Banning Live Exports: Problem or Opportunity?

By Genevieve Hopkins, 10 June 2011

The live exports ban has certainly made headlines and is raising emotional debate on all sides of the live export fence. While I am strongly against live exports due to the abhorrent treatment of our animals when they reach their overseas destinations, the welfare of our Australian farmers/graziers has also caused me great distress. I have tried to go beyond the media hype to find some understanding about the issue. This article provides a summary of what I have found so far and it will explore the myths, facts and opportunities surrounding this issue.

I would like to make it clear that I am not a farmer/grazier myself but I do believe strongly that farmers and graziers are the backbone of our country and Australians should be supporting our farmers by buying Australian produce. I certainly practice that principle in my household. However, Australians including farmers themselves, are justifiably angry and concerned about the cruelty that is inflicted on our animals in foreign slaughter-houses. It concerns me that there has been such a lack of improvement in the situation despite over 30 years of Australian live export industry’s involvement in these facilities.

More importantly, I am very concerned that farmers are being short-changed by focusing on live exports when exporting chilled/frozen meats is worth much more per kilo. Why would the MLA be pushing so hard for live exports if that is the case? Many Australian facilities now also have internationally recognised halal accreditation, which provides us with an additional competitive advantage for our frozen/chilled meats. Live exports directly compete with Australian frozen and chilled meats in the same markets we export our products to. Live exports are also competing against Australia’s lucrative meat processing industry by moving jobs and profits to importing countries. Australian consumer sentiment is not an issue to be taken lightly either, Australians are becoming more conscious consumers and the importance of animal welfare and best practice/standards cannot be underestimated.

Banning live exports will devastate farmers and destroy the meat and livestock industry?

I am alarmed by the claims being made by MLA/Livecorp and associated farmers that banning live exports will destroy Australian farmers and result in suicides from increased debt burdens. However, numerous economic reports – including ACIL Tasman’s 2009 review into the live sheep trade[i] and the 2010 ‘Future of the Queensland Beef Industry and the Impact of Live Exports’ Report[ii] – reveal that live exports are undermining Australia’s meat processing industry, an industry five times more lucrative than live exports.

Even more serious, “reports into the impact of live cattle exports on Queensland’s beef industry have found that live exports are directly competing with the beef processing sector to the point of threatening its future viability.” Premium Australian beef, exported to Indonesia and slaughtered locally sits along side the chilled and frozen meat exported to Indonesia from the same farms. Furthermore, “chilled and frozen meat exports from Australia are already worth over five times the value of live exports annually and would further increase if Australia was not providing importing nations with the alternative of live animals.” Rather than exporting live cattle, why are we not encouraging the slaughter and butchering of livestock on Australian soil and benefitting from adding value to our exports? It is interesting to learn that the MLA takes a 9% cut from all live cattle exported, is this a question of vested interests at the expense of farmers?

Indonesia doesn’t have the facilities to import chilled or frozen meat products from Australia?

Another puzzling argument coming from proponents of the live export industry is that Indonesia does not have the facilities to import and distribute chilled or frozen meat products from Australia. I’m not sure how this has become a viable argument because most places in Indonesia have access to electricity and cold storage facilities, particularly in urban areas. Indonesian cities have the same modern conveniences of any western country. The only places in Indonesia that don’t have reliable energy sources and where cold storage may be an issue is in rural and remote areas. In these areas, access to Australian meat is not an issue as the local peoples of the area farm their own animals for slaughter. The more traditional diets in these areas also have less meat requirements.

Banning live exports will increase poverty in Indonesia?

The live export industry has argued that banning live exports will increase poverty or cause hardship to local populations in Indonesia. Statements such as these show a complete lack of understanding about the causes of and solutions to poverty. Poverty in Indonesia (and other developing and under-developed countries) is widespread and caused by numerous and complex interactions between economic, political and environmental factors. Meat is a luxury item in many countries including Indonesia and has only increased in prominence because of rapidly westernizing diets. Banning live exports will not affect levels of poverty and food security in Indonesia. In fact, more Indonesians would turn to the chilled or frozen meat alternatives that are worth much more to the Australian economy anyway.

Australian live export industry presence in importing countries’ slaughter industry

Although the Australian live export industry has been involved in the slaughter industry of importing countries for decades, cruelty and inhumane practices are widespread and have continued to occur, until being exposed by animal rights organisations and the media[iii]. Repeated investigations into the live sheep trade to the Middle East from 2003-2010[iv][v][vi][vii][viii][ix][x][xi][xii][xiii][xiv][xv] have revealed the continuation of cruel and inhumane practices despite Australian live export industry presence. Changes made in these countries to improve animal welfare practices only occurred after being publicly exposed, leading to public pressure on the Australian government. This resulted in the banning of live exports to Egypt and threatened bans to other Middle Eastern countries under the Howard government.

