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Live animal exports in heavy seas

Jenny Hume is a wheat and livestock producer in northern New South Wales, and has been involved in livestock industries all her life. In 1972 she founded the Goulburn Abattoir and Saleyards Action Group, after seeing cattle dying en masse at the local abattoir from neglect and disease. In 1979 Jenny founded the ACT Branch of Animal Liberation and in 1980 joined the group with the new Federation (ANZFAS), now Animals Australia. She assisted in the drafting of the new ACT Animal Welfare Act, and for some years sat on various Government committees advising on animal welfare issues. Ten years to 1986, as a training officer with the Federal Department of Primary Industry, Jenny was involved in management training for veterinary officers and meat inspectors in export meatworks. Her education was in Asian Studies (ANU) and in Arabic/Islamic Studies, (Lahore University, Pakistan).

This is Jenny's first article for Webdiary and in her own words her "first effort at citizen journalism."

by Jenny Hume 

Since 1980, the multi million dollar live animal export industry has come under increasing pressure from animal welfare groups, and on 26 February the Federal Government suspended the live trade to Egypt on animal welfare grounds.

Routine losses on ships and major disasters at sea continue as the public image of the trade, but it is photographic exposure going beyond mere allegation of cruelty in the importing countries that has now inflamed public opinion and led to that suspension.

Animals Australia (AA), an umbrella organisation representing some 38 groups, recently held a national day of protest against the trade and in late 2005 sent its own investigator (former Adelaide policewoman Lyn White) to the Middle East to examine and report on handling and slaughter methods there. AA was dissatisfied with what it saw as failure over some three years by the Howard Government to investigate the serious concerns it raised over the treatment of animals in the importing countries. Assisted by an experienced investigator from the UK, and by local concerned residents, Lyn visited five Middle East (ME) countries over 16 days and compiled a comprehensive report with video footage. This report can be seen here. [AA advises that much of the video footage is extremely distressing, and should not be shown to children.]

A small but very disturbing section of the footage was aired on 60 Minutes on 26th February (full transcript here). It was taken at the Bassatin meatworks Cairo, where hundreds of thousands of Australian cattle have been slaughtered over the past decade. High on the list of complaints is the long established practice of preparing some cattle for slaughter by slashing leg tendons and stabbing eyes to disable and disorientate them, before wrestling them to the floor and cutting their throats while they are fully conscious. In Australia animals are by law stunned prior to slaughter.

In a bid to improve slaughter conditions, a restraint box was installed at Bassatin in 2003 by the Australian industry. An Egyptian veterinary officer, acting on information from local colleagues, subsequently told AA that it was not being used and this information was passed on to the Australian Government.

Following the 60 Minutes report, assertions by the Government that the cattle seen being ill-treated were “not Australian” has done nothing to dampen outrage; if anything it has increased it. The animal welfare lobby says that if these practices are taking place at Bassatin or in any other ME meatworks receiving Australian animals live for slaughter, then it is not acceptable to send our animals there.

Is it the Government’s intention to resume sending live animals to Egypt on some understanding that Australian animals will be given special consideration and treated differently? Our Minister was reportedly told that the practices described are illegal in Egypt. He appears to have been misled. AA claims that Egypt has no animal welfare laws to enforce.

The industries involved have argued that if we don’t supply the animals then other countries will. This argument has a long history as a moral sidestep. It is an invitation to race to the bottom in terms of animal welfare.

This is not the first time animal welfare concerns have seen the live export trade disrupted. The trade to Saudi Arabia has been particularly troubled and was suspended for many years. It recommenced and was stopped again for 2 years after the Como Express disaster in 2003. A year earlier, the then minister, Warren Truss, placed a ban on the export of bos taurus cattle (cold climate breeds) out of southern ports into the Persian Gulf summer when some 800 cattle died of heat stress on the MV Becrux.

There is a long list of other disasters over the past 25 years, for example:

1980 – Farid Fares – abandoned on fire 160km off the SA coast; 40,605 sheep died.

1996 – Uniceb - abandoned on fire off coast of Africa; 67,488 sheep died.

1999 – Kalymnian Express – 300 cattle died or were put down after ship met a cyclone.

