Australia's leading animal welfare organization, the RSPCA, has highlighted that the government is preparing regulatory changes to allow the live export of ponies, horses and donkeys for slaughter. However, the general feeling from the industry is “it won't happen.”
Currently, Australian horses, ponies and donkeys can be exported for slaughter overseas without any control over what happens to them - a loophole the government is trying to shut. All other livestock species such as sheep, cattle, llamas, camels and buffalo are subject to strict supply chain assurances. Department of Agriculture representative, Dr Narelle Clegg, who oversees live exports, says the government is attempting to close the gap after receiving a few sporadic inquiries.
“We slaughter horses for human consumption in Australia now,” she said. “What we are requiring exporters to do, if the policy is approved, would be to make sure the arrangements in place met international animal welfare standards.”
China a Potential Market
The RSPCA understands these inquiries are associated with the Chinese demand for equines. Pony, horse and donkey meat is eaten, while donkey skin is dried and ground up to make a gelatine-based substance called ejiao, which is used by people who believe it is good for their appearance and vitality.
With donkey populations throughout Africa now decimated as a result, Chinese companies are looking to new sources to feed their demand - including Australia.
“Creating this new live export market will mean sending Australian horses and donkeys – that have been taken from the wild, retired from the racing industry or bought from their owners – on a dangerous and uncertain live export voyage, to be slaughtered in foreign countries under poor standards,” says the RSPCA, which is calling for a permanent prohibition on such exports.
Australian Industry Not Interested
However, Australia's live export industry appears to have little appetite for the market anyway. The Australian Live Exporters’ Council (ALEC), the peak body of Australia’s $2 billion livestock export industry, has issued a statement saying that it is closely aligned with community expectations regarding the mandatory welfare and supply chain controls which must be in place for any Australian livestock exports.
With respect to the potential live export of species such as horses and donkeys, ALEC’s members are neither demanding, nor supportive, of any such trade activity at this time.
“There is no will by ALEC and its members to support the live export of horses and donkeys from Australia. No member of ALEC is presently seeking to undertake this activity,” ALEC CEO Simon Westaway said.
“The live export of any livestock from Australia needs to meet the existing high standard of mandatory welfare and supply chain control now in place for other species. Our industry standards in this regard are global leading.”
ALEC members currently undertake live export of feeder/slaughter and breeder cattle, sheep and goats to markets, predominantly situated across South East Asia and the Middle East, helping meet many nations’ food security needs and growing demand for protein.
“Conclusive evidence and substantial welfare safeguards relating horses and donkeys in transit and in market, which are thus far not available, would be needed before any possible consideration can be given to alter the industry’s existing viewpoint,” Westaway said.
Australia Leads on Welfare
Australia is a leading exporter of both cattle and sheep, but is the only country in the world with legislation that decrees that the welfare of Australian-originated livestock remains the responsibility of the Australian exporter. The livestock retain their national identity to the point of slaughter, irrespective of any subsequent ownership transfer. The legislation has not been adopted by any other of the more than one hundred livestock exporting nations.
Australia’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) is based on four principles:
• Animal welfare: animal handling and slaughter in the importing country conforms to World Organization for Animal Health animal welfare recommendations
• Control through the supply chain: the exporter has control of all supply chain arrangements for livestock transport, management and slaughter. All livestock remain in the supply chain
• Traceability through the supply chain: the exporter can trace all livestock through the supply chain
• Independent audit: the supply chain in the importing country is independently audited.
ESCAS calls for sharp knives (sharpening between each animal), single cuts of the throat (not repetitive blunt hacking), effective restraint to minimize animal stress and make the cut more efficient and low stress animal handling. However, the standards do not require that animals are stunned before having their throats cut, as many animal welfare groups believe is necessary for humane killing.