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Riverside Meats: Abattoir footage ’shocking and disturbing’

Wed 23 Nov 2016 by Kath Sullivan (The Weekly Times)

This article relates to the following facility: Riverside Meats Abattoir (Aussie Abattoirs)

A VICTORIAN abattoir has been slammed by the State Government over allegations it mistreated animals.

The abattoir, at Echuca in northern Victoria, is now the subject of a continuing investigation by PrimeSafe and Victoria’s chief vet, Charles Milne.

Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said video footage — obtained by welfare group Animals Australia — showed Riverside Meats in Echuca displayed “standards in this place are not up to scratch”.

Ms Pulford described the footage as “shocking and disturbing” and said it “falls short of what farmers expect, consumers expect and what the Victorian Government expects”.

Dr Milne said the investigation would be his number one priority.

“The video was extremely distressing; there was evidence of systematic cruelty and I have to say that compared to standards I have seen in Victorian abattoirs this was a very exceptional case,” Dr Milne said.

Asked how it compared to other welfare breaches he’d seen, Dr Milne said it was “probably in terms of video evidence the worst case I have seen in my career”.

“There is no question in my mind that there are a series of welfare abuses that are completely unacceptable.

“There is no question in my mind that the level of welfare abuse that was occurring must have been known to the management.”

Riverside Meats was contacted for comment.

Dr Milne said he had seen only 15 minutes of the footage but more than 170 hours had been provided to PrimeSafe by Animals Australia.

The abattoir is considered one of the oldest in Victoria and continues to operate, slaughtering cattle, sheep and pigs.

PrimeSafe was first notified of the complaint on October 25, but Ms Pulford said her office was advised about the matter on Monday.

Ms Pulford said that PrimeSafe had taken action and ensured four staff at the abattoir were removed from working with animals.

“The four staff in question still work for the company, but I am advised they undertake different duties,” Ms Pulford said.

“There’s no power that currently exists to close an abattoir faced with this kind of allegation around animal welfare, but there are certainly powers under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation, and that’s what we’ll consider thoroughly.”

Ms Pulford and Dr Milne stressed that they believed the footage would be an exception.

“We stand with the meat industry, who I think are also roundly condemning the activities and the actions that we’ve seen in this footage,” Ms Pulford said.

“The overwhelming majority of our abattoir operators across Victoria, certainly all farmers when they provide the animals they cared for and nurtured to that point of production, would be appalled and in any business, the buck does stop with management, but there are serious questions to be answered here about what kind of workplace culture in which this workplace conduct is acceptable.”

Dr Milne would not describe specific welfare breaches, but suggested concerned Victorians look at the video, provided by Animals Australia.

“I think there are many contraventions of the code; we have to be very careful we don’t prejudice any legal action so I would advise to look at the videos that are available. I would also advise they are extremely distressing and I think people need to think carefully before you look at them and they’re certainly not material that children should view,” he said.

This afternoon, PrimeSafe confirmed it had investigated the Echuca abattoir in 2013.

“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,” it said.

A statement from the Australian Meat Industry Council welcomed the Government’s investigation.

Animals Australia is using the footage to lobby for mandatory CCTV to be installed in Victorian abattoirs.

But Ms Pulford said many businesses already installed security cameras.

“I’m not sure it’s the role for government to hoisting cameras up in every private business in Victoria,” she said.

The abattoir employs about 120 people and contributes $6 million to the local economy each year.