Few issues raise emotions more than the live export sector. Proof of that can be found in the “in-box” of most members of parliament following the recent ABC Lateline story which showed what were allegedly Australian cattle and sheep being mistreated in the Middle East.
Each year Australia sends around 3 million cattle and sheep to around 26 countries to meet the protein needs of their people. It’s an industry which annually earns Australia around $1.5 billion in foreign exchange. It employs, or supports the self-employment, of tens of thousands of Australians, particularly those living in our more challenging far north.
I’m often asked; why don’t we slaughter the animals in Australia? That, they suggest, would surely mean adding value and creating jobs here. It would also, they argue, give us total control over the treatment of the cattle and sheep.
To find the answer to that question we need to first understand that for many reasons, there is a market for live animals begging to be filled. They range from cultural preferences through to infrastructure issues including refrigeration and energy challenges which make transport and distribution impossible. Further, in some markets, including Indonesia, the buyers are looking for lighter cattle which they can fatten and add value to in their quite efficient feed-lots. If we don’t fill these markets, some other country with lower animal welfare standards will.
That’s the demand side, what about supply? Here there are two key points. First, cattlemen in Australia’s far north don’t have the feed and conditions to grow cattle all the way to slaughter weight. It’s simply a reality of nature and climate. Without the live trade industry, producers in the far north would not be viable. Second, climatic issues like the North’s wet season and transport difficulties make slaughter, storage and transport to port difficult
So how can Australians have confidence in our industry? First, we have the best animal welfare system in the world. The positive outcome from the regrettable 2011 live export pause was the introduction of the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS). This regularity regime forces exporters to show they have a plan to treat the animals humanely and provides a monitoring and auditing regime all the way from port to abattoir.