IN THE NEWS: Major Kimberley pastoral company investigating animal cruelty allegations aired on Israeli television

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IN THE NEWS: On DEC 6, 2019

The northern pastoral industry has again been thrown into turmoil by footage secretly filmed in the Kimberley, showing animals being punched, kicked and shot multiple times.

Key points:

  • The WA Department of Primary Industries is investigating after an Israeli national news program aired footage depicting animal cruelty on four Kimberley cattle stations
  • The footage, shot by activist group Sentient, depicted cattle being hit in the face by workers, dehorned without painkillers, and shot multiple times without being killed
  • Yeeda Pastoral Company has condemned the acts of cruelty carried out on its lease and has appointed independent investigators to identify the culprits

The footage was shot on four west Kimberley cattle stations in 2018, and showed practices that even pastoral industry groups have described as distressing and harrowing.

Yeeda Pastoral Company has confirmed Kilto Station, about 50 kilometres from Broome, is one of the sites in the footage, which depicts cattle being hit in the face by workers, dehorned without painkillers, and shot multiple times without being killed.

The segment also shows vast numbers of dead cattle being dragged into an uncovered pit.

International activist group Sentient filmed shot the footage, with the story airing on a national news program on Israel's public television network, Kan 11, on Wednesday, Australian time.

According to the organisation's website, undercover investigators, including the group's chief executive Ronen Bar, worked on four cattle stations over a two-year period.

"The problem is industry-wide — it would be wrong to make particular workers scapegoats when what we documented are standard practices," Sentient CEO Ronen Bar said in a statement.

"We bear no ill-will towards these workers; they too are trapped in a system and in a cultural acceptance of suffering that needs to be changed."

Mr Bar said he and Sentient were motivated to launch the undercover operation by Israel's status as a significant live export market for Australian cattle.

"We travelled to Australia to determine how Australian cattle were treated prior to being shipped and whether standards of care were acceptable to Israeli citizens," he said.

"I saw cattle being dehorned and castrated without pain relief — sick, injured and young motherless animals being left to die or being euthanised incorrectly."

Former manager backs station

Kimberley cattle producer Jack Burton was managing director at the time the undercover footage was obtained, although he is no longer involved in Yeeda Pastoral Company.

He defended the station, stating the situation on the ground was different to what was portrayed on camera.

"It is disappointing that as usual this type of footage is carefully crafted and edited to make us all look like barbarians," he said.

"We were in the middle of a disease outbreak at the feed yard where our animal losses were very high.

"We had several visits by local vets and it was deemed that we had a BRD [Bovine Respiratory Disease] outbreak."

He said the station had to euthanase many sick animals, which he said was done as quickly and humanely as possible.

"It is disappointing that people who we had employed to help us through this situation would rather use a dying animal as a prop to serve their purpose than to notify somebody and get it put out of its misery," Mr Burton said.

"To shoot an animal is by no means something taken lightly and for my crew it is one of the toughest jobs to do on a property."

He said dehorning was carried out by trained staff all around the country, but noted there was always room for improvement.

"To get some perspective, the yard in question handles some 70,000 head per season, so in the time that the two Israeli spies were there, around 20,000 head went through," he said.

"In regard to one staff member becoming frustrated and hitting a weaner, it is definitely something that is unacceptable to us and the industry and something he would be genuinely sorry for.

"The reality is that after many long hours and days it is a possibility that tempers are frayed and patience is lost.

"As a previous owner of Yeeda Pastoral company I will stand by my crew knowing that they are not perfect but would always do their best under, at times, very trying conditions."

Vet disguise used to gain access

Broome based veterinarian Dave Morrell — who has been based in the Kimberley for nearly 42 years and mostly involved in the cattle industry — had mixed views on the footage.

Dr Morrell said he had been contacted by phone by the man believed to have taken the footage.

The man had claimed to be a vet from Israel who was touring around and was interested in seeing how pastoral properties operated.