2003 – Como Express - 5,581 sheep (around 10% of its cargo) died.

On it goes. Occasionally the animals are just not welcome. In Korea several cattle were beaten to death by angry Koreans, fearful that a local cattle industry was threatened by the imports.

The Como Express incident in particular was a public relations disaster for the industry. People around the world became transfixed for nearly three months as 57,000 Australian sheep languished on board a ship with nowhere to go. The ship departed Fremantle on 6 August 2003 for Saudi Arabia, but was denied permission to unload due to claims by Saudi officials of an unacceptable level of scabby mouth disease. As the ship’s cargo of sheep began dying, the Australian Government bought the sheep and then urgently and unsuccessfully scanned the world trying to find another country to take them. Finally, after three months at sea, the surviving sheep were unloaded at Eritrea as a gift by the Australian Government to that country along with a $1M grant and 3000 tonnes of fodder. That got it off the front pages. For further information on this affair see the Government link here.

The 2004 Keniry Inquiry reviewed the trade following the Como Express affair, and noted that the trade is inherently “risky” for the animals. (Full Report here). In 1985, nearly twenty years earlier, the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare under the chairmanship of the late (Labor) Senator George Georges, concluded in its report The Export of Live Sheep from Australia that:

If a decision were to be made on the future of the trade purely on animal welfare grounds, there is enough evidence to stop the trade. The trade is, in many respects, inimical to good animal welfare, and it is not in the interests of the animal to be transported to the Middle East for slaughter. (Full report here.)

That committee, recognising the economic implications of stopping the trade, went on to recommend that the trade be phased out and replaced with the chilled meat trade. The Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) reports that in 2005 the chilled meat trade to major Muslim markets was around $310M while live exports to the same market were around $557M. There have been halal accredited meatworks in Australia for decades, which ends the argument that the live trade must continue due to religious requirements. Lack of refrigeration is clearly not a problem.

But industry and successive state and federal governments have over 25 years resisted all attempts by the welfare movement to have the trade stopped, citing primarily the economic benefits to Australia. However the processed meat trade in 2005 (DAFF figures) now accounts for $5.9 billion compared to only around $700 million for the live exports.

Attempts to improve animal welfare outcomes are on going, both through regulation and research. Mortality rates have declined in 25 years overall but are still high in terms of actual numbers. AA reports that, despite 2005 being the first year of the full operation of the new ‘Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock’, sheep mortalities rose from 28,000 in 2004, to 35,000 sheep in 2005 with only 13,000 additional animals being shipped. It is sobering to note that 7,529 of those 13,000 died. It is hard to see the economics in the increase in the trade in that year, particularly when weighed against the increased animal suffering.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is required to collect data from ships’ masters on deaths, which are then tabled in both Houses of Federal Parliament every six months. The death figures for the period 2000-2005 are here, and in summary are:


Industry prefers to talk of these losses in terms of trends and percentages, in other words. 322,222 dead sheep represent 1.1% of the total shipped in those six years. The animal welfare groups talk in terms of number of animals that actually died, and point to the obvious suffering involved. Sanitising euphemisms are preferred by the industry and government. Deaths are due to ‘ventilation failure’, ‘shy feeding syndrome’, and ‘inanition’ rather than suffocation, heat exhaustion, starvation and injury.

But let us have another look at that loss rate of 1.1%. Many farmers experience that rate in the course of the average year. If you keep animals, you’ll lose animals, as the old saying goes. But a typical voyage to the ME takes 16 days. A 1.1% loss of stock over 16 days corresponds to an annual rate of 25%! No pastoralist would accept that.

It is this reality of the trade that has led to a court case in WA and which may have longer term ramifications for the industry.

Major disasters can be explained away as tragic incidents, as the occasional but regrettable one off, and public concern is dismissed with the assertion that these incidents do not reflect the trade as a whole. But the routine losses that saw 35,000 dead sheep in 2005 do reflect the trade as a whole, and are not so easily swept aside. Selecting an “industry typical” shipment for investigation, AA sent its investigator Lyn White to Kuwait in November 2003 to meet the MV Al Kuwait with its cargo of some 100,000 Australian sheep and to compile a report in regard to them.

