Questions Without Notice: Animal welfare | Sue Pennicuik

Questions Without Notice: Animal welfare

My question is for the Minister for Agriculture, and it concerns the boiling of live hens that was broadcast on the ABC 7:30 program, once again an animal cruelty issue uncovered by members of the public and not the regulator.
Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 1:30pm
Speaker:
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) (12:21:05) — My question is for the Minister for Agriculture, and it concerns the boiling of live hens that was broadcast on the ABC 7:30 program, once again an animal cruelty issue uncovered by members of the public and not the regulator. I have looked into this issue and the action taken by the regulators. I have discovered that the complaint was investigated and substantiated by PrimeSafe, which referred the footage to Agriculture Victoria. Agriculture Victoria said that authorised officers spoke to the company's management. PrimeSafe said:

The business was subject to enforcement action and increased regulatory oversight until improvements in animal handling, including back-up slaughter, were implemented.

Agriculture Victoria said that it:

… was satisfied that the remedial action … taken by the company…

My question is: what was the remedial action that was being undertaken, what was the enforcement action and has there been any penalty applied to this company?

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) (12:22:10) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her question. I know that there is a lot of interest in animal welfare at the moment, but I will take this opportunity in what will be the last question time before the very heavy rains hit many of our agricultural producers. They are furiously preparing and trying to get as much of their harvests completed as they can and racing the clock against some very, very challenging circumstances, so I know that there are members who have interests in other things within the agriculture portfolio, but today and over coming days my primary focus is absolutely going to be on the welfare of our farming families, who are going to be dealing with some really, really difficult circumstances.

If I could respond to Ms Pennicuik's question — and I may have to take some of the detail on notice — Ms Pennicuik raised a matter in relation to animal welfare at Star Poultry. This is a chicken meat processing plant in Keysborough. In March 2017 a complaint regarding poor practices was made to PrimeSafe, which does regulate industry compliance with the national code and standard. The complaint was investigated and substantiated by PrimeSafe, and Star Poultry was subject to enforcement action and increased regulatory oversight until improvements were implemented.

There has been recent footage, as Ms Pennicuik referred to, broadcast by the ABC a couple of weeks ago. Agriculture Victoria have investigated this matter. They attended the premises and contacted the source of the footage to request further details. The source was able to confirm to us that they had taken the footage, but they were not prepared to make a statement. Because the person was not prepared to provide a further statement, the alleged offences could not be established, and therefore there were limits to the extent to which action could be taken in relation to the alleged matters.

All of the animal welfare issues identified, including the alleged scalding of live chickens in boiling water, were rectified through the remedial action undertaken by Star Poultry in response to PrimeSafe's investigation. Of course any member of the community who is aware of non-compliance and unacceptable behaviour outside of the codes of practice and the arrangements with which industry, usually overwhelmingly, complies should make it their business to report these to PrimeSafe or to Agriculture Victoria so that these things can be properly investigated.

Ms Pennicuik's question went to a level of detail about which particular remedial actions were taken, so in response to that particular aspect of Ms Pennicuik's inquiry I will seek some more detailed advice than I am able to provide at the moment and ensure that Ms Pennicuik gets that.

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) (12:25:35) — Thank you, Minister. You said in your answer that the person who took the footage was not prepared to make a statement. That person has made statements in the press. Nevertheless, PrimeSafe did substantiate what had happened, so I still wonder what the enforcement and penalty was given the offence was substantiated, but I also in my investigation discovered that Star Poultry was subject to four audits in the 12 months leading up to this incident or this investigation. As I said, again it is up to a member of the public to uncover this, despite the four audits. My question is: regarding the audits, are these carried out without notice of the auditors' arrival, and why are they carried out by contractors on behalf of PrimeSafe rather than by Agriculture Victoria staff?

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) (12:26:35) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her supplementary question, which opens a whole lot of other questions around PrimeSafe's operations in terms of their use of contract employees for some aspects of their responsibility. Again, I will provide for Ms Pennicuik some further detail around the audits. I will seek that advice from PrimeSafe, but PrimeSafe do not typically call first to say that they are on the way when they are undertaking their inspections.