Article by: Hari Yellina
Government officials in charge of abattoir animal welfare say accusations that on-plant vets are urged to keep quiet about maltreatment don’t fit their ‘life experience.’ The staff from the Department of Agriculture was grilled this week in Senate estimates hearings about media coverage of accusations from an unidentified government vet working in export abattoirs that there was no backing for raising animal welfare concerns. The coverage was followed by extensive RSPCA messaging and case studies of animals that had to be destroyed on arrival at plants due to their weakened state.
Nicola Hinder, first assistant secretary of the department’s exports and veterinary services section, said that while such statements were concerning, they did not match the department’s experience working with the meat processing industry. Ms Hinder told the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee that the processing industry took animal welfare seriously, and that the ‘life experience of our highly experienced personnel who operate at facilities’ did not match the assertions. “Of course, we’ve looked into the situations that have been reported, and I am very sure that department officials have investigated those matters appropriately,” she said.
The department’s ongoing plant veterinarian recruitment push was also brought to light. Ms Hinder stated that the government employed 320 on-plant veterinarians at 88 export facilities around the country. She also said that while all available roles were now filled, the department was taking a proactive approach and expanding numbers to meet anticipated future shortages.
Animal welfare legislation enacted by state and territory bodies must be followed by abattoirs in Australia. Animals used to prepare meat for human consumption must be slaughtered according to the Australian standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human use. Its criteria are mandatory under Australian, state, and territory legislation. Moreover, they apply to all Australian abattoirs. Regardless of whether the meat is produced for export or domestic use, the standard mandates that animals be slaughtered in a way that avoids undue harm, pain, and suffering and gives them the least amount of disruption as possible.