As a result of that investigation and the evidence it put forward, AA sought to have the matter investigated by the WA Police for the purpose of laying charges under the WA Animal Welfare Act (2002). But over the next two years the complaint by AA took some interesting legal twists and turns. The Police advised AA to take the matter to the RSPCA as the more appropriate body to investigate. AA at first complied, but then back tracked, asking the RSPCA not to investigate its complaint. This followed the ABC Four Corners expose 'Blind Eye' on 22 June 2004 in which it was suggested that the RSPCA had been stacked. Some members of its board were said to be personally involved in the industry, and might have a conflict of interest in the matter. The transcript is here.

With the RSPCA ruled out, AA now took its complaint to the Director General of the Department of Local Government and Regional Development, which has responsibility for the Animal Welfare Act in WA. But in 2005, seeing itself up against a legal and bureaucratic brick wall, it then took the unusual step of seeking from the WA Supreme Court a Writ of Mandamus, which it says is “a rarely used legal remedy whereby the court has the power to make an order in circumstances where there is a public duty to act, and there has been a failure to perform that public duty.” The Court granted an ‘order nisi’ and listed the matter for hearing. The action was withdrawn when the WA State Solicitor advised AA the WA Police would now be investigating the matter on behalf of the Government.

On 10 November 2005, two years after the Al Kuwait had unloaded its cargo of sheep, the WA Minister for Local Government and Regional Development issued here the following statement:

As a result of an investigation carried out by the State Solicitor’s Office and the Western Australian Police, charges were laid against export company Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd and two of its directors on 9 November 2005, alleging a breach of the Animal Welfare Act 2002. The charges occurred as a result of a complaint made by Animals Australia, an animal welfare lobby group. The allegations will be spelled out in court and I do not intend to add to that at this stage.

AA advises that the matter is next listed for mention in April 2006. This case is the first of its kind against the industry and will clearly be watched very closely by industry, governments and the animal welfare movement. The allegations are that the export company breached Section 19 of the WA Animal Welfare Act (2002), which makes it illegal to:

Be cruel to an animal 19 (1); to transport an animal in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, it unnecessary harm, 19 (3) (a); to confine and animal in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, it unnecessary harm 19 (3) (b); and to not provide proper food 19 (3) (d).

The ramifications of any successful prosecution of this kind arising out of a ‘routine’ shipment are patent. It would be most surprising if the corporate hat was not being sent around.

Animals Australia is now mounting a major publicity campaign against the industry; claims to have been overwhelmed in the public response to the Bassatin affair and has collected over 130 000 signatures on a petition to the Federal Government. In response, the industry reportedly intends to mount its own million-dollar campaign.

Formerly known as the Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Societies, (ANZFAS), Animals Australia is often accused by industry of being a radical group.

It was founded in 1980 under the chairmanship of the Australian philosopher Professor Peter Singer. Singer’s book Animal Liberation (1976) spawned the animal liberation movement in Australia and overseas, with formal groups springing up in most Australian States. But the Animals Australia federation in fact comprises a diverse group from Animal Liberation to the Cat Protection Society, the Wildlife societies and several Humane societies. Its radical image results from its focus on contentious issues such as use of animals in research, intensive livestock farming, slaughterhouse practices, livestock transportation, feral and native animal culling, duck shooting, circuses, rodeos and of course the live export industry. These are issues that have brought it into conflict with groups that have an interest in those activities. Its policies on many of these issues do not vary from those of RSPCA Australia, though the two organisations do not always see eye to eye on how to implement those policies.

At its inaugural meeting in 1980, the organisation’s first policy became the abolition of the live animal export trade. Fresh in the public mind was the Farid Fares, the ship that burned at sea with its cargo of 40,605 live sheep. 21 years and 2.5 million dead sheep (during boarding, shipping and unloading) later, the trade goes on. So does the opposition to it. But the opposition now extends beyond the wharves and the sea, right to the floors of the slaughterhouses of the world.

