LAST UPDATED: 25 June 2019
In 2011, the live export industry was exposed for horrific cruelty in Indonesia. Rather than ensure animals would no longer be sent to countries where they are at risk of extreme abuse, the industry opened a new market — Vietnam — where the traditional method of slaughter was sledge-hammering ...
It's what happens before the first blow that is hardest to watch. He'd already seen his pen mates have their skulls crushed by a sledgehammer ... One poor animal collapsed to the ground in absolute terror and anxiety before he'd even been hit once. Such was the profound fear permeating throughout this slaughterhouse. This Aussie steer knew exactly what was coming. In what animal behaviour experts call a typical fear response, he bowed his head as low as it could go and tried desperately, yet hopelessly, to avoid the sledgehammer. He was trying to be invisible. To be small. But there was no escape.
Another animal withstood five blows to the head, his skull caved in, before he collapsed.
Sledgehammering is a nightly horror in slaughterhouses in Vietnam. It's a horrific fate for any animal but live export laws should at least protect Australian cattle from this brutal practice. But regulations are failing, exporters know it, and yet they continue to flood Vietnam with animals.
In a new investigation, Animals Australia has again documented extensive live export regulation breaches throughout Vietnam, including the brutal sledgehammering to death of Australian cattle. The evidence gathered exposes systemic corruption and circumvention of the traceability system in Vietnam, leaving tens of thousands of animals exposed to horrific cruelty.
The investigation also uncovered:
- Australian animals in non-approved abattoirs in a notorious slaughter village where sledgehammering is a nightly occurrence
- Australian animals present at non-approved slaughterhouses in North-East and Central Vietnam
- the routine removal of ear tags so they cannot be linked back to the exporter legally responsible for them
- an Australian bull butchered while still alive at an approved abattoir
- Australian supplied stunning equipment being incorrectly used in approved slaughterhouses
- animals being crudely killed and butchered in both approved and non-approved slaughterhouses in filthy, unhygienic conditions
The Department of Agriculture (DA) first became aware of Australian cattle in Vietnam being sledgehammered in 2013. In May 2015 Animals Australia provided DA with further evidence of sledgehammering, showing the regulatory system was failing to protect animals. Since then, DA has consistently been provided with information that reveals the traceability system in Vietnam (including the use of CCTV) has been corrupted — with thousands of animals leaving approved supply chains. Despite this, and knowing that Australian animals remain at extreme risk of sledgehammering in Vietnam, they have continued to allow cattle exports to Vietnam.
The most damming confessions about ongoing regulation breaches in Vietnam come directly from the industry itself. One exporter told the media in 2015 that in Vietnam "everybody's operating outside the system but pointing the finger at each other," adding that the ongoing 'leakage' of cattle outside supply chains in Vietnam — and even across the border into China — represented 'a shit sandwich just waiting to be served'. Add to this, allegations of exporters spying on each other; the removal of ear tags to prevent breaches being linked to exporters responsible; and recurring 'leakage' despite the presence of CCTV cameras in feedlots — the Australian government has a catalogue of evidence to prove that this system is being disrespected, corrupted and circumvented.
Of the 8 exporters to Vietnam, only 3 are using the industry's much-touted 'Big Brother' CCTV system, which is monitored in Jakarta. All other exporters 'self-monitor'.
The promise of universal CCTV was the industry's PR response to the public exposure of sledgehammering in 2015. They promised to implement a '6 Point Plan' to deal with ongoing 'leakage' of cattle outside supply chains but it was weak and predictably, has failed to curb cruelty or the illegal sale of cattle.
At the time, Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia presented the Australian Live Exporters Council with an alternative plan — which included giving access to CCTV camera footage to the Department of Agriculture. ALEC promised to respond within 6 weeks. One year on and we are still waiting ...
The industry acknowledges that the sudden and rapid growth in cattle exports to Vietnam has presented serious animal welfare challenges (read: cattle at risk of sledgehammering). But instead of stemming this growth, they have continued to flood the market with cattle. Some 311,523 Australian cattle were exported to Vietnam for slaughter in 2015, with 20,000 to 30,000 animals exported every month in 2016. One importer has already warned that the market is oversupplied, and this only exacerbates the risks for animals.
Exporters are aware that the system is being corrupted in Vietnam, they are aware of the horrific consequences for Australian cattle as a result, and yet they are still flooding the country with more and more animals.
Most of the slaughterhouses in Vietnam killing Australian cattle have no basic hygiene or OH&S protocols and kill and butcher animals in filthy, bacteria-filled conditions. Meat from these animals would be deemed unfit for human consumption in Australia.
The broader ethics of encouraging the Vietnamese (and others throughout South East Asia) to increase red meat consumption at a time the Western world is being warned by health experts to eat less are also in question here — and reinforces that this is a profit-driven industry that cares little, if anything, for animals or people.
Under former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce's watch, the Department of Agriculture failed to implement any meaningful sanctions against re-offending live export companies. Despite recurring breaches of Australian live export laws in multiple countries, resulting in horrific cruelty to tens of thousands of animals — not one export company has been prosecuted or had their licence suspended.
The Department of Agriculture is inherently conflicted in its role as regulator and facilitator of trade. And the Minister responsible — both former Minister Joyce, and current Minister Bridget McKenzie — have professed support for rich live export companies, regardless of the cruelty and corruption that is exposed.
They're the forgotten victims of Australia's live export trade — dairy cows and other animals exported for breeding purposes who are left totally unprotected by live export regulations. The government and the industry says requiring appropriate standards and care for these animals in importing countries is too difficult. So they simply don't.
That means the 30,000 dairy cows and breeder cattle sent from Australia to Vietnam last year can be killed in slaughterhouses that sledgehammer animals to death. And Australia's live export industry sends them anyway.
This Aussie sheep's suffering and death in Kuwait represented just another deal struck by Australia's live export industry. It didn't matter to him that regulations meant he shouldn't have been left on the back of this truck in scorching heat — let alone sold for cruel backyard slaughter. But it matters to us. And it matters to us that the exporter legally responsible for him has never been held accountable. It matters that despite regulations being in place in recent years Australian cattle have been stabbed in the eyes in Gaza; had their leg tendons slashed in Egypt; and have been sledgehammered to death in Vietnam.
And it matters that not a single exporter has been prosecuted for these crimes.
The live export industry has a track record of supplying animals to horrific cruelty. And you only need to look at the brutality they were prepared to condemn animals to for over three decades before regulations were put in place to understand the true nature of this industry.
Exporters happily supplied cattle to Egypt, where they knew tendon slashing was routine; to Gaza, where there was no infrastructure to facilitate 'humane' slaughter; to Indonesia, where brutal roping slaughter was common-place; and to Vietnam, where sledgehammering and 'flooding'1 is a common practice in slaughterhouses. They've supplied millions of sheep to the Middle East knowing they'd be tied to roof racks and stuffed in car boots and that they'd be subjected to brutal street slaughter during the annual Festival of Sacrifice.
This is live export in 2016. New regulations introduced after 'Indonesia' were supposed to stop the worst abuses of this trade. But they aren't being enforced and exporters aren't being held accountable to them. It's time to end this cruelty once and for all.
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1 'Flooding' involves forcing a hose down the throat into the stomach of cattle forcing them to consume large quantities of water in the hours preceding slaughter, to illegally increase meat weight.