These investigations also resulted in the first-ever animal cruelty charges laid against a live export company, Western Australian-based Emanual Pty Ltd and its two company directors. The latest investigation by Animals Australia regarding animal cruelty in live cattle exports to Indonesia[xvi] documents the prevalence and continuation of cruel practices in Indonesia despite Australian live export industry involvement of over 30 years. Banning live exports will send a message to the Indonesian government and its peoples that the cruel practices inflicted on Australian animals is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. This will lead to changes in slaughter practices in the same way that has occurred in the Middle East.

Installation of Australian slaughter equipment in Indonesia

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA)/Livecorp also claim to be improving systems and practices in Indonesia by installing so-called ‘state of the art’ equipment such as the Mark I restraint boxes. In a review of the Mark I, II, and III restraint boxes funded by the MLA, the boxes were claimed to “improve animal handling pre-slaughter and during the slaughter process.”[xvii] However, the use of these boxes in conjunction with traditional Indonesian practices of rope tied slaughter results in distressing, prolonged and painful deaths.

The situation is so bad that Professor Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, the world’s leading slaughter expert, states that the Mark I restraint box “violates every humane standard around the world,” and is “unacceptable and absolutely atrocious.” Even the MLA review admits that, “the success of the restraint system is dependent on the interaction between the stockman, animal and the environment.” This interaction is something that the live export industry cannot control. The RSPCA and Animals Australia ‘Response to the Australian livestock export industry’s Indonesia animal welfare action plan – May 2011,’ provides greater details on the many problems with the use of restraint boxes in Indonesia.[xviii]

The latest MLA action-plan for exports to Indonesia also states plans to expand the use of stunning as a method to improve animal welfare during slaughter. However, the MLA has publicly admitted that, “expanding the use of stunning in Indonesia would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.”[xix] In addition, the Mark I, II and III restraining boxes are not viable mechanisms for use with stunning as they do not restrain the head.

Livestock Transportation

Australia claims to have the world’s highest standards for livestock export. This may be the case but the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) are regularly and clearly breached, resulting in high numbers of animal deaths in transit. None of these clear breaches of standards have resulted in penalties from AQIS investigations. High standards are inconsequential if the industry is allowed to continue with self-regulation. This issue was highlighted by the 2004 Keniry review into live exports, which recommended that the self-regulation of the industry had to change.[xx] Seven years later it is abundantly clear that nothing has changed, it is ‘business-as-usual.’

While live export bans may affect Livecorps’ fleet of livestock transport ships, the road-based livestock transport industry in Australia will not be wiped out by the ban on live exports. Animals need to be transported to abattoirs in the same way that animals were transported to wharves for export.

The opportunity of Halal meat

It might have been necessary 10 or more years ago to develop a live export industry to access Indonesian markets because Australia did not have many halal accredited slaughter facilities. There are now many facilities in Australia that have internationally recognised halal accreditation and a global reputation for high quality ‘Halal Guaranteed’ meat.[xxi] The quality of our products has been affirmed by the global Halal Research Council who wrote a report in 2010 praising Australia’s halal meat slaughtering, processing and packaging systems. The report recommended that Muslims in the USA “should avoid the products which are not packed in Australia” and that, “a Muslim should look for the Australia Halal label.” [xxii] This market opportunity to provide highly sought after halal meat to international markets, worth more per kilo that live exports, is having to directly compete with our live export industry.

Unsurprisingly, the methods of slaughter occurring in Indonesian slaughter-houses are not considered halal and they have been condemned by leading Islamic clerics and organisations. Secretary of the Indonesian Ulema Council, Sholahudin al-Ayubi, has stated that the practices exposed by the Animals Australia investigation and aired on ABC’s Four Corners, were ‘unacceptable under sharia law.’[xxiii] Leading Australian halal expert, Dr Mohammed Lofti from Australian Halal Food Services emphasised that, “the focal point of the Islamic slaughtering is the humane treatment of animals.”[xxiv]

Under Islamic slaughtering law (halal):

  • Any form of ill-treatment of animals is prohibited
  • Animals should be well fed and watered
  • Only healthy animals can be slaughtered
  • Animals should not be slaughtered in front of one another
  • Pregnant animals should not be slaughtered
  • Calves should not be slaughtered in front of their mothers and vice versa
  • Only very sharp knives should be used for slaughtering
  • Slaughtering should be done in one cut and as fast as possible

Dr Lofti stresses that under sharia law, “animal welfare overrides any aspect of the slaughtering process.”[xxv] The banning of live exports is an excellent opportunity to highlight that the cruel and inhumane treatment of our animals is not considered halal and to increase the market opportunities and advantages that our halal meat exports provide.