The first question facing Australians is whether certain economic considerations should lead us to accept the suffering and death of large numbers of animals at sea. It was known 25 years ago that the trade was “inimical to animal welfare”, and that has not changed. There is probably no way that one can ship animals live across the world, particularly on long sea journeys, and not have large numbers of them suffer and die on the voyage. Live cattle on a ship in rough seas presents a particularly disturbing picture, as the on board stockman’s report here regarding the cattle on the cyclone battered Kalymnian Express shows.

The second question is whether for the same reason Australia should send its animals to be slaughtered in countries with no effective animal welfare laws and long entrenched practices that are abhorrent to us. In 25 years Australia has not seen fit to demand that the importing countries first demonstrate that the animals will be handled, transported inland, looked after in feedlots and slaughtered to the same standards that are required in Australia. In other words it has not insisted that the trade be predicated on good animal welfare practice in those countries, many of them rich in both resources and national incomes. In failing to do that it has failed in its moral duty and as a consequence the industry and government will constantly be putting out fires, trying to defend the indefensible.

The government and the industry suggest that the continuance of the trade places Australia in a position where it can improve animal welfare outcomes, not only for its own animals, but also for all animals in those countries. This is a morally bankrupt attempt to find a way around the current ban. If it was true, then after 25 years one would not have expected Animals Australia to be able to document such abuses.

I have not sought to address the economic fallout of the loss of the live export trade. As Animals Australia says, “When something is wrong, no amount of profit will make it right”. I have little sympathy for any of the exporting companies. They knew what the animal welfare problems were, and that they could probably never be fully resolved, and yet went on investing millions of dollars in the trade’s continuance. Had they gone down the path recommended in 1985, adjustment to a different type of trade would by now have been accomplished, but instead, they failed to seize the day.

I do however as a farmer myself have some sympathy for those among us who find themselves economic hostages to a trade that the majority of Australians find abhorrent. But we too must share some of the tarnish, for our industry leaders have not been pro-active in the past 25 years in seeking to have our livestock slaughtered in Australia. Instead we have seen abattoirs close all over the country, with long distances now being travelled by animals to the remaining meatworks, at ever increasing cost to the animals the consumers, and to the farmers. We, through our leaders’ failure, also failed to seize the day.

It was not just animal liberationalists who first demonstrated in the 1980s against the live export trade. They were joined by worried meatworkers: a strange alliance. The live export industry simply cannot talk of jobs gained without acknowledging jobs lost and exported. The development of the chilled meat trade would have not only retained jobs in Australia, it would have created more.

The live export industry is in heavy seas and the pressure on it from the animal welfare movement will continue to grow, as will the cost of trying to defend it. But it is never too late to change. Other industries have had to, and I personally will not be sorry to see the last livestock ship sent to the scrap yard. In that I know I am not alone.


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I think that Jenny's latest

I think that Jenny's latest posting requires a serious and concerted response from the Australian people, to John Howard and to Peter McGauran.

Don't let Howard fob you off to McGauran, because he seems to be incapable of formulating a coherent response to informed criticism. Morals, with this government (not that the Opposition's policies are any better) take a very distant last place to trade deals and cultural cringe, it seems.

These people will NOT treat Australian animals any differently because we ask them nicely, nor is that the issue. The fact that they treat animals like this at all (and it is not only Egypt, Animals Australia and PETA also filmed and documented practices in Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar - see www.animalsaustralia.org.au and go to the live export links, also see www.liveexportshame.com and www.savethesheep.com) is sufficient grounds for Australia to take a stand and REFUSE TO SEND THEM. No other country can supply the volumes that these people seem to require, so the trade as a whole will eventually have to end as a matter of course.

Australia's participation in the trade has clearly has made no impact on animal welfare practices - after 30 years, if what we have seen are improvements, then God help us all. Please - let's put a stop to it before millions more animals are savaged this way.

Live Animal Exports

Dear Jenny (and others), thanks for an excellent, really well-informed article on this unspeakable, indefensible trade in animal suffering and misery.

