Live Export: How Australia's Industry Stays Alive


By Wendy Laursen 2017-05-15 20:14:55

An Australian report highlighting the global value of the live export trade and Australia’s unique role in the industry has led to a reminder from the nation’s leading animal welfare organization – “the live export industry need to acknowledge that without Australia’s minimal welfare standards, they wouldn’t have an industry at all.”

These are the words of Dr Jed Goodfellow, Senior Policy Officer, at RSPCA Australia, indicating that he believes there wouldn’t be an industry without the welfare standards because the Australian community wouldn’t allow it. The RSPCA believes that live export should be stopped as it is inherently inhumane. Rather, animals should be slaughtered and processed in Australia for export as boxed meat.

The welfare standards that have come into play, have only come in under pressure from the community following disaster after disaster, says the RSPCA. “Desperately trying to improve animal welfare standards was what the industry had to do, to stay alive.” The organization says that, year after year, Australians have watched in horror as Aussie sheep and cattle are brutally butchered in the streets in many live export destinations. Australian sheep and cattle continue to “slip through the cracks” and end up for sale in unapproved markets, where they’re often stuffed into car boots and crammed onto trucks. Unlike in Australia, overseas processing facilities don’t require stunning which means thousands of Australian animals suffer unstunned slaughter as part of the live export trade.

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.

The new report, Enhancing the Competitiveness of the Australian Livestock Export Industry, provides a detailed analysis of Australia’s livestock export industry and cites ESCAS as one of the challenges the industry faces in being international competitive. The supporting research was undertaken by the Australian Farm Institute for the Livestock Export Program, a collaborative initiative of LiveCorp and Meat & Livestock Australia.

The report highlights that Australia’s livestock exports are worth approximately A$1.8 billion annually in farmgate returns alone, and earns well in excess of A$2 billion annually in export revenue. It cites economic modelling conducted by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences and the Centre for International Economics which found that Australian livestock exports generate about 10,000 jobs across regional Australia and that a cessation of the trade would impose a net cost of about A$300 million annually on Australian livestock producers. It also highlights that, in many cases, the export of live animals is not at odds with the local meat industry.

“It’s important to note that this is not a report by an ‘independent think tank’ as has been suggested in some reporting,” says Goodfellow. “This is a report commissioned and funded by the live export industry itself. The Australian Farm Institute has itself admitted that any assessment of live export/meat export comparisons is complex and largely based on making assumptions about modelling. Other economic analyses have used different (but equally valid) assumptions and arrived at significantly different conclusions.

“Local processing infrastructure already has the capacity to absorb the entire live export trade in sheep, and with further investment in domestic processing infrastructure in Australia’s North, much of the exported cattle herd could be absorbed as well. Changes would be required to herd management and breeding, but this would result in greater employment in the domestic meat processing trade in regional and rural areas of the country.

“The report does not change a thing regarding the broader live export debate and community concerns about the trade. For the industry to think it can placate the serious and ongoing concerns of the community with figures about profitability, would suggest it hasn’t learnt a thing from the repeated controversies and community outrage of the recent past. Australia’s economy and jobs will be better served in long term from an ordered transition away from live exports to further chill/frozen meat exports.”

Australia has instigated bans for ESCAS non-compliance and no longer exports to Saudi Arabia because that nation refuses to accept the standards. As another example of ESCAS in action, Australian livestock exporters endorsed market suspensions on some Malaysian importers and facilities which failed to meet animal welfare requirements last year. CEO of the Australian Live Exporters’ Council CEO Simon Westaway said at the time: “Poor welfare outcomes are never condoned nor excused by exporters.” 

However, Westaway says the new report is timely given the global value of the international livestock trade amongst 130 livestock exporting nations had grown significantly since 2001 due to increased demand for dietary protein in developing nations and a reduction in international trade barriers.

“Research into the economic impact of Australia’s livestock export industries and future ways to improve its competitiveness is a vital ingredient in ensuring we remain the global leader in the live trade, in terms of market access and animal welfare standards,” Westaway said. “This report crystallizes the significant value of the Australia’s livestock export industry and backs-up existing research which robustly debunks any doubts about the economic importance of the live trade to the national red meat value chain.

“Not only does our industry deliver significant and growing economic value nationally and regionally, livestock exporters share a number of strategic objectives with our partners in the meat processing sectors.

“This report is another reminder that as the global trade grows, pressure on Australia’s livestock export sector to remain competitive is greater than ever. This is especially so with competition from exporters in North Africa, Eastern Europe and South America which operate off a lower cost base and with no stated commitment or investment in post-arrival animal welfare,” Westaway said.

“As such, it is vital to ensure Australia’s world-leading supply chain standards are implemented as efficiently as possible and that Australia continues to be at the forefront is pushing for the adoption of similar standards internationally.”

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.