Thanks very much, Leigh, for the introduction. And thank you also, Michael, for your presentation. And thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
As has been mentioned, I'm the Australian chief veterinary officer, a position that I've held since the suspension of live exports to Indonesia in June of 2011. As the chief veterinary officer, I am responsible for national animal health and welfare issues. And I represent Australia internationally on veterinary issues, including to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the OIE.
While my talk will focus on international animal welfare standards, I'd like to begin by talking about animal welfare activities in Australia. And Australia has been a leader in this area, developing innovative approaches to animal welfare, both domestically and internationally. Public attitudes and scientific knowledge about animal welfare have changed enormously in recent years. But the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry had the foresight to identify the need for Australia to be ahead of the game and well-coordinated, and so develop the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy eight years ago.
Animal welfare is a complex public policy issue. The term can mean different things to different people, as evidenced by a discussion on the The Conversation website today debating, what is the meaning of animal welfare? Change is an incremental process, and improvements have to be negotiated. This was the approach taken in developing the AAWS-- lots of consultation with all the interested parties, and the same approach is taken in implementation.
AAWS was established to create a more consistent and effective animal welfare system involving both the Australian state and territory governments, industry, and community. Australia has no national animal welfare legislation, and the AAWS is Australia's key policy document for improving animal welfare outcomes. Under AAWS, the states and territories are working on harmonising the key features of their legislation to ensure consistent arrangements apply across Australia.
But AAWS is not about controlling activities. It aims to build relationships and partnerships between groups, leading to improved coordination across the spectrum of activities, reduced duplication of effort, and a more effective and consistent approach to improving animal welfare. It involves 140 participants from all interested sectors.
There are about 50 approved projects so far under the AAWS, since 2009. These projects provide great leverage. Often the total value of the project, with in-kind contributions taken into account, is two or three times the value of the cash component from AAWS. An example of concrete outcomes from the AAWS is the Australia Animal Welfare Standards for the Land Transport of Livestock, which were derived from seven model codes of practise and other documents. These were endorsed nationally in 2009, and states and territories have been working cooperatively to implement them and to develop consistent regulations for enforcement.
On this slide, you can see the AAWS goals, and you will see that these include an international component. Current priorities under AAWS include the OIE regional animal welfare strategy. In November last year, I attended the Global Conference on Animal Welfare, held in Kuala Lumpur. It was notable there the number of times the Australian experience and the Australian approach was used as a reference point in developing strategies and approaches in other countries and other regions.
But why is Australia involved in animal welfare? We're involved because we care. We care about the welfare of animals. We care about the long-term sustainability of our livestock industries. We care about retaining a vibrant and viable rural sector. We care about food security in our region.
There are many reasons for Australia to be involved in and lead in the area of animal welfare. Even where we provide direct assistance to developing countries and neighbouring regions, this brings us direct benefits through markets, credibility, opportunities for engagement, and improved buyer security.
I would like to look, then, at what influence Australia is having internationally. Here is a list, which I will develop further in the following slides. DAFF, with the help of AusAID and the support of AusAID, has been very active and influential in promoting animal welfare through the OIE and with our trading partners. The Regional Animal Welfare Strategy was innovative, the first of its kind, and has been well-received in the region.
DAFF has actively sought a place on the ISO working group developing international standards for animal welfare, operating under the premise that the only way to have influence is to be involved. The Collaborating Centre is a joint initiative driven by Australia and New Zealand. It is actively working with stakeholders to identify high-priority research, development, and extension opportunities to advance animal welfare in our region.
Various attempts have been made to develop guidelines, codes of practise, and standards to improve animal welfare and to underpin trade. Australia has been a strong supporter of the OIE's work in this area, and has encouraged the OIE to include animal welfare in its mandate. But why the OIE?
We support the OIE's approach because it was clear that there was a need for guidance on animal welfare, because the OIE develops its standards through a consultative process using a science base, which private companies, lobby groups, and even the FAO do not necessarily do. It is an intergovernmental organisation, and therefore likely to be heard. The OIE's objective is to facilitate safe and animal welfare-friendly trade. FAO and companies that develop their own standards do not have this same focus.
The OIE is recognised as an international animal health authority. And animal welfare was a natural extension to that mandate. However, there are numerous other standards out there.
The OIE is an intergovernmental organisation. It was formally called the Office International des Epizooties. It was formed in 1924 by a group of veterinary colleagues working together to solve problems.
It was established in Paris due to the spread of rinderpest into and through Europe, and it was recognised that international cooperation and collaboration was required to manage this issue. And it works. Rinderpest was declared eradicated from the globe last year. There is no policing role for OIE. It's just mediation, negotiation, and leading by example.
Governments which adopt OIE standards into their national requirements for animal health benefit from the legal presumption that they are complying with their World Trade Organisation obligations. The OIE standards are considered to be no more trade-restrictive than necessary to ensure adequate animal health protection.
But what happens in terms of animal welfare? Although the SPS agreement does not cover animal welfare, there are OIE processes for developing and adopting animal welfare standards are the same as those that are used for animal health. They have been adopted by consensus after extensive consultation. Australia has played a role from the very beginning, supplying experts on all the ad hoc groups that developed the initial animal welfare standards under the guidance of the Permanent Animal Welfare Working Group.
Here are a list of standards that have been adopted to date. A draft chapter on animal welfare and broiler production systems has been released for comment and will be possibly adopted and added to this list in May. The OIE releases draft standards for member country comment twice a year. When this happens, my office actively seeks comments from industry and welfare groups and other registered stakeholders. And the OIE itself receives comments from international animal welfare and livestock industry organisations.