The point about the "downstream processing" is also a valid one, if we were to concentrate on the economics of this over the morals. But as Animals Australia (and all groups associated with this campaign) agree - some things are so bad, so indefensible, that nothing makes them okay. Perhaps some more information about to just what amount the Federal and State governments actually subsidise this iniquity would be good - since the Heilbron/Larkins report and the report by the WA Meat Processing Industry, nothing much has come to light about that. At that time it was something like $400,000 worth of AQIS fees waived for the live export trade in Western Australia alone, while each of the major processors over there was charged that - per year.

Those reports also looked at lost GDP and lost household income as a result of the live export trade The real truth about that would be excellent, particularly now that we know the relative worths of the live trade and the frozen trade. We don't seem to be able to win - and stop it - with the cruelty argument, perhaps we can do it with the economic one.

Suzanne Cass

Live Export Campaign Co-ordinator

Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania

Ethics and another dirty deal in our name

Ethics and another secret dirty deal

We talk a lot about Ethics on Webdiary and one of our main criticisms of the Howard Government is about its conduct on so many issues which we feel brings shame on this country. When Ethics are set aside by Government then we get lies, deceit, secret backdoor deals and an arrogant disregard for public opinion, with our international reputation dealt yet another blow. We are now fronting up to another secret dirty deal.

I think this is a very important issue and when we know something unethical is about to be done in our name, I think we should do something about it, not just talk about it. So I am asking Webdiarists to do just that.

A while back I posted the piece on Live animal exports. Read it quickly and access the first and the last link to get some relevant background information.

My contacts now tell me that behind the scenes the Howard Government has bent to pressure from big business and is going to quietly restart the live export trade to Egypt. The expected deal will be that our animals will somehow be offered better treatment, while others in the very same Bassatin (Cairo) meatworks complex where our animals will be slaughtered, will still be subjected to the practices that are so brutal, they do not bear looking at. Is that ethically acceptable to us? Concerned Egyptian animal welfarists are appalled that our country could even think of doing such an unethical thing. Tell us what we don’t know?

If you think a decision based on such a deal is unethical, then all I ask you to do is to email Peter.McGauran.MP@aph.gov.au and tell him so. If we just accept that this sort of thing be done in our name, then we will just keep on accepting it, and they will just keep on doing it. If we want to make a difference then action must be the natural consequence of our concerns, even if only by penning an email.

If you comment on this and I don’t get back to you, I will later. Am under some pressure at the moment but felt this was too important in my view not to bring it to your collective attention.

Halal/Kosher No Issue

Hey Robyn and Craig. I, too, thought that this whole issue of live export was predicated on the need to meet (pardon the pun) certain cultural requirements within the recipient markets. However, Jenny has made it clear in her article, and, yes, I too missed it on the first reading, that Australia is more than capable of slaughtering the beasts according to Halal/Kosher requirements.

I think that Craig has got it right when he says that our destination markets seek to do their own value adding. We shouldn't be surprised at the fact that this is the case. After all, when has Australia ever cared, in any appreciable manner, to be anything more than a primary producer for the rest of the world. Even if we had the abattoir jobs available, we have such a dearth of skills that we would end up importing the worker as well!!

Just look at the new Uranium deals that our esteemed leaders are striking with China. In order to sell them our ore, Howard is talking about allowing China to "invest in exploration" in Australia. Is that not a euphemism for allowing a foreign built and foreign manned mine to operate in Australia? Is it not similar to what China is doing in Africa for its' oil needs?

When will this country finally decide that its' first class skills and expertise are value, and not cost, adding elements to our abundant natural resources.

As a Canadian expat from a rural background (read Canuck Farmboy), I can tell you that Aussie farmers are bloody brilliant at extracting protein from this barren landscape . We should be sending farmers from Cobar over to Ethiopia to teach them how to feed themselves!

Yet, time and again, we sell ourselves short and sell our product cheap. Could it be a form of cultural cringe that makes us seek to disown our birthright? Are we so tired of the sheep's' back that we willingly devalue our own illustrious history and flog the carcasses off to the nearest bidder?

This government that we have, so eager to play big boy international politics, but can't even sell a fucking leg of lamb. Though I hear they're quite good with wheat!


Jenny, I too thank you for this excellent article. I hope you will not interpret the number of comments so far as an indication of its worth. I suspect many have read it but, like me, know little about the issues involved and so find comment difficult.

