Animal activists are calling for an end to the live cattle trade to Vietnam where they claim Australian stock are being slaughtered with sledgehammers.
But the federal government says it won't stop the live trade and the Department of Agriculture is checking if the latest incident relates to other complaints.
Vision obtained by animal activists allegedly shows cattle being hit repeatedly to the head to stun them before slaughter, or being killed directly by the sledgehammer blow.
Animals Australia is withholding footage of the incident - understood to have occurred in April - from public release because they say it is so shocking.
In a statement released on Friday a spokeswoman for Animals Australia said:
''"Animals Australia has lodged an ESCAS complaint with the Department of Agriculture relating to the horrific sledge hammering to death of a number of Australian cattle in a non-approved abattoir in the north of Vietnam.
"Vietnam is currently the second largest export market for Australian cattle, with 178,000 animals exported there in 2014. Animals Australia launched an investigation in the country after admissions by industry representatives in April that thousands of Australian cattle had been slaughtered outside approved supply chains.
"The killing of cattle and buffalo through repeated blows to the head with a sledgehammer is the traditional method of slaughter in Vietnam. Vision of these brutal practices being inflicted on Australian cattle in Vietnam was first brought to the attention of the Department of Agriculture in June 2013, after being filmed by a member of the public. Access to this vision was refused through the FOI process.
Video footage obtained by Animals Australia investigators in abattoirs in Vietnam is considered so shocking and distressing that a decision has been taken to not publicly release it at this time.
So grave are our concerns about the welfare of cattle in Vietnam, that we have requested a meeting with representatives of the Australian Live Exporter's Council. This will occur next week. Having assessed the situation on the ground we have no confidence that the industry’s recently announced 6 Point Plan will appropriately address issues.
Animals Australia's investigation also ascertained that Australian cattle are being illegally trucked into China, revealing that that the traceability system designed to keep Australian animals within approved supply chains has been corrupted.
Despite the industry’s admission that they don't have control over the Vietnam market and that potentially thousands of animals have been subjected to horrific abuse, the government has continued to allow ships full of cattle to leave for Vietnam on a weekly basis.
We have no faith that the Department of Agriculture will take appropriate regulatory action to address this situation, so we are taking this directly to the exporters. Anyone who sees this vision will have it imprinted on their memory for life and recognise that this cannot be allowed to continue."
The RSPCA wants trade to halt while an independent review is carried out, arguing the Vietnamese market has been plagued by problems since it was approved under animal welfare regulations two years ago.
"What new twist on this appalling cruelty will it take to make (Agriculture) Minister Barnaby Joyce step up and take action," a spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for the minister said the latest complaint would be assessed to determine if it related to three previous reports of breaches in Vietnam now subject to formal review.
The government would not jump on calls for trade suspension, but would work with industry to ensure breaches are rectified.
"The Australian government remains totally committed to the live export trade, and when problems arise we deal with the specific problems - we don't shut down an entire industry," the spokesman said.
News break – May 19