Changing Australian consumer sentiments

The importance of Australian consumer sentiment was highlighted this week with sales of meat dropping in response to consumer disgust at the cruelty exposed in the Animals Australia investigation aired by ABC’s Four Corners.[xxvi] Australians are becoming more sophisticated and conscious about the ethical, health, environmental and social implications of the food that we put into our bodies. In order to remain competitive in this market, farmers will need to make some tough choices about the images they want to project to the consumer and the types of farming practices that will prove more sustainable in the long-term.

Conclusion

The live export industry is not just horrific for the animals that face an agonizing death on foreign soil, it is also bad for Indonesia’s peoples, bad for Australian farmers, the meat and livestock industry and the economy, and bad for the Australian people. That is why I want live exports banned and in the process, we will realize the untapped opportunities of our halal and locally processed meat export industries.


[i] ACIL Tasman, Sep 2009, ‘Australian live sheep exports: Economic analysis of Australian live sheep and sheep meat trade,’ Australia

[ii] SG Heilbron Economic & Policy Consulting (2010) The Future of the Queensland Beef Industry and the Impact of Live Cattle Exports

[iii] Organisations and media such as; ‘Animals Australia,’ ‘Compassion in Animal Farming,’ ‘RSCPA’ and ‘PETA,’ 9 Network’s ‘60 Minutes,’ and ‘A Current Affairs’ and ABC’s ‘Four Corners,’ ‘The 7:30 Report’ and ‘Landline.’

[iv] 60 Minutes, Jul 2003, ‘Making a Killing,’ Exposé on cruel treatment of Australian animals exported to Egypt and Israel, 9 Network

[v] 60 Minutes, Sep 2003, ‘Ship of Shame,’ Exposé on rejection of 57,000 Australian sheep from Saudi Arabia and conditions on board animal transport ship Cormo Express, 9 Network

[vi] Animals Australia & Compassion in Animal Farming, Nov 2003, 1st Investigation into animal cruelty of live sheep exports to Middle East

[vii] Four Corners, Jun 2003, ‘A Blind Eye,’ Exposé on barriers to investigating animal cruelty in live export industry, ABC

[viii] Landline, Nov 2004, ‘Public opinion threatens live exports,’ ABC

[ix] Animals Australia & PETA, Dec 2005, 2nd Investigation into animal cruelty in live sheep exports to Middle East

[x] 60 Minutes, Feb 2006, ‘A Cruel Trade,’ footage documenting cruelty inflicted on Australian live export animals from Basateen Abattoir, Egypt, 9 Network

[xi] Animals Australia, Sep 2007, 4th Investigation into continuing cruelty on live sheep exports to the Middle East

[xii] The 7:30 Report, Feb 2008, Exposé on continued cruelty to Australian animals in live export trade to the Middle East, ABC

[xiii] A Current Affairs, Oct 2008, ‘Festival of the Sacrifice,’ Exposé on cruelty to Australian live exports to the Festival of the Sacrifice, 9 Network

[xiv] Animals Australia, Nov 2010, 7th Investigation into continuing animal cruelty in the live export trade to the Middle East

[xv] The 7:30 Report, Dec 2010, Animals Australia’s investigations into the continuing animal cruelty in the live export trade to the Middle East, ABC

[xvi] Four Corners, May 2011, Animals Australia investigation into animal cruelty in the live export trade to Indonesia, ABC

[xvii] Paul Whittington, 2009, ‘Review of Mark I, II and III Cattle Restraining Boxes,’ Meat and Livestock Australia

[xviii] RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia, May 2011, ‘Response to the Australian livestock export industry’s Indonesia animal welfare action plan – May 2011 http://www.banliveexport.com/#downloadFactsheets

[xix] RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia, May 2011, ‘Response to the Australian livestock export industry’s Indonesia animal welfare action plan – May 2011 http://www.banliveexport.com/#downloadFactsheets

[xx] Keniry, John, and Australian Deptartment of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, 2004, The Keniry report – livestock export review [electronic resource] Commonwealth of Australia, http://www.library.adelaide.edu.au/cgi-bin/director?id=1109762

[xxii] Abdullah Nanna and Ikram Haq, Jan 2010, ‘Australian Halal Meat Report,’ Halal Research Council, http://www.halalrc.org/reports.php

[xxiii] Peter Alford and James Massola, 1 June 2011, ‘sd,’ The Australian

[xxiv] James Nason, 3 June 2011, ‘No place for cruelty in Islam slaughter: Australian Halal expert,’ Beef Central

