Australia’s live export industry has a big problem in Vietnam.

It's a market in crisis, with animals suffering the most heinous abuse. Here's what we're doing about it.

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LAST UPDATED: 28 May 2015

When our investigator visited Vietnamese abattoirs last month, he witnessed what Australian cattle who commonly fall ‘outside the system’ are subjected to. It is the same fate suffered by local cattle as well as those imported from other countries when they are slaughtered in the ‘traditional method’:

A frightened bull is marched onto a blood soaked kill floor. He is restrained tightly by a rope around his neck. A slaughterman stands before him wielding a sledgehammer. What happens next can go one of two ways: the animals who suffer critical brain damage after the first strike are ‘lucky’. The ‘unlucky’ remain completely aware of their pain, and imminent threat to their lives. They know what’s coming. The terrified bull pulls away and winces as the sledgehammer is raised above his head for the second time. And a third. Unable to escape, he bellows loudly in protest with every strike. He begins to shake violently as he turns his head and shuts his eyes in anticipation of the fourth blow. And the fifth...

This shocking ‘slaughter method’ is how cattle are traditionally killed for meat in Vietnam. So when Australia’s live export industry turned to Vietnam as a major customer, there was always a high risk the same would happen to Australian animals exported to the region — even though our live export rules are supposed to prevent such abuse.

And it did happen. Not once. Not twice. But by the industry’s own estimation — thousands of times over.

Animals Australia investigators document Australian cattle still being ‘sledgehammered to death’ in Vietnam

Animals Australia’s investigation sparked overdue international attention and condemnation of the trade. It also sparked a political storm that forced the Australian Prime Minister to confront the issue on national television. In addition, the international spotlight compelled Vietnamese authorities to investigate slaughter practices in their country — perhaps for the very first time.

Animals Australia investigators aren’t the only ones to have witnessed this horror first hand. In 2013, the first video evidence showing Australian cattle being hit with sledgehammers was provided to the Department of Agriculture by a concerned member of the public. But instead of halting live cattle exports at that time, the industry chose to rapidly expand the trade and increase market share in Vietnam. In that time, live exporters have reportedly documented cruelty of their own, apparently in a bid to ‘catch-out’ their competitors — but it’s unclear whether this evidence has ever been provided to authorities. In fact, one industry source was quoted as saying all exporters were having “problems” in Vietnam, but that those problems should be “kept between exporters”.

Two years and thousands of sledgehammered Australian cattle later, live export industry bosses finally recognised in March 2015 that there was a serious problem in Vietnam. They responded with a “crisis meeting” and a “6 point plan”.

The fact that one month after this meeting, Animals Australia investigators documented yet more Australian cattle being sledgehammered to death in Vietnam, is only the first sign that the industry plan is inadequate.

And in reality, the industry’s 6-point plan to address sledgehammering in Vietnam isn’t a 6-point plan at all. It’s a 1-point plan. Here’s why:

There is only one thing on this plan that the industry shouldn’t have already been doing under its obligations to abide by Australian law. That the industry has been sending animals to Vietnam before these most basic requirements were in place is outrageous.

Voluntary 6-point plan proposed by the live export trade to address cruelty in Vietnam

The fact that 5 out of 6 points in the industry’s action plan address things the industry should already be doing reveals just how dire the situation in Vietnam is. It also reveals:

  1. Industry bosses don’t automatically expect all exporters to comply with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). Or put another way, the industry expects exporters will probably flout the law.
  2. Live exporters require ‘extra encouragement’ to abide by Australian law. Which is hardly surprising given the Australian Government’s unfettered support of live exports and its apparent unwillingness to enforce its own regulations or punish offenders.

To the average law-abiding citizen, the presence of Australian laws is enough to respect that they should be followed. Not so in the live export industry.

And while the Australian Government has failed to mete out meaningful consequences for crimes in the live export trade — the consequences for animals could not be more dire. In light of this, the industry’s admissions last week that ‘everyone’s operating outside the system’ were extraordinary.

We think it’s time that crimes against animals were punished accordingly. We think it’s time that the Australian Government be called out for being complicit in these crimes. And we think that if the live export industry is serious about wanting to stop the brutal sledgehammering of animals in Vietnam, they will need a better 6-point plan.

So we wrote one for them.

While Animals Australia maintains a firm position for the complete phase out of live exports — we are determined to ensure that any well-intentioned moves by industry actually result in outcomes for animals. Our revised plan will not only accomplish what live export bosses say they are seeking to achieve — an end to the disorder and sledgehammering of Australian cattle in Vietnam — but importantly, it will also improve conditions for other animals on the ground, too.

We put this new plan to the Australian Live Exporters Council at a meeting in Canberra today.

We are awaiting their response.

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3 ways you can help end crimes against animals:

  1. Support the work of our undercover investigators. Click here to make an urgent donation to our investigations unit today.
  2. Be a part of Australia's biggest, boldest public awareness campaign on behalf of live export victims. Click here to see the billboards and get involved!
  3. Lobby your MP. More and more politicians are uncomfortable about their party's support for live export. Send them an instant message now — don't let them get away with repeating industry spin!

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