Vietnam’s Animal Welfare Journey
Vietnam’s progress in animal welfare, particularly in the livestock sector, has been noteworthy over the past few years. Since 2015 Vietnam has been Australia’s second-largest market for feeder and slaughter beef cattle exports after Indonesia. This partnership has led to important developments.
New Animal Welfare Standards
A major milestone is the implementation of new animal welfare standards for cattle care. These standards, crafted by Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development over three years, were formed through broad consultations with both national and provincial authorities and industry experts. They align with international standards, like those for Australian-bred cattle, and adhere to the World Organisation for Animal Health’s guidelines. These standards set a benchmark for animal welfare in Vietnam, ensuring equitable treatment for all cattle, regardless of origin.
The Australian Livestock Export Program (LEP), a collaborative initiative involving LiveCorp, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), and an Australian Government grant, has been instrumental in developing and applying these standards. Notably, during a visit last December, it was encouraging to see the project’s completion, with ongoing updates, including animal handling requirements. Once translated into English, these standards will be officially released.
Photo: Participants at a workshop in Vietnam in 2020 discussing the regulations. Agriculture Minister Tony Harman present.
But progress isn’t perfect, the Standards themselves are voluntary. So they are accepted in the legal system in Vietnam, but the degree that they will be actively enforced is another issue. In this respect they are closer to guidelines, but still provide clearer definitions of what animal welfare means in Vietnam and a massive step forward.
A Stunning Change
A remarkable transformation in Vietnam’s animal welfare practices is the adoption of captive bolt stunning devices, introduced around 2014 with the arrival of Australian cattle. Previously, Vietnam employed more brutal methods, such as sledgehammers or hazardous electric stunning. The shift to captive bolts, driven by Australian exporters and animal welfare regulations like the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), has improved conditions for both cattle and workers. Captive bolt use has not been easy, device maintenance is a challenge in the humid climate and captive bolt devices that should last for years have a significantly shorter lifespan. There have also been legal constraints, due to their classification as firearms, which has limited their open adoption for all cattle.
To keep up with the demands of replacing the stunners, and to ensure the charges are still available we embarked on a mission to find alternatives. During my time at MLA we were able to find a munitions company in Vietnam that undertook the task of locally producing these devices. While the initial versions met safety standards, they were not as effective and so were not well accepted by commercial parties. Progress remained slow on the improvements of the devices and their general acceptance by abattoirs was poor.
Photo: Archive footage of testing the bolt velocity of the first device in July 2018.
As an alternative we independently began trials for handheld modern electric stunning late in 2023. The trials were challenging and will go down as another personal case study on how hard it is to introduce new concepts and technology into commercial businesses despite clear pain points, a captive addressable market, and a solution. Electrical stunning is common in cattle in New Zealand, and while we were able to terminally stun cattle using handheld technology in Vietnam, access to facilities willing to test the devices meant that trials were limited. The application of electrical stunning in cattle in other countries for halal purposes remains very possible.
Since the trials late last year, the locally produced stunning devices and charges have begun to both meet user expectations, are cheaper to produce and more available, and result in a more reliable stun to a point where they are able to match the quality and effectiveness of devices being imported. Which means that the market failure seems to now be addressed which is amazing news.
Photo: The locally manufactured stunners
Photo: Legal documents showing that the devices are legally allowed to be produced
This case study demonstrates a number of things. The importance of international support and collaboration at a commercial level. Political relationships are fine but the commercial relationships is what results in exporting and adopting new ideas and technologies.
It also showcases Vietnam’s commitment to improving, their entrepreneurial nature, and demonstrates how a country can evolve. As a result it has gone from having no stunning practices to being supported to producing its own solutions in less than a decade.
And finally it has shown that there are lots of things happening or problems out there that we are not aware of. Often those investing (or the general public) aren’t aware of them or have limited remit to fix them. Which brings in the question who knows what the issues are and is willing to take risks to solve them?
I know that at Alta Food and Agriculture it is in our nature to try and understand the real problem, make the connections, and do what we can to help solve issues in front of us. We wont always have the solution or success, but there is a lot to learn from failure when done right.
If you want to know how to collaborate or have issues that you want to find solutions to then please let us know.