Crocodiles are mainly farmed for their valuable skins, with the leather sold to luxury goods companies to make products such as crocodile boots, belts, bags, wallets and other accessories.
Still in draft form, the new global standard focuses not only on the sustainability and humane treatment of crocodiles, but also quality assurance, traceability, biosecurity, and the welfare of people working in the trade.
Northern Territory chief veterinary officer Kevin de Witte, who has been in New Orleans helping the ICFA to develop the standard, said it had been driven by customers wanting to know more about the ethics of production.
“I guess the reason the industry has seen the need for this is that they produce a premium product, being leather, that goes to a high-end fashion market, which like all markets have questions about the origins of their product,” he said.
“I know the concern amongst the major fashion houses is uniform and they are genuine in wanting a high level of insurance about the quality parameters of their product.”
Dr de Witte said the global crocodile trade was made up of 10 countries that farmed five species of crocodile.
According to the NT Crocodile Farmers Association, Australia accounts for 60 per cent of the global trade in saltwater crocodile skins, with about two thirds being grown and exported by the Northern Territory.
So why are fashion houses concerned?
In recent years the crocodile sector, like most livestock industries, has faced scrutiny from some animal rights groups.
A campaign by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that alleged crocodiles farmed in Vietnam were “violently killed” gained international headlines and brought forward confirmation from Louis Vuitton’s parent company, LVMH, that it had stopped buying skins from the Vietnamese farms in question.
Dr de Witte said crocodiles were well-adapted to farming, and Australia was a leader in saltwater crocodile husbandry.
“The particular requirements of the premium leather markets really do demand a high standard of care,” he said.
“The standard for killing [a crocodile] is a very good standard and certainly on par with all of the livestock standards which exist in Australia.
“I find that report [by PETA] interesting and I’d be very concerned if it was happening in Australia, but I very, very much doubt it, because it would be subject to complaint and regulatory action under our animal welfare acts.”
Dr de Witte said when the international standard for crocodile farming was formalised, it would “guarantee a more secure future” for the majority of farms, and for Australia’s well-established farms it would be good news.
The Northern Territory’s crocodile industry has been valued at more than $100 million.