Multiple deficiencies uncovered in NSW abattoirs

ANIMAL welfare breaches have been uncovered in all 10 of the state's red meat abattoirs, a government review has found.

The NSW Food Authority has confirmed that an audit of practices in red meat abattoirs across the state has resulted in the issuing of improvement notices over animal welfare issues across the board.

The findings come as revelations that the Wilberforce abattoir which was the subject of an ABC Lateline expose´ in February this year, including shocking images of animal cruelty, was fined just $5,200 by the NSW Food Authority, a penalty animal rights groups have criticised as far too lenient.

Breaches identified by the review included incidents of ineffective stunning before slaughter, incompetency of slaughtering staff and the compromised welfare of livestock delivered to plants outside of business hours.

The findings have prompted the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, to announce the introduction of mandatory animal welfare officers in all NSW abattoirs from the start of next year. All slaughtering staff at each abattoir will also undergo mandatory retraining in stunning, sticking and shackling techniques, under the package of animal welfare reforms Ms Hodgkinson said yesterday.

"This government takes non-compliance of food and animal welfare laws extremely seriously, and these tough new measures are being introduced to foster a culture in which abattoir management and employees fully understand and implement procedures that consistently comply with animal welfare standards,'' she said.

The opposition and the RSPCA have welcomed the measures but the Greens and Animals Australia said the package did not go far enough and mandatory CCTV equipment needed to be installed in all NSW abattoirs to ensure animals are treated humanely.

''Independent oversight is needed and at all times when animals are being handled, not just processing,'' said the Greens MP Cate Faehrmann. ''Mandatory CCTV is an efficient way to provide independent oversight and to give the public confidence that cruelty will be policed properly.''

A spokeswoman for Animals Australia, Lisa Chalk, said there was a long history of failed self regulation in the industry and animal welfare officers employed by abattoirs would not provide appropriate safeguards.

The RSPCA and Animals Australia, along with the Greens, were unanimous in their criticism that the package of reforms failed to address ritual slaughter.

Only one abattoir in NSW is authorised to slaughter cattle without prior stunning for kosher purposes. All halal slaughter is pre-stunned in NSW. But that abattoir - Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors in Wilberforce - is the same one that was exposed for animal cruelty in February.

The chief executive of the RSPCA NSW, Steve Coleman, said his organisation supported the minister's reforms to abattoirs.

Meanwhile two Australian live cattle exporters have been found guilty of breaking new animal welfare rules in Indonesia, less than a year after the regulations were put in place.

The Department of Agriculture report recommends ''regulatory action'' against two exporters, North Australian Cattle Company and International Livestock Export, for using abattoirs where breaches occurred.

with Richard Willingham

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