I am an Australian veterinarian, from a rural port town (which exported live sheep), who graduated in 1988. I worked in the beef and dairy industry, both in Australia and in Europe, for 7 years. I have followed the live export trade actively since 1985 when the findings of the Senate Enquiry into the Live Sheep Export trade were made public.1
The OIE standards are well below Australian standards. They do not require upright pre-slaughter stunning and they do not exclude roping restraint, tripping and casting of animals as occurs in most Indonesian abattoirs. Presumably, they do not also forbid the distressing “cultural” practice of hosing water or throwing buckets of water on helpless, cast animals as occurs in Indonesia.2 Most importing countries are unable to comply with Australian standards, but “potentially” some may be able to comply with the much lower OIE standards.
Whilst technically difficult to institute and maintain in importing countries, upright, pre-slaughter stunning must be made mandatory for Australian animals if this trade is to continue. This practice apparently is appropriate for Halal slaughter so there is no cultural reason to prevent it becoming a mandatory standard.2
The Australian standards are inadequate to protect livestock being prepared for export and exported from Australia. Many sections of the Standards could only be enforced under State and Territory legislation and lie outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. As such, the AESL are largely unenforceable and thus, largely irrelevant
Australian regulatory arrangements are inadequate to protect exported Australian livestock. Once an Australian animal has left Australia, they have no protection against inappropriate stress let alone outright cruelty. Importing countries do not have basic animal welfare legislation so no amount of Australian regulatory arrangements can protect animals exported from Australia. Mishandling, mistreatment, inadequate housing, poor transport facilities and cruelty are a natural consequence of our inability to regulate animal welfare in the importing countries.
In my opinion, no live animals should be exported from Australia as feeder or slaughter animals. A Senate Enquiry in 19851 concluded that there was sufficient evidence on welfare grounds to stop the live sheep export trade immediately. The report stated that “the trade is, in many respects, inimical to good animal welfare and it is not in the interests of the animal to be transported..”.1 Due to economic and practical reasons, the report, however, recommended phasing out the trade over a few years. The findings were ignored and the trade was expanded to include export of live cattle. This should never have been allowed.
Exporting animals live, under any circumstances, even with best-practice ships (and over the years, many have been shown to be sub-standard) directly compromises animal welfare. When there is also loading, unloading, transport to feedlots, feedlotting itself (sometimes with poor conditions and consistently in Indonesia, with inadequate roughage of a desirable length to decrease the risk of lactic acidosis)2, transporting to and from feedlots (which could be up to 3 days with no unloading in Indonesia according to MLA’s own report2) then slaughter, there are so many opportunities for poor animal welfare and unacceptable suffering that this trade cannot be condoned at any level.
Transporting animals from Australian winter to a hot summer may result in severe discomfort, heat stress or worse, an agonising death. Australia has standards preventing southern cattle from being exported to limit this possibility but in the MLA 2010 report2, heat stress was still observed in some animals in Indonesian feedlots. Presumably, it also occurs in other importing countries.
Pregnant animals should not transported. An unacceptable percentage of pregnant heifers were identified by the Indonesian feedlot operators in 2010. 2 To avoid inadvertent export of pregnant heifers, exported cattle should be guaranteed speyed heifers or steers.
Horned cattle should not be transported given that unacceptable stocking densities for horned cattle have been identified in Indonesian feedlots.2
Goats, deer and wild camels may experience extreme stress with handling and conditions of live export, so should be excluded fro the live export trade.
A high level of independent Australian monitoring is required to ensure standards are met, particularly at the point of slaughter. Appropriate and regular training is also required. It is hard to imagine that providing DVDs to operators who may have no access to computers or DVD players is adequate for training (this was a recommendation in the 2010 MLA report).2 Monitoring must use third-party independent auditing as MLA has shown themselves unreliable in responding to “critical aspects” of animal management (including handling, nutrition and animal suitability), slaughter (including facilities and method slaughter) and animal welfare standards and their practical application, as identified in their own independent report (MLA report 2010).2
In addition, there must be a supply chain assurance with clear identification of animals from farm to slaughter.
Other aspects of the trade including transport and feedlotting are unable to be regulated appropriately (see point 6).
The welfare of Australian animals will all be compromised as long as the live export trade exists. The best animal welfare outcome is achieved when the animal is slaughtered humanely as close to the point of production within Australia and under Australian law.
It is simply impossible (as outlined in the MLA report 2010)2 to ensure that the animal risks involved in transport, feedlotting and slaughter in an importing country are minimised. Every step, as outlined in the MLA report is problematic and none can be regulated as often independent, non specialist/non-trained operators are involved. Stress is cumulative. From the moment Australian livestock are loaded onto a truck at a farm, there is stress. If this is minimised with short transportation and Australian slaughter then it is acceptable. It is not acceptable to keep adding stress: boat trip, feedlotting, internal transport in non-specialist vehicle (usually with no non-slip floors and no facilities for unloading if transport is prolonged or halted), adverse slaughter conditions etc.
In addition, in the case of extensive range farming on large pastoral leases, animals (sheep, cattle and goats) are likely to experience more stress. They have limited human contact during their production so to then have frequent and often unskilled handling, is extremely stressful for the animals.
This trade is never guaranteed. It is a high-risk industry with a permit provided on a 3 monthly basis. There is no certainty or stability for farmers or their animals. Indonesia is becoming more self-sufficient and it is unlikely that they will keep relying on imported cattle. It is also not in their best interest to do so. This trade could be halted abruptly and arbitrarily at any time by Indonesia (or other importing countries) and Australian farmers have no “fall-back position”. Northern Australia has limited or no ability (depending on location) to process cattle if this industry is halted and there is no financial incentive for setting up processing facilities whilst the high profit, live export trade exists. As such, it is an extremely risky economic venture. Like most high risk ventures, if it fails, business fails. In the case of Australian farmers, it is not just a loss of business, it is loss of home, income, way of life and total livelihood. In addition, Australian animals may also be adversely affected, for example, if there is no money to buy diesel to pump water through a dry season or if farmers have no option but to abandon their farms and animals on those farms if they are forced to just “walk-away”. This trade forces a risk that really has no parallel in the wider business community.
If this trade were to be phased out, jobs in northern Australia could be created with the development of processing facilities in northern Australia. Domestic processing creates jobs and “value-adds” to any exported meat. Profits to the producer may be lower but the risks entailed would be considerably decreased and be more in line with the risks farmers are required to take every day and every year: weather, market prices, Australian dollar etc.
This trade is not acceptable at any level based on welfare grounds. It is also not acceptable on economic grounds. As such, and in line with the 1985 live export enquiry,1 it needs to be replaced with a refrigerated meat trade and local processing. The live export trade should be phased out so that there is time to allow this infrastructure to be instituted. Whilst it is being phased out, strict regulations with independent Australian government monitoring, especially at the point of slaughter, need to be in place to minimise animal cruelty and stress as much is as possible.
Dr Susan Foster BVSc MVetClinStud FACVSc
1. Export of live sheep from Australia. Report by the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare. The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. 1985
2. Final Report. Independent study into animal welfare conditions for cattle in Indonesia from point of arrival from Australia to slaughter. For public release. Prepared for Meat & Livestock Australia and Live Corp. May 2010