There are numerous animal advocacy(AA) groups hard at work in the South East Asian region attempting to improve the plight of animals in commercial operations. The purpose of these groups is to reduce the suffering of animals. Their job isn’t easy. When they lobby government, industry and commercial operators they are often met with a closed door, or promises that will never be actualised. Their problem is that the changes that they ask for come at a cost. Animal handling training costs money, stunning equipment for slaughterhouses isn’t cheap, reductions in stocking densities is seen as an expense. So, they resort to public pressure tactics to make glacially slow change.
There is another player in the game having far more success. Live exporters working to meet the ESCAS regulations under which they operate. ESCAS is the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, consisting of 29 standards, which all feedlots and abattoirs must meet if they are to receive Australian cattle in foreign markets. The activities of live export companies, in meeting these ESCAS requirements, are implementing the types of practices that the aforementioned advocacy groups consider a far-off dream. Stunning for slaughter (as opposed to roping and conscious death which is the norm), low stress animal handling and state of the art infrastructure are all things that seem light years away for AA organisations in these countries and yet here it is, being delivered with relative ease, supported by co-operation between governments, industry and commercial operators. Implemented in short periods of time at no cost to the philanthropic community but rather paid for by Australian live export companies and Australian cattle producers. So, what’s the difference and how are they so successful at making change in animal welfare outcomes?
It’s because of commercial leverage. In a country like Indonesia, when an animal advocacy group walks in to an abattoir manager’s office and asks them to change their standard operating procedures to include low stress animal handling and pre-slaughter stunning (if they get in to the office at all) they rely on appealing to the manager’s sense of humanity or the risk of being publicly pressured to make change (hence why they rarely get in the room). But when the abattoirs long term supplier walks in the door, with a ready supply of clean, disease free Australian livestock for which the abattoir has no viable alternative supply and says, that, to be able to supply the facility they will need to meet the 29 ESCAS standards (see below), the manager listens. Before this interaction even happened there were discussions between the countries of both parties about the standards, MOU’s put in place, industry groups like MLA lobbying representative organisations, local governments and operators. This is the type of support that AA’s could only dream about. And the result? The cost-effective implementation of world leading animal welfare standards in countries decades behind in the treatment of animals. A win for animal advocacy if ever there has been one.
The animal welfare programs of live export companies, supported by producers through MLA, are some of, if not the, most effective programs for improving animal welfare outcomes in South East Asia. They are lean and mean due to their commercial nature utilising in-market expertise and resources as much as possible. It is a world first model for pushing modern animal welfare standards in to developing nations that has never been tried before. Animal advocates the world over should be standing up and paying attention. In countries where even the idea of animal advocacy is in its infancy, in the locations that present the greatest opportunity for reducing the suffering of animals in commercial settings, there is one system light years ahead of the rest, ESCAS. When organisations like animals Australia spend millions of philanthropic dollars on campaigns that may close the trade, they are effectively shooting their own cause in the foot. If their goal is to reduce suffering for animals in the world then they are going about it the wrong way. A ban on the live export trade from Australia would result in a net increase in animal suffering in the world.
This isn’t to say that live exporters are doing these positive activities from the kindness of their own hearts. They are doing it to meet the requirements of the legislation under which they operate. Legislation which came about because of the work of Animals Australia in 2011. Credit where credit is due. But the fact that Animals Australia continues to follow a strategy which may lead to closing the trade, and a decline in the state of animal advocacy in the region, displays either a lack of perspective on their part or a failure of the live export industry to communicate the positive impact that they are having. The job for Animals Australia has been done with the implementation of ESCAS and the inadvertent kick starting of one of the most effective vehicles for improved animal welfare outcomes in South East Asia. One must wonder whether the millions of dollars that Animals Australia currently spends trying to remove the trade altogether would be better spent elsewhere, say on slaughter equipment in the abattoirs they condemn?
The live export industry needs to stop apologizing for its existence and start taking some pride in the massive improvements that it has facilitated in the markets to which it exports. ESCAS is an on-going experiment in how to drastically update the animal welfare practices in our destination markets in a short amount of time, at an extremely efficient cost and should get the recognition it deserves from the animal advocate community which seem so opposed to its existence.
ESCAS Standards (Enforced by stringent physical on-site audits by third party auditors)
- Handling and movement of livestock must be carried out calmly and effectively, avoiding harm, distress or injury.
- Livestock must not be subjected to procedures that cause pain and suffering.
- Livestock must not be isolated unless necessary.
- Sick or injured animals must be humanely disposed of or segregated and treated appropriately.
- Livestock must never be forced to walk over the top of other animals.
- Livestock must not be left individually restrained during break times or delays.
- Ramp sides must be sufficiently high to prevent escape.
- Facilities and equipment must be free from any protrusions, sharp edges or other faults/flaws that could cause injury to the animals.
- Holding pens must provide enough space for the animals to stand up, lie down and turn around.
- Lighting must be conducive to animal movement and sufficient to perform inspection, when necessary.
- Clean water must be available and accessible to all animals.
- Feed of sufficient quantity and quality must be provided to all animals held over 12 hours.
- Animals must be protected from exposure to adverse weather conditions or alternative arrangements must be made to alleviate heat/cold stress.
- Animals must be inspected on arrival at the facility and daily thereafter (inspected twice daily in lairage if held longer than 12 hours). Animals must be held in suitable groups. Records of inspection must be maintained.
- The method of restraint employed must be designed and operated effectively for the size and class of livestock processed.
- Equipment used to restrain animals must be maintained in good repair and effective working order. Records of maintenance are maintained.
- There must be a back-up procedure to stunning. If an initial stun is ineffective, a re‑stun must be applied immediately.
- Stunning equipment must be correctly applied, with the appropriate method, charge / pressure / electrical setting used for each animal.
- Where pre‑slaughter stunning is used, the stunning procedure must occur without delay once the animal has been restrained. However, in the case of post-cut stunning, stunning must occur immediately after the throat has been cut.
- The stun must be effective and result in immediate unconsciousness of the animal.
- Slaughter must be performed using a sharp knife and result in massive bleeding from both carotid arteries (or the vessels from which they arise, in the case of thoracic sticking).
- The throat must be cut using a single (blade does not leave the wound until act of slaughter completed), deep, uninterrupted fast stroke of the knife.
- For reversible stunning, the time between stunning and slaughter must not exceed 20 seconds.
- The head must be restrained in a manner which facilitates slaughter and for as short a time as possible.
- The head of the animal must be kept in extension to prevent the edges of the wounds touching until the animal is unconscious.
- Animals must not be hoisted, have water thrown on them or be otherwise disturbed prior to confirmed unconsciousness
- Death must be assured before performing carcase dressing or cutting procedures.
- Where allowed, pregnant females must be handled separately to other stock and if slaughtered, foetuses must not be rescued.
- Each facility in the ESCAS supply chain must have Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to ensure that facility staff work in accordance with the ESCAS animal welfare standard.