Cattle ‘sledgehammering’ in Vietnam raises yet more questions over live export

Recent revelations about the sledgehammering to death of what seem to be Australian cattle in Vietnam provide further evidence of
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Recent revelations about the sledgehammering to death of what seem to be Australian cattle in Vietnam provide further evidence of the government’s inability to control how exported livestock are slaughtered overseas.

An Animals Australia investigation reported by ABC’s 7.30 showed what are reportedly Australian cattle being slaughtered in three abattoirs. Australia has suspended trade to the facilities while they are investigated.

The government’s tool to try to ensure humane slaughter is known as the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS). This requires cattle to be killed in accordance with World Animal Health Organisation standards. Killing cattle by hitting with a sledgehammer, although common practice in Vietnam, is not allowed by the standards.

The other requirements of ESCAS offer little reassurance to the Australian community that welfare will be safeguarded. Under the standards, cattle must be traced. This means we should know which cattle are Australian, and be able to control and audit the supply chain.

There are problems with this model. Supply-chain control is desirable but potentially contravenes the principles of the World Trade Organisation. Auditing is only as good as the manner in which it is undertaken, and there has been much recent debate about this.

But beyond problems with Australian regulations, there are broader issues with sending live cattle overseas, and to Vietnam in particular.

What do people in Vietnam think about slaughter?

Vietnam is a relatively poor country, and has been even poorer in its recent history. There is little culture of caring for animal welfare when human welfare is the primary concern. Of even greater concern regarding the animals is the fact that Vietnam now acts as a staging post for Australian cattle that are ultimately en route to China and other Asian markets.

In 2015, Australia exported 311,523 cattle to Vietnam, up from 3,353 in 2012. That’s a hundred-fold increase in just three years. Increasingly these exports are of young “feeder” cattle, which need an additional period of feeding before they are ready for slaughter.

At the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics (CAWE) at the University of Queensland, we have led a World Animal Health Organisation project to run training courses in Vietnam on livestock slaughter last year. This included research into Vietnamese attitudes to livestock slaughter, in comparison with other south-east and east Asian countries.

For a forthcoming scientific paper, we surveyed future stakeholders in the industry – veterinary and animal science students. We found that those in Vietnam are more accepting of livestock transport by ship and road than those in China, Malaysia and Thailand. They also more readily agree that exporting livestock from a developed country to developing countries is acceptable.

In another survey, we investigated attitudes of those directly involved in the livestock slaughter and transport industry in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and China. Over 1,000 respondents took part, including 210 from Vietnam.

Similar to respondents from China, Vietnamese respondents were not confident that they could make improvements to the welfare of animals in their care, whereas those from Malaysia and Thailand were. Vietnamese respondents had the least agreement with the survey statement: “In the past I have tried to make improvements to the welfare of the animals in my care.”

In Malaysia, respondents identified religious beliefs as one of the motivations for improving slaughter. For Vietnamese respondents, the main factors were the law, their knowledge, the attitudes of co-workers and company approval.

Vietnamese respondents also rated having the right tools and resources as less important in welfare improvement. This suggests that lack of access to stunning machines isn’t a major factor.

While all respondents thought that welfare improvements would work best when driven by legislation and government, those in Vietnam (and China) also thought that the police played an important role.

Phasing out live export

Our surveys indicate the major differences between the attitudes of the cattle industry in Vietnam and Australia. The police play almost no role in livestock welfare improvement in Australian abattoirs, yet they are considered an important player in Vietnam. Unlike Muslim countries, there is no argument in Vietnam that exports support religious festivals.

By sending young cattle to Vietnam, the Australian agriculture industry is losing out on jobs from growing them to a mature weight and processing them before sending them overseas. There is now a state-of-the-art killing and processing facility in Darwin to achieve this; the first new cattle abattoir to be built in Australia in 50 years.

The latest revelations should act as a signal that Australia should phase out the export of livestock, not immediately, but over five to 10 years. This would enable exporters to build trade relations for meat export, delivering a high-quality product to overseas markets for the benefit of Australian producers, the consumers and the Australian conscience.

What are your thoughts on live cattle exports? The Conversation

Clive Phillips, Professor of Animal Welfare, Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  1. Jo Carson  

    Cultures which have little regard for human life, have even less for animals.

  2. Live animal exports are in practice for one reason only – it is cheaper to bundle animals onto ships, pay a few Asian workers to feed them and then cart them off at the other end and wipe your hands of them. Cattle and sheep on export ships are not treated with much care. Some ships have a vet on board, but the workers who look after them are ill-trained and really don’t care if some animals get fed and others are too stressed to eat.

    At the other end of the voyage, the animals are frequently left in unsanitary yards for long periods of time with not much food and their drinking water is appalling. No wonder they pick up local diseases and then every so often the country to which they’ve been exported rejects them. If they do arrive in reasonable order, they are taken away and subjected to the most disgusting brutality when they are killed.

    Be assured – the Australian government and the likes of Australian Meat Holdings who do the exporting (et al) DO NOT CARE. All they want is a cheap way of working an overseas lucrative market. Our workers miss out on employment, our Australian cattle are tortured and that is fine with the Department of Agriculture who issue the export certificates.

    So, that’s what happens to animals from a so-called enlightened and caring country. If YOU care, please write to your local federal member. They’re all frothing at the mouth and grovelling for our votes right now.

  3. Peter McKenzie  

    I was brought up on a farm so I saw animals slaughtered at a very young age. I was lucky my parents didn’t enjoy this part of farming and carried out these unpleasant tasks with minimum distress to the animal.
    What I want to know is who started this vile business of sending these animals on stinking ships to nations
    who are sadistic and cruel.
    When you see these beautiful creatures in paddocks so peaceful and serene who face the ultimate betrayal by our greedy incompetent, insensitive politicians by being sent to some hell hole overseas to be tortured and killed it makes you wonder about our own humanity. DISGUSTING.

    • Lynne Highfield  

      Peter, you’ve said it beautifully. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments!

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