He believed the man went on to find work at a number of pastoral properties.

"He definitely deceived me," Dr Morrell said.

"Nobody likes to be used and that's a bit humiliating and embarrassing.

"The fact that they have an agenda and they are doing it under a deceptive modus means that they are going to do everything to exaggerate the situation."

Industry needs to 'smarten up'

But Dr Morrell also conceded the issues highlighted by the footage needed to be brought to light.

"Some of the stuff I saw is unacceptable behaviour around cattle," he said.

"It would not constitute following the animal welfare guidelines and I think most cattlemen would find it unacceptable.

"Where this footage has brought certain issues to light, I actually welcome it.

"It further impresses upon our industry how we need to be continually aware of the standards that we operate under and keep animal welfare and animal cruelty in the forefront of our minds."

Dr Morrell said everyone in the industry was aware of animal welfare guidelines.

"We are constantly pushing the use of analgesics — pain killer drugs — when some of these painful procedures are carried out on cattle … [for example] when they are possibly spayed, or castrated or even de-horned," he said.

"Any properties that are not treating their animals along the animal welfare guidelines need to pull their breeches up."

But Dr Morrell said most properties were doing everything they could to minimise any unnecessary pain to animals.

"I think they have spliced the footage together to have a specific effect," he said.

"It's misleading to say that it [the footage] represents northern Australia because I think he picked a very few specific properties and tried to use them to paint a picture that isn't true."

Footage under investigation

In a statement Yeeda Pastoral Company chairman, Mervyn Key, said the company was unaware of the cruelty being carried out on its lease but had appointed independent investigators to analyse the footage and identify the culprits.

"Yeeda strongly condemns these acts of cruelty," he said.

"It is not what Yeeda stands for and contrary to Yeeda's core values and principles.

"Yeeda adheres to the highest standards of animal welfare at our stations and processing plant, including employing a full-time animal welfare officer."

Western Australian Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development was also investigating the footage.

"This footage is confronting and the community will rightly question how producers can be permitted to operate in this way," she said.

"Modern animal welfare standards are absolutely critical to the sustainability of livestock industries, and we cannot tolerate inhumane and cruel treatment of animals if we want a strong future for the northern cattle sector."

Ms MacTiernan said regulations would be fast-tracked to make it an offence to dehorn cattle without pain relief.

"I am also calling a meeting of industry leaders in the north to discuss this matter and how we can best put industry on the most sustainable footing into the future," she said.

"While the behaviour shown in the footage is deeply disappointing, our Government is committed to taking every step to deal with animal welfare issues and ensuring decent standards of animal welfare are enforced across the state."

Industry 'betrayed' by footage

Cattle Council president Tony Hegarty condemned the practices displayed in the footage.

"The overwhelming majority of my fellow producers, who uphold best-practice husbandry standards, would share my sense of distress and, frankly, the sense of betrayal arising from evidence of livestock abuse," he said.

"Evidence of on-property welfare failures must galvanise our determination to push on with our ongoing research projects, including those to develop objective animal welfare measures and practical ways of measuring animal welfare on-farm and in real-time."

He said dehorning and castrating without pain relief remained common practice, with only 15 per cent of producers using painkillers across Australia, but said this was improving.

Kimberley Pilbara Cattleman's Association chief executive, Emma White, said producers had to be held accountable for the welfare of their cattle.

"The footage of poor handling, dehorning without pain relief, shooting sick animals and the disposal of carcasses is distressing, regardless of whether they are a breach of welfare laws," she said.

"Comments recorded of individuals working in the yards about euthanising cattle and the non-use of pain relief are also concerning, and don't reflect the seriousness with which our industry considers animal welfare."

Ms White said it was disappointing the footage was not brought to the attention of local authorities earlier.

"This footage is up to two years old, and we know RSPCA Australia has had knowledge of this for a year," she said.

"We were first aware of it literally as it came live."

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