[xxv] James Nason, 3 June 2011, ‘No place for cruelty in Islam slaughter: Australian Halal expert,’ Beef Central

[xxvi] Four Corners, May 2011, Animals Australia investigation into animal cruelty in the live export trade to Indonesia, ABC

 

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Comments

8 Responses to “Banning Live Exports: Problem or Opportunity?”
  1. A very thoughtful article.

  2. Anne says:

    Genevieve,
    you might also like this article.
    http://www.warrentruss.com/press.php?id=1762
    Anne

  3. Anne says:

    Hi Genevieve
    Can I ask a couple of questions, just to start things off?
    – there are currently cattle stockpiled in cramped yards in WA & NT that should have been on a boat by now. The temp in the top end is nud…ging 35 degrees + humidity and the DAILY fodder bill is roughly $50k. These cattle can not go back to where they came from and there is no market to forward them onto. What do you propose to do with these cattle within say the next 3-4 days to get them out of those yards?

    – Who is going to pay the estimated $50k/day fodder bill to feed and water these animals and pay the wages of the stockmen who are currently looking after them in the yards? (PS – the government isn’t going to and those business/people need $$ now to keep producing the hay and putting fuel in the trucks to deliver it to the yards).

    – regarding the comment from the “world’s leading slaughter expert” regarding restraining the head, can I say that I have been into slaughter houses and even slaughtered animals myself, you don’t need to restrain the head. An animal will put it’s head up in order to try to see out and a trained & experienced slaughterman (standing above the animal in the box) can have the stunning gun in place and triggered within a split second. Restraining the head would cause the animal to panic more.

    I look forward to your responce.

    Anne

    • greence2 says:

      Hi Anne,

      Sorry its taken me a while to respond. I’ve just spent the morning talking to an NT grazier about the issues to try and understand things from the graziers perspectives. There was lots of information that helped me to understand the issues and difficulties and I am now researching for another article that explains what I understand the graziers side of the story to be. I’d love to hear your comments and any additions you’d like to make on it. I just need a couple of days to pull it together. As for the questions you raised:
      1) I think we should let the cattle onto the boats and be exported as intended because you are so right about the costs to farmers let alone the costs to the animals that have to sit in the holding yards in the heat and sun
      2) I totally agree the costs are huge and unsustainable but I don’t have a solution except get the cattle back on the ships
      3) The info I got about stunning was from the RSPCA because I don’t have any experience or knowledge about the issue and I’ve never stepped foot in an abattoir. I thought the RSPCA would be the best place to learn about the most humane way to slaughter animals. The problem with the boxes from what I can gather is that traditional roping methods are used causing animals to panic, trip etc.

      I need to put together my thoughts, the information I got from the NT grazier and do more reading. I’ll then be able to decide what side of the fence I stand because I am sitting fairly and squarely on the fence now and I’m definitely not convinced about the banning of live exports anymore.

      • Anne says:

        Thanks for your responce. I’ll give you a quick run down on a big commercial slaughter house just so you know.
        In Swifts “commercial” abattior in TVL animals walk up a race into the knock box that then gentle closes on them and lifts them off the ground (FYI – surprisingly this actually calms animals and they don’t panic and thrash about). There is a man in a pit beside the box and he puts a chain around one of the back fetlocks exposed under the gap at the bottom of the knock box. As soon as the chain is in place (has to happen before slaughter as the animal’s reflexes will cause it to kick out when it is knocked) the slaughterman waits his chance (only a second or two). The animals will usually 999/100) put their head down to sniff and then lift their heads to see if they can see over the edge of the box, the slaughterman has the stun gun ready, applies it to the animals forehead and triggers it. Animal then drops down to the floor and the knock box opens up and the animal is rolled out and lifted by the chain on the hind leg. Straight away there is a second slaughterman there with a very sharp knife who cuts the windpipe & arteries and ties off the ospigis (spelling).
        This whole process can take between 5-10 seconds.
        It should also be noted that Swifts in TVL is also Halal accredited and once a mth a whole kills is done by Halal. The whole non muslim staff (except yard men) have an RDO and is replaced by muslim staff who do the processing from start to finish. This has worked very well for several years and I haven’t heard any bad stories. But, Swifts TVL is the exception, not the norrm and was only done a couple of years ago during an upgrade.

        You are right, those cattle have to get onto those boats and quickly. The animal welfare issues as a result of the ban will be far reaching and devastaing, equal too or worse then what we saw on 4 Corners (if that is imaginable). and the worst part is it will be happening on Australian shores, not in another country.

  4. Janice Wood says:

    Thankyou so much for your article Greence2 and Anne for your input – I’m a lot more informed now.

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