Let’s clear up ‘myths’ about live animal trade

Tony SeabrookCountryman
York farmer and PGA president Tony Seabrook at his property near York.
Camera IconYork farmer and PGA president Tony Seabrook at his property near York. Credit: Danella Bevis

Contrary to the many myths put out from animal activist organisations, meat worker unions and a handful of State and Federal politicians, the truth is that around the world the live export trade is thriving.

At every moment of the day, from every corner of the globe, hundreds of thousands of animals are being moved by sea, road, and air across huge distances.

Livestock in the US are packed on to transport trucks and sent thousands of kilometres to abattoirs in Mexico.

In central