Craig's question about the obstacles to change have prompted a few more in me. Why is it that Middle-Eastern countries demand live imports? Is there something about halal slaughtering that forbids freezing? Is there no trusted process for halal certification here? How adequate are the refrigeration chains in various countries at the other end? Maybe there are some things the industy could be doing to facilitate greater acceptance of processed meat, and we need to be lobbying for that sort of change.

Live animal exports in heavy seas again

Robyn, thank you, and no, and I realise this subject is a new one for Webdiary. I thought I would give it a run and it has helped me frame my argument for reaching out to my fellow farmers, and to the powers that be.

As regards the demand for live animals. First there is a preference for fresh killed meat as opposed to chilled meat, what they call hot meat. Also there is the ritual and tradition in Islamic countries for families to slaughter a sheep during religious festivals, for instance at the end of Ramadan and during the Haj pilgrimage. Our live exports leap during those periods to meet the demand - like the turkey trade here I suppose at Christmas! Saudi Arabia requires around two million sheep at the time of the Haj when pilgrims flock from all over the Islamic world. Every Muslim male is expected to make the pilgimage at least once in his lifetime. When I was a student in Pakistan I saw young boys being required to learn to slaughter a sheep from about the age of 10 at the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. Refrigeration is not the problem it used to be and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the main importers of our live sheep, certainly do not lack the resources to meet any infrastructure shortfalls. The Australian governmnet could do a lot lot more to encourage the chilled meat trade. One way of doing that would be to set a deadline for the end of the live trade, acting on the findings in the 1985 Senate Inquiry.

Halal slaughter for the ME trade has been carried out for decades in Australia by agreement with Muslim countries, so that is not a bar to the chilled trade. They accept stunning of the animal as required by law in Australia, even though they will not pre stun in the ME itself. Another reason for insisting on the chilled trade.

Muslims will tell you that the Koran requires that animals be treated kindly. But as we know practice does not always follow the faith. Mind you, the Bible is somewhat lacking on the subject, in fact the "dominion over all the creatures on earth" has been quoted to me ad nauseum by Christians as a defence for their apathy, though I be one myself!


Yes good questions to ask

They are good questions to ask Robyn and I wonder if the answer to the first has more to do with the countries importing Australian livestock being more interested in capturing the higher value-adding parts of the paddock to plate production process (and the accompanying job opportunities) than anything to do with 'cultural' requirements. 

As I understand it our domestic meat processing industry has the processes, the people, the skills, the requisite certifications and the track record in meeting all the halāl requirements necessary to satisfy the Mideast market.

So what then is the impediment? High tariffs on chilled meat imports in the countries importing our livestock is one to look at. Then we could also look at whether the Coalition government is doing enough to negotiate better market access for Australian processed meat exporters and whether some of the support it gives to the live export trade infrastructure (and the free PR work it does for the industry) could be reallocated to support for refridgerated meat exports.

Yes an excellent precis, more please

I'll echo Mark Ross in thanking you Jenny for this excellent precis on what clearly needs to change.

What are the obstacles to that change?  A livestock export industry that can mount a million-dollar publicity campaign is one and governments not willing to take on the argument as Ross rightly frames it. Jobs can be created here and it would help to put the numbers out there. Has anyone done this?

I know the death figures you provided are a powerful stimulus for some, but others will no be so moved. I think the more powerful numbers for many will be the lost employment opportunities. 

Job Numbers

Having asked the question I've found an answer from Tom Hannan, Federal Secretary of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (back in 2003):

Australia exports 6 million plus sheep each year mostly to the Middle East.

It is estimated by processors that with 6.6 million sheep exported last year this equates to 2,500 full time jobs if processed in Australia. If one such job sustains seven jobs in the wider regional community that means that 17,000 jobs are lost due to this trade.

So now on to new questions. Who is profiting from sending jobs (as well as livestock) overseas? What stops them re-investing in local meat-processing?

Coincidentally, as I write this I'm watching ABC News and seeing that a Cowra abattoir used WorkChoices to give its workers the 'choice' of 25% less pay or no job (and no course to redress unfair dismissal of course). 

