Australia’s agriculture ministers will urgently discuss the welfare of retired racehorses after a scandal surrounding the animals being mistreated before being slaughtered.
Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the issue would be a top priority at Friday’s meeting with her counterparts in Melbourne.
“It’s really important that we have a discussion as the country’s agriculture ministers about how we adopt and practice world’s best animal welfare standards,” she told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.
An ABC report last week showed footage of workers at the Meramist abattoir north of Brisbane tormenting horses before they were killed.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Tuesday announced an inquiry into oversight of retired racehorses and operation of facilities accepting horses for slaughter.
Senator McKenzie said the vision was horrific, noting animal welfare was a state government responsibility.
Under questioning from Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, the agriculture minister said she hadn’t watched the full report aired on 7.30.
But Senator McKenzie rejected claims she was not taking the matter seriously, arguing elevating the issue at the ministerial meeting showed it was a priority.
Senator Faruqi implored her to watch the full report.
“I was bawling my eyes out for the full 40 minutes, as were people across Australia,” she said.
Agriculture deputy secretary Malcolm Thompson said the department’s on-plant vet had raised concerns about animal welfare over the state of horses presenting for slaughter at Meramist.
He said the concerns were referred to authorities in Queensland, with states responsible for animal welfare.
The federal department’s role is limited to export abattoirs.
“Consistent with the department’s responsibilities, we are conducting a critical incident audit of the facility at the centre of recent footage depicting the mistreatment of horses,” it said in a statement.
The department will produce a preliminary report this week before determining any regulatory action which could be taken.
Queensland authorities have requested the footage from the ABC to help work out when the incidents took place.
“The department urges anyone with evidence or concerns about animal welfare to immediately report it to the relevant state jurisdiction,” the statement said.