Live-export reforms announced

The Federal Government has now gone public with its response to the recommendations of the 140-page report from ‘the Farmer Review’ of live exports, and to the recommendations of two industry-government working groups, one on cattle and one on sheep and goats.

In its response, the Government has agreed with every recommendation that was put forward by Farmer and by industry.

Bill Farmer’s recommendations are directly in line with our expectations.

Around the world, he wants every Australian exporter to be able to ‘trace or account for’ every single animal they export, right through to the point of slaughter.

Exporters will need to be able to show exactly where and how every animal was slaughtered, and what happened at each key step of the journey to get them there.

At the heart of Farmer’s recommendations is a two-step strategy:

(1)  requiring exporters to closely manage their stock will reduce the chances of ever seeing a repeat of the disturbing TV footage that sparked the recent crisis; and

(2)  if such footage is ever seen again, a future government will be able to identify any exporter who cannot account for every head and can then shut that exporter down, rather than shutting down an entire export market.

For that strategy to work, the obligation to ‘trace or account for’ every animal is going to be strict. The Live Export Council is already suggesting that it will cost their members around $25 million to fully meet the new requirements.

Farmer has also called for action to improve and clarify some animal welfare issues within Australia. He’s not convinced that everything in Australia is as tidy as it should be (see below).

… NFF stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ludwig

The National Farmers Federation has taken the running on industry’s response to the government’s decisions. NFF President Jock Laurie was with Minister Ludwig as the Government’s announcement was made and gave some supportive remarks to the media:

“The Government has shown its commitment to working with industry to improve standards and support an industry that is incredibly important to northern Australia,” Jock said.

“We welcome the Minister’s commitment that in future, entire markets will not have to be closed to address isolated animal welfare issues. This is extremely welcome news for the producers and communities significantly affected by the live export suspension.”

“The farmers and families who rely on the live export trade for their livelihoods – cattle and sheep producers, truck drivers, contractors, small businesses and many Indigenous Australians – have today been assured that this industry will continue”.

“We have stressed before, and we will continue to stress that animal welfare is of utmost priority to Australia’s livestock industry. Australian farmers do not condone animal cruelty: it simply has no place in our farming systems.”

… make the changes in just one year

The Government’s timeline for industry to ‘trace or account for’ every animal is demanding.

Organised on a country-by-country basis, the Government wants 75% of Australia’s live exports covered by the new arrangements by 29 February 2012.

The entire live export industry (excluding only breeder cattle) will be required to comply by 31 December 2012.

… an RFID tag for every animal?

Farmer’s report is likely to set the agenda for the future of the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS).

He comes down strongly in favour of requiring individual identification of every animal, getting rid of mob-based tags for sheep and goats, and getting rid of the NLIS exemptions currently applied to export cattle from the Territory and Western Australia.

He comments that manual counting animals on a loading ramp always produces errors, which will make it very hard for any exporter to truly ‘trace or account for’ every animal.

While making a few remarks about examining alternative technologies (such as barcoding), Farmer gives a pretty strong message that he expects the only truly reliable and workable solution will be to require RFID tags.

He acknowledges that the impact of this won’t be limited to the livex market: “for it to be practicable the domestic system would need to be developed first.”

On this recommendation, the Government’s response has been to ‘agree in principle’ – presumably they’re expecting some resistance to mandating RFID tags in sheep and goats.

… stronger compliance with ‘fit-to-load’ rules

At several points, Farmer reports evidence of animals that have entered the supply chain when they are not fit-to-load. He makes a number of comments about the need for cooperation on compliance and enforcement issues between AQIS and State-based animal welfare regulators.

He highlights the benefits that industry-based QA schemes like truckCare can bring to give industry an alternative to more and more government regulation and enforcement.

He doesn’t just give hints. Recommendation 3 is openly addressed to industry, rather than government. That’s quite unusual for this kind of Inquiry. Farmer calls on the export industry to “develop and implement a through-chain QA system” that reaches backwards to include on-farm preparation and land transport within Australia.

The message is pretty clear: get serious about cleaning up your own backyard, or governments will eventually come and do it for/to you.

… fix the loading problems at Freo!

Running on from his discussion on fit-to-load problems found in various parts of the nation, Farmer homes in on the problems at Freo.

He declares “There is evidence of numbers of out-of-specifications sheep being delivered to Fremantle wharf for loading onto ships. This is the result of special inspection requirements applying at Fremantle … [which] depart from [Government] requirements and add significant pressure to the loading process.”

He devotes an entire recommendation to Freo: Recommendation 4 – The Review recommends that the current inspection regime from Fremantle be reviewed, to ensure that thorough individual animal inspection by the AAV is conducted.”

Bill Farmer used to be an Ambassador for Australia. Using such clear language and giving an entire recommendation to Freo is a diplomat’s version of shouting out “hey, look at THIS!” The Federal Department of Agriculture and AQIS won’t miss the message.

… ‘Comprehensive review’ of ASEL

Farmer’s concluded that there are significant problems in how the ‘Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock’ (ASEL) are working.

The ASEL set the basic standards for the conduct of the livestock export trade, as required by the Australian, state and territory governments. They cover the sourcing and on-farm preparation of livestock, land transport of livestock for export, management of livestock in registered premises, vessel preparation, loading, and then all on-board management requirements once livestock are on-board a ship or an airplane.

Farmer has reported that “on several occasions in the domestic supply chain, the Review observed livestock that clearly did not meet the standards. Under Standard 1, livestock sourced for export must be inspected on-farm and any animal meeting rejection criteria must not be prepared for export. However, livestock that should have been rejected under Standard 1 were seen by the Review to have been transported and accepted into registered premises. On one occasion, livestock meeting the reject criteria were observed at ship loading and on board, having been through the requirements of Standard 4 without rejection.”

This is not a good look for the Federal Government. If a former Ambassador can find problems like this, in just a couple of visits to various registered premises, the obvious question will be ‘what are all those AQIS-approved vets and inspectors achieving?’

Farmer hasn’t called for just a few simple improvements to the ASEL. He clearly wasn’t impressed and he recommended (Rec No 6) that ‘a comprehensive review of ASEL be undertaken’.

The Government has accepted that recommendation and has set a deadline for the review to be completed by 28 February 2013.

Based on the specific problems that Farmer has pointed at, this review of ASEL is likely to bring a lot of attention back onto what happens inside Australia with on-farm preparation, stock selection, and the land transport task – and that would mean that our industry is going come under the spotlight.

 The ALRTA will pushing hard to ensure that we are fully consulted in that review – I was up in Minister Ludwig’s office on Monday this week to remind them of that point, repeating a message they’ve been hearing since September.

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