I'm reminded that when the meatworks near Rockhampton closed down last year it was not able to reopen specifically because there was not enough livestock available. It was being shipped overseas rather than to local businesses.  Is the livestock export trade killing the local abattoirs?  

Great Work

Thank you Jenny for an excellent precis on the live animal export industry as it stands at this point in time. Your piece was superbly written and posits a strong argument for reform.

I was wondering who were our major competitors in the live sheep export industry and could we not work with them in lifting standards? Presumably, New Zealand exports sheep and would share our animal welfare values. Perhaps supplier nations should work in concert to ensure that the animals are dealt with humanely once they reach the Middle East. This, of course, will do nothing to mitigate the horrors of the voyage itself.

On another point, I question how much the general population is able to concern itself with the welfare of these animals. It's fair to say that city folk don't like to think of their Sunday roast as having once been a living, breathing and bleating animal and, as a result, convince themselves that these beasts are not animals, like bluey the family pet, as much as they are a food source.

Therefore, any success in stopping live exports will depend heavily on whether we can frame it as an argument in favour of on shore slaughter. I think people will find it easier to accept the idea of value-adding and job creation over that of animal welfare activism.

Once again, thanks for the great article. I look forward to more. Perhaps a look at how the FTA has affected Australian primary producers so far?

live animal exports in heavy seas again

Mark and Craig, thank you for your encouragement. There is not much joy in this type of issue that is for sure and I have wished many times over the past 30 years that I had never got involved - but once in it is hard to walk away!

As regards abattoir closures, a number of factors are at work. Certainly live exports have taken away on average 6 million sheep a year (though in 2004 and 2005 that halved) and yes, export sheep meat processors have had to close shifts and whole abattoirs in the past decade due to lack of  livestock supplies. But other factors have played a part in closures as well, long and severe droughts reducing production, and the general decline in sheep numbers when the wool market collapsed. Flock size has declined from a high of 170M to below 100M.

This not limited to Australia. Flocks went into sharp decline world wide in the '90s, with the exception of China which has the world's largest flock, and growing, but with strong domestic sheapmeat demand. It is however entering the live sheep trade as well and could be a major competitor in the future. China has a growing animal welfare movement which is encouraging. New Zealand is a minor player in the live trade, but a major player in the chilled trade. It banned live exports for some years and is under again over it. But Australia is by far the largest exporter of live animals.

Many EU and African countries export live, but Somalia is the largest supplier of live sheep to Saudi Arabia. It has had problems with suspensions due to Rift Valley fever, but it does not have the long haul problems that we face. I doubt Mark we could influence that country to concern itself with animal welfare problems in the ME. It is in a state of political chaos most of the time.  

There are caring groups of people in the ME trying to get laws enacted, but from the reports we get from those groups they are really up against it. Suspensions of the trade like the current one to Egypt probably carry more weight but I understand political moves are afoot already to find a way to lift that. One would have thought in 30 years that the industry and the government, had the will been there, could have carried a lot of influence given the size of the trade, but it didn't. But that does not overcome the problem of long haul sea voyages which I doubt can ever be overcome.

Any benefits from the FTA will be a long time coming, but in any case Australia is already a major supplier of chilled lamb to the US as it has a very small sheep flock. One chilled sheep meat market that is growing rapidly is that of Japan where a sudden taste for lamb has taken off, threatening to overtake our chilled beef imports. Any increase in the chilled trade must affect levels of live exports.

WA supplies most of the sheep for live export with the usual big name corporate players over there. So that state is putting up most resistance as you would imagine.

Actually Mark most city folk these days are a lot better informed on the issues of farm animal welfare, and there is general oppostion to the live export trade. But if they went into an abattoir they would probably all give up eating meat, for a while anyway! Most farmers I know also despise the trade and want to see their animals slaughtered in Australia. What drives the trade in the ME is not so much lack of refrigeration, but the desire to have "hot" killed meat. These countries already import chilled meat and have big supermarkets just as we do.

I hope this covers some of the points you raised.

Mind you, there is room for improvement in Australia too. We do not always keep our own house in order.

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Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 6 days ago