Echuca abattoir should be ‘shut down immediately’

UPDATE, Thursday: The animal welfare organisation that blew the whistle on animal mistreatment at Echuca abattoir Riverside Meats has called for the meat processor to be shut down immediately.

Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes said the the state government's response to footage of “equipment designed to reduce suffering instead being used as torture devices inflicting dreadful cruelty” was inadequate and urged industry regulator PrimeSafe to intervene.

“PrimeSafe is aware of the inability of the owners or managers of Riverside to supervise their workers – the abattoir must lose its license and cease slaughtering animals immediately,” she said.

Ms Oogjes said the organisation had also written to all relevant state ministers calling for mandatory closed-circuit television systems for all Australian abattoirs.

“Anyone who has endured a viewing of even small excerpts of the footage at these slaughterhouses would fully understand that only independently-monitored CCTV will reduce cruelty and discourage workers from engaging in abusive practices,” she said.

“Over the past three years, the shocking practices in this slaughterhouse have gone from appalling to completely routine and entrenched. We can only imagine what animals are enduring elsewhere, where no one is watching.”

Riverside Meats managing director Chris Peat said he supported the installation of 24-hour CCTV surveillance at its Echuca meat processing facility, with independent monitoring.

“Australians love their meat, and they deserve to be assured that it is produced ethically and humanely,” he said.

Mr Peat said while he did not agree with animal activists illegally entering properties to film, his family had been disturbed by the actions captured on video.

“Animals deserve better treatment. We are a farming family with enormous respect for our animals. This is distressing to us, and we will take action.”

He said it was difficult to change the attitudes, practices and culture of the way the industry has operated for decades and the four stood-down workers had been moved to other roles.

 – with The Age

EARLIER: The state’s meat industry watchdog has ordered four workers at an Echuca abattoir be stood down following allegations of animal mistreatment.

Regulator PrimeSafe took the action after more than 170 hours of footage was submitted in a complaint by Animals Australia documenting what the animal protection organisation described as “a catalogue of daily horrors for pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and just days-old dairy calves” at Riverside Meats.

PrimeSafe said it “enforced directions and sanctions to ensure animal welfare is maintained” after receiving the complaint on October 25.

After viewing the footage, PrimeSafe said it identified “non-compliance with Australian Standards and directed that four staff be immediately removed from their roles”.

The regulator said the footage contained “activities that are not compliant with mandatory standards” and “poor animal handling that is not best practice”.

Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes said there was an “obvious culture of violence” at the facility, with the vision showing “equipment designed to reduce suffering instead being used as torture devices inflicting dreadful cruelty”.

“A stunning device in the wrong hands, or used incorrectly, becomes a weapon. The pain and extended suffering endured by these animals is totally inexcusable,” she said.

“Fear and stress are already heightened for animals in the slaughterhouse environment so to increase their trauma and pain through incompetence and a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude is disgraceful.”

Ms Oogjes said the footage submitted to PrimeSafe contained more than 1200 video files detailing instance of animal cruelty, including:

(Warning: The following list contains graphic content and may distress some readers.)

  • Calves and sheep repeatedly stabbed in the neck, face and head with the metal prongs of an electric stunning device;
  • The routine misplacement of stunning equipment, likely resulting in many animals being paralysed but fully conscious and sensible to pain while slaughtered;
  • Dairy calves and sheep escaping from restraint boxes and falling onto the kill floor, scrambling over dead and dying animals;
  • Workers beating confused baby dairy calves to move them to slaughter;
  • Workers responding to fearful and panicked animals by beating them, swearing at them, laughing at them and roughly throwing them back onto the kill table; and
  • Distressed cattle attempting to jump out of the metal slaughter restraint box.

The PrimeSafe action is the second time Riverside Meats has come under government scrutiny, with some workers receiving formal warnings in 2013.

“It’s alarming that such systemic and shocking practices have become entrenched at a facility that has already been investigated for animal cruelty,” Ms Oogjes said.

“If this is what’s happening in an abattoir that should be under increased scrutiny, we can have no confidence whatsoever that similar abuses, or worse, are not occurring in other slaughterhouses throughout Victoria.”

Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford released a statement on Wednesday afternoon condemning the behaviour of abattoir workers in the footage as “inexcusable”, saying weekly audits of Riverside Meats had been ordered and would continue until the company can demonstrate compliance with Australian standards.

“I remain concerned by the nature and seriousness of these allegations. If laws have been broken those responsible should be properly held to account,” she said.

“That’s why last night I asked the Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Charles Milne, to lead an additional investigation by Agriculture Victoria to identify whether any breaches of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 have occurred and if so, to determine what further action should be taken to hold those responsible to account.”

The PrimeSafe investigation is ongoing.

Riverside Meats declined to comment.

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