Riverside Meats has been sanctioned and directed to remove four staff members from their roles following allegations of animal mistreatment.
The Echuca abattoir has been slammed by Animals Australia after it received hours of footage describing it as a "daily horror for pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and just days-old calves".
It could not confirm whether staff had been fired or moved to another position but said it had ‘‘enforced directions and sanctions’’ to ensure animal welfare was maintained in accordance with standards.
WARNING: Video contains graphic content and may disturb some viewers
The footage was given to meat industry watchdog PrimeSafe who, after viewing more than 170 hours, launched the investigation which is still ongoing.
‘‘These include modifications to infrastructure, equipment and procedures, training of staff, ongoing management and monitoring of animal welfare, and concentrated ongoing regulatory oversight.
‘‘The PrimeSafe investigation is on-going and the compliant has been referred to the Chief Veterinary Officer for his consideration.’’
Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes said there was an ‘‘obvious culture of violence, disrespect and abuse of animals in this slaughterhouse’’.
‘‘The vision shows equipment designed to reduce suffering instead being used as torture devices inflicting dreadful cruelty,’’ she said.
More than 1200 video files have been submitted for investigation to the regulator overseeing abattoirs, PrimeSafe.
An Echuca abattoir staff member, however, defended the organisation and said he did not believe all the allegations were accurate.
‘‘I would be more than happy for a camera to follow me as I work,’’ he said.
‘‘I have not and would not mistreat animals. We have a job to do and we do it to the Australian standard.’’
The Riverine Herald has not seen all of the video footage but Animals Australia claim the videos reveal:
(Warning: The following list contains graphic descriptions and may cause some readers distress).
■ Calves and sheep stabbed in the neck, face and head with the metal prongs of an electric stunning device.
■ Misplacement of stunning equipment, likely resulting in many animals being paralysed but fully conscious and sensible to pain while slaughtered
■ Dairy calves and sheep escape from restraint boxes and fall onto the kill floor, scrambling over dead and dying animals
■ Workers beating confused 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
PrimeSafe said the videos revealed:
■ some activities that are not compliant with mandatory standards and for which sanctions have been put in place
■ some poor animal handling that is not best practice
■ no activity, duplication or edited material, and
■ activities at the abattoir that are compliant with standards.
PrimeSafe received the complaint on October 25 when the investigation, which is still ongoing, was launched.
PrimeSafe said the abattoir was found to be non-compliant in 2013 when regulatory oversight was increased, and stayed in place until the facility could demonstrate that it complied with the standards.
It could not reveal exact dates of when the footage was taken, only that some was recent and some not so recent.
When asked whether the abattoir could be closed as a result, PrimeSafe said it did not have the authority to shut a facility down.
‘‘The corrective actions put in place at that time have been maintained. While there is some overlap of previous and current allegations, the current substantive non-compliance is different,’’ the spokesperson said.
Ms Oogjes said, however, it was alarming that ‘‘systemic and shocking practices’’ had become entrenched in a facility which had already been investigated for animal cruelty.
“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,’’ she said.
Ms Oogjes said many dairy calves in the footage showed signs of consciousness when their throats were cut ‘‘due to incorrect stunning procedures’’.
‘‘Not a single calf in the footage was stunned in the correct position – effectively rendering them all at risk of paralysis, but not insensible to pain,’’ she said.
“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 especially given the history of this abattoir.
“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.”
Which is why, Ms Oogjes said, Animals Australia had written to the Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford calling on the introduction of CCTV cameras in all abattoirs.
‘‘And for footage to be independently monitored, with full (online) streaming access available to enforcement authorities,’’ she said.
“Once again we are seeing that wherever eyes aren’t watching, animals are at risk of extreme cruelty. Only the presence of independently monitored cameras will actively discourage workers from engaging in cruel behaviour and ensure management maintains proper oversight of employees and practices.’’
In a statement Ms Pulford condemned Echuca’s abattoir and act of cruelty to animals.
‘‘Cruelty in any form is completely unacceptable, it is illegal, and is a blight on both our hard working farmers and the broader industry,’’ she said.
‘‘Footage has emerged showing inexcusable behaviour by staff at Riverside Meats in Echuca … Weekly audits have been ordered until Riverside Meats 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.
‘‘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.’’
Riverside Meats was contacted for comment.