced livestock pre-dated the commencement of the ESCAS regulatory framework in Israel. Elders cooperated fully with the regulator (DAFF) and ensured that no Elders animals could be handled by the abattoir until the outcomes of the DAFF investigation were known.
DAFF requested an additional independent audit of the facility to determine whether the abattoir remained in a position to continue to comply with ESCAS. This audit was conducted and the resulting report demonstrated compliance with ESCAS. There is no confirmed ESCAS non compliance and no regulatory action will be taken against any Australian licensed livestock exporter.
On 5 December 2012, DAFF received a formal complaint from RSPCA Australia of alleged non-compliances with animal welfare guidelines that might involve cattle exported from Australia to Israel under an approved ESCAS. The complaint included video footage that RSPCA Australia said had been recorded by an undercover Israeli journalist, between 9 September and 24 October 2012.
DAFF also received an assessment of the video footage by RSPCA Australia. The RSPCA analysis alleges a number of minor and major non-compliances with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) animal welfare recommendations in the Terrestrial Animal Health Code, upon which the ESCAS animal welfare performance measures and targets are based.
The complainant also raised concerns that an initial independent audit report had been performed at the abattoir in July 2012, and that at that time no animal welfare non compliances had been detected.
DAFF regulates the export of livestock under the Export Control Act 1982,the Australian Meat and Live–stock Industry Act 1997 and associated orders, regulations and standards including the ‘Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL)’.
In order to receive approval to export a consignment of livestock, the holder of a licence to export livestock must show how they will comply with both the Commonwealth Government’s regulations and the importing country requirements.
Exporters intending to supply Australian–sourced livestock for slaughter or fattening (feeder) purposes must comply with Australia‘s new regulatory framework – the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
ESCAS was initially implemented in Indonesia, and subsequently implemented in a series of three tranches for all remaining markets. ESCAS for countries in Tranche 2, including Israel, came into effect for all consignments exported on or after 1 September 2012.
Under the ESCAS framework, Australian exporters must develop and implement a supply chain assurance system, approved by the DAFF Secretary, that:
- meets OIE recommendations for animal welfare
- demonstrates control through the supply chain
- enables livestock to be effectively traced by exporters within a supply chain through to and including slaughter
- meets reporting and accountability requirements
- is independently verified and audited.
Further information on the ESCAS framework is available on the DAFF website.
The investigation focused on the following issues:
- whether the slaughter line or abattoir seen in the video footage was part of an approved ESCAS supply chain at the time the video footage was made
- whether the livestock seen in each section of the video footage were sourced from Australia, and if so, whether they were exported under an ESCAS
- whether the video footage showed non-compliances with ESCAS animal welfare performance measures and targets
- if the above three points were confirmed, whether there was any non-compliance with any other aspects of ESCAS; and
- whether the results of the investigation gave reasons for the Secretary to take regulatory action.
While outside of the scope of the investigation, some consideration was separately given to the concerns raised by the complainant regarding independent auditing.
Conduct of investigation
The information DAFF reviewed in the conduct of the investigation included:
- the formal complaint and video footage sent to DAFF by the RSPCA
- analysis of the video footage by the RSPCA
- animal welfare assessment of the video footage by DAFF animal welfare experts
- ESCAS documentation previously provided by the exporter, including the initial independent audit report
- information provided by Elders International Australia Limited
- information provided by a second exporter, Livestock Shipping Services Pty Ltd
- information provided by the exporter about changes made at the abattoir in response to the allegations; and
- independent audit reports on the abattoir since December 2012 which were supplied to DAFF for the purpose of having this abattoir added to their supply chain.
Was the facility included in an approved ESCAS supply chain?
Yes. The abattoir was confirmed as being included in an approved ESCAS supply chain for cattle for one exporter. The abattoir is not included in an approved ESCAS for sheep.
Were the animals seen in the footage Australian animals exported under an ESCAS?
No. The footage was taken up to and including 24 October 2012. At the time this footage was taken, the only consignment of livestock to be exported to Israel with an approved ESCAS supply chain that included Bakar Tnuva abattoir had not yet departed Australia. The consignment departed Australia on 26 October 2012 and arrived on 13 November 2012.
DAFF has also confirmed that no other ESCAS consignments to any other supply chain in Israel were in Israel at that time. The first consignment to any other approved ESCAS supply chain in Israel departed Australia on 20 October 2012 and arrived on 9 November 2012.
DAFF determined that while some of the cattle and sheep seen in the footage may have been of Australian origin at some time in the past, they were not exported from Australia under ESCAS arrangements. All exports of livestock to Israel, departing Australia and entering an Israel supply chain after 1 September 2012, from any exporter, are now subject to ESCAS regulation.
Did ESCAS animal welfare non compliances occur?
No. DAFF animal welfare experts assessed the video footage and confirmed activity that is inconsistent with World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) animal welfare performance measures and targets. However as the livestock were not subject to the ESCAS regulatory framework, no ESCAS non-compliances have occurred and no regulatory action will be taken under Australian law.
Israel media has reported that corrective action has been taken at the abattoir. DAFF is aware that other actions have been taken including a police investigation, a Ministry of Agriculture investigation, counselling of veterinary officials, strengthening of Israel inspections and installation of cameras in abattoirs.
Consideration of the concerns raised by the complainant regarding independent auditing
The complainant also raised concerns that the initial independent audit performed in July 2012 failed to note issues which were illustrated in the video footage.
Under ESCAS, independent audits are conducted at various stages in the export process. The initial independent audit was just that, an initial audit to determine whether it is possible for an ESCAS consignment to be processed through the supply chain. Subsequent independent performance audits are conducted after the exporter’s livestock have entered the supply chain. These performance audits assess whether the regulatory framework requirements for control, traceability and animal welfare continue to be met.
The independent auditing of supply chains for ESCAS has been specifically designed to ensure that the exporter remains responsible for systems in importing countries. The regulatory requirements oblige the exporter to procure the services of an auditor who is independent, has no conflicts of interest, and possesses an appropriate level of competence and expertise (through qualifications and experience). The audit conducted must be consistent with relevant international standards and guidelines for auditing, be transparent, be evidence based and be conducted in an impartial, ethical and professional manner.
In assessing the explicit requirements of independence, conflict of interest, competence and expertise, DAFF requires the exporter to provide evidence that the audit company is accredited by an appropriate authority, such as a member of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) or equivalent. This accreditation must be to an international standard eg. the International Standards Organisation (ISO) in a relevant discipline. DAFF requires evidence that the auditing agency meets these requirements prior to accepting an independent audit report.
The investigation determined that no ESCAS non compliance has occurred and therefore no regulatory action will be taken against any licensed Australian livestock exporter.
Australian livestock exporters cooperated fully with the investigation and evidence provided by the exporter and independent auditors demonstrate that the facility can meet the requirements of ESCAS.