ESCAS reform weakens protections for Australian animals

Changes to the Exporter Supply Chain Audit System (ESCAS) announced by the Minister for Agriculture will weaken already minimal auditing processes in overseas abattoirs that slaughter Australian animals.

The changes to the system, termed ‘risk-based auditing’, will mean 30 per cent fewer visits to facilities by third party auditors, an increase in the length of time between audits, and a reduction in the level of scrutiny under ESCAS.

“These changes are completely unwarranted and are based on the false premise that the government has an understanding of the risk level of every overseas facility on its books.” said Heather Neil, RSPCA Australia CEO.

“It is only 2 years since the roll-out of ESCAS, far too short a time to build up enough information to understand the risks to animal welfare in facilities in countries that have no prior history of applying animal welfare standards.

“Risk-based auditing hasn’t even been implemented in Australian abattoirs where there is a government veterinarian on site every day.

The ESCAS system was brought in to provide the Australian public with an assurance that basic animal welfare standards would be required in all overseas facilities handling Australian animals.

“Our examination of the ESCAS auditing system has exposed a number of significant flaws which cast serious doubt on its credibility. The government should be acting to fix these problems, not wind back existing provisions.”

RSPCA Australia has identified the following serious problems with the ESCAS auditing process:

  • there is no requirement for Auditors to have specific training in animal welfare
  • the Government does not see the actual audit reports – it only receives a summary that is provided by the exporter
  • an abattoir could fail multiple audits and the government is not required to be informed: this would not be recorded in their compliance history
  • a once-a-year audit is no indication of how a facility is functioning on a daily basis
  • exporters are able to pick and choose their auditors and use the same individuals across multiple facilities.

“With this announcement the government has made it clear that it is far more concerned about cutting back on regulation than it is on protecting animal welfare.

“In his enthusiasm to promote the live export trade, the Minister appears to have overlooked the fact that exported animals shipped overseas are subjected to cumulative stress and suffering, and most will also endure the pain of slaughter while fully conscious. The live export trade is not humane, it is cruel and unnecessary”