Ham-fisted, but live export crisis has turned the tide

WE export animal welfare. Of the 109 countries exporting livestock globally, Australia is the only one that invests in animal welfare beyond its borders.

Doubtless, Joe Ludwig of the Gillard government, who for a time banned the live cattle trade, and various NGOs would claim ownership. Methinks exporters did the hard work. There are three distinct public policy issues at play. How many animals die during export? How many are killed inhumanely in the destination country? The best response to failure in either or both. On one side are exporters, governments and some animal welfare types, on the other are radical animal welfare types.

The former work towards more humane methods of killing, accept the needs of ­humans for food, and foreign control over the final kill. The latter aim to ban live exports. Some would rather deny ­humans food than have animals die. Others would rather deny humans food than have animals die inhumanely.

Whoever brought pressure to bear, and by whatever methods and arguments, the result is that the number of animals that die during export declined significantly in the past decade. The mortality rate of sheep exported by sea in 1996 was 2.5 per cent. Last year it was 0.74 per cent. The mortality rate of cattle exported by sea in 1996 was 0.4 per cent. Last year it was 0.1 per cent. For goats, in 1996 it was 2 per cent. Last year it was near zero.

How humanely animals are slaughtered offshore is another matter. In Indonesia, before 2011 and the Ludwig ban, only 5 per cent of Australian-sourced cattle were stunned prior to slaughter. In 2014, it is more than 80 per cent. The ban was ham-fisted and harmful to Australian exporters, but some good came of it.

LiveCorp, funded by levies on exporters, now visits 110 Indo­nesian abattoirs. It boasts 4000 people trained in animal welfare, including in Mauritius, the Middle East, Indonesia and Malaysia.

More particularly, as a result of Australian exporter changes, the welfare standard of sheep, in particular sourced from the ­Middle East and Africa, has lifted. The Indonesian slaughterhouse owners are reaping the benefit of fewer losses. The Indonesian slaughtermen are reaping the benefit of better skills, and asking for better wages and conditions. Reports on LiveCorp’s website inform Uruguay and Paraguay live exporters, Pakistani feed lotters and Bangladeshi abattoir owners on nutrition, ­animal welfare and handling practices. In each case, savings can be made by adopting practices for which Australian ­exporters made the investment.

The live-export industry, a vital component of the Australian agricultural sector, contributes an average of $1 billion in export earnings annually to the Australian economy. It employs 13,000 people, mainly in regional and rural Australia. In 2013:

• Live cattle exports totalled 900,000 head valued at $755 million. Indonesia accounted for 53 per cent of the total.

• Live sheep exports totalled some two million head, valued at $172m. The Middle East accounted for 98 per cent.

• Live goat exports totalled 75,000 head, valued at $8m. ­Malaysia accounted for 74 per cent of the total.

Extraordinary to report, the Chinese demand for meat is so voracious they have eaten their way through their dairy herd. Australia and New Zealand are restocking the herd. Last year, dairy cattle exports ­totalled 80,000 head, valued at $172m. China accounted for most of the dairy cattle export market.

The RSPCA sits on LiveCorp’s independent panel to assess its programs. By contrast, Animals Australia, a charitable institution, “campaigns to inform and educate the community about improving the lives of animals in Australia and advocate change”.

In fact, its main game is to ban live exports. It is supposed to have a “purpose beneficial to the community”. Some benefit.

Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP for Denison in Tasmania, is described on the Animals Australia website as a “staunch live export opponent”. In February, he introduced a bill to ban live exports from July 2017 “that would protect exported ­animals from fully conscious slaughter, while the trade still ­exists”. The effect, of course, would be to harm humans and the export of animal welfare.

While Wilkie lobbies “to immediately reduce the suffering of innocent animals”, Animals Australia fights to “end the trade for good”. I would like to see live goat ­exports increase next year by at least one, Animals Australia. And if he strays, Andrew Wilkie.