The member country comments are then submitted to the OIE, who work through them and produce a revised draft, which is again sent out for comment. Then after at least two rounds of consultation-- but more usually, four-- the draft will be put to the world assembly of delegates at the annual General Session in May. Here, the draft is discussed, and although the OIE rules provide for adoption by a majority vote, in practise, this is rarely done. The preferred approach is consensus.
The OIE process is truly consultative, using delegates of the member countries as the conduits. It is not done only by a group of academics, by an industry lobby group, or by activists. Everyone, including these groups, has an opportunity to have an input.
There is inevitably tension between different interest groups and between developed and developing countries. This is where a science base becomes vital. Australia has continued to seek outcome-focused approaches to animal welfare rather than prescriptive ones, so that the standards can be applicable to all countries and all production systems.
Many developing countries comment that animal welfare cannot be given priority where human welfare is still poor. Despite this, Australia supports the OIE in its view that the existence of international standards provides a goal for developing countries to aim for and that history has shown that improvements in human welfare go hand in hand with improvements in animal welfare. Countries must be assisted and encouraged to make whatever changes are possible and to move forward one step at a time. They cannot be forced.
The OIE could simply adopt an animal welfare chapter by majority vote, but this would mean that those who voted against it would never look at it, never use it, never acknowledge its value. Instead, the OIE gives member countries the time they need to consider the proposals, pitches them at a level that's practical in all or most situations, and waits to adopt the standards until consensus is possible. This is the collaborative approach that underpins the OIE. And while it's not perfect, and can be slow, it means that reluctant countries can be brought along rather than left behind.
The OIE Animal Welfare Standards are not enforceable under international trade law, but countries can enforce them domestically. We help countries implement the standards domestically through education and training, as part of capacity-building activities in developing countries. Some countries may use the OIE standards as a reference point when developing their own legislation. And codes of practise can become legislation, and so on. It's a matter of incremental and sustainable change, one step at a time.
Other areas of work, in terms of international standards, are those that are being developed by the International Standards Organisation, ISO. ISO and OIE have signed a cooperation agreement wherein ISO has begun the process of developing technical standards for the welfare of animals intended for human consumption. Australia is participating in this group to ensure we have a seat at the table in developing standards that may impact on our business and our international trade.
The intent is to encourage and support conformity with the OIE Animal Welfare Standards, to encourage adoption of the OIE animal welfare approaches in international trade, to promote international harmonisation, and to prevent the multiplication of private schemes and certification schemes which are only going to add costs and restrict trade.
I would now like to turn to some specific examples of Australia's work internationally on animal welfare standards using the four examples shown here. The Improved Animal Welfare Programme provides funding of $10 million over four years to support improved animal welfare outcomes in official development assistance-eligible countries that import live animals for feeder or slaughter purposes from Australia. Indonesia is expected to be the main beneficiary from the programme, as it is Australia's largest live cattle market. However, other ODA-eligible countries likely to receive assistance include Vietnam, the Philippines, Jordan, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, and Mauritius. Under the programme, the OIE, the World Organisation for Animal Health, has been engaged to develop and deliver training on OIE animal welfare standards.
Secondly, the OIE Regional Animal Welfare Strategy, which was established five years ago, through which the Australian government funds activities in our region of Asia, the Far East, and Oceania, works to improve welfare of animals in that region. Activities are funded to include education, improve regulation, research and development. Implementation of RAWS for Asia, the Far East, and Oceania provides a model that has been adopted by a number of other regions. Australia was a pioneer in this area in establishing RAWS.
The recognition by the OIE of the New Zealand/Australia OIE Collaborating Centre on Animal Welfare Science and Bioethical Analysis was important to assist AAWS' research and development efforts. AAWS funds some of the OIE animal welfare activities in Asia, including this programme and another programme, which is in cooperation with the University of Putra, Malaysia. This project aims to increase animal welfare science capacity in the region. It will include a number of surveys and workshops, training across four countries-- Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China.
The Collaborating Centre is developing a residential animal welfare training course for industry organisations, veterinarians, and others in the diverse fields of animal welfare regulation, law, national and local management, science, practise, economics, and ethics. It is also compiling an authoritative publication on the future directions of animal welfare and is actively working with stakeholders to identify high-priority research, development, and extension opportunities to advance animal welfare in our region.
Michael has already mentioned the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which was fully implemented on the 1st of January this year. The ESCAS regulatory framework requires evidence that feeder and slaughter livestock will be handled and processed up to and including the point of slaughter in accordance with OIE welfare standards. And it enables the continuation of a highly valuable trade by placing it on a sustainable footing and by ensuring the Australian live export industry meets community expectations. ESCAS brings additional transparency to the live export industry and provides a process that allows the department, as the regulator, to take appropriate action when noncompliance is reported.
During the phased implementation of ESCAS across 2012, there was significant liaison with industry and state governments and communication at international government officials' level in order to work towards resolution of any identified issues with ESCAS. We will continue to work together to ensure acceptable animal welfare standards are maintained under ESCAS. All new markets for feeder and slaughter livestock will be subject to ESCAS immediately upon their commencement.
In conclusion, then, Australia is alert to trends in the animal welfare arena. We are adapting to the changing forces at play and positioning ourselves to make global demands. Australia is a pragmatic leader in the field of animal welfare. Change is slow, but the successes are real and are of benefit beyond our shores. We remain committed to improving animal welfare through all available means, including through the development of international standards.
In closing, I would like to thank you for your attention. I look forward to the presentations from Lynne and Malcolm. And I'd like to acknowledge the work of my staff in preparing this presentation. Thank you.
29 Apr 2013