MEAT and Livestock Australia says the dedicated and effective work of professionals to improve animal welfare in other countries where Australia exports live animals, has been overshadowed by animal activists determined to demonise the trade and have it shut down.
Reflecting on events of the past 12 months in the live export industry and the various claims made about his organisation by the likes of Animals Australia and others, MLA Managing Director Scott Hansen pleaded for a more accurate and informed understanding about his organisation’s role within the industry and its performance.
Mr Hansen said for many years Australian stockman and veterinarians have worked in Indonesia and other countries to improve animal welfare.
The majority of them were funded by cattle and sheep producers through their marketing and research services company MLA.
He said they won't get the positive press profile of some activists who visit the market “with a camera in hand”.
But they have been duly recognised by the independent reviewers who have conducted different inquiries on behalf of the Australian government and people.
Mr Hansen said the Independent Review of the Live Export Trade by former Indonesian envoy Bill Farmer (established in response to the animal cruelty issues raised in the ABC Four Corners program on May 30 last year), stated that “the activities of MLA and the operation of the Live Export Trade Animal Welfare Program, have led to improvements”.
In addition, it said “based on the Review’s visits and observations in markets in the Middle East and South-East Asia, it is evident that significant animal welfare gains have been achieved in some markets with a longstanding Australian export presence, including through MLA’s regional representation and Australian investment in animal welfare improvements”.
The independent reviewers went so far as to say, “the review was impressed by the professional commitment to improving animal welfare conditions shown by MLA employees”.
Mr Hansen said the independent reviewers acknowledged the work of cattle and sheep producers’ service company staff, MLA staff - under the direction of industry representatives and working alongside the commercial customers - was improving animal welfare in foreign countries.
He said it was also important to note that information and reports relating to this work have always been publicly available, “contrary to some claims”.
Mr Hansen said the Australian government's new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System had now provided a regulatory driver to hasten the compliance to international animal welfare standards.
He said MLA-funded animal welfare experts in Indonesia continue to be invited by many exporters and Indonesian importers to assist them in meeting the new requirements.
“It is important to remember that MLA is a service provider, it is not a government agency and has no regulatory powers and does not buy or sell any animals,” he said.
“The dedicated professionals, who continue to be invited into facilities night after night in Indonesia, are armed with no regulatory powers and no commercial power.
“They are armed with nothing more than their expertise and desire to try to influence the way in which animals are handled in a foreign country.
“They are the ones who step in when they see poor handling - not to take photos - but to stop it and try to educate the handlers on different handling approaches.
“In my eyes these are the people who are truly dedicated to improving animal welfare.”
Animals Australia has made various claims about MLA including that they should be made to pay the compensation claims that are currently being pursued by live exporters and cattle producers who suffered financial damage from the snap suspension and not the Federal government, who the claims are against.
The animal rights group also believes MLA were aware of the situation on the ground in Indonesia and failed to advise producers of the risks that their animals would face and what were routine slaughter methods there.
Animals Australia investigator Lyn White says MLA installed the 102 Mark I restraint boxes which facilitated much of the “cruelty” in Indonesia and which have now been banned.
“They were the organisation which betrayed the trust of the producers and at whose door responsibility firmly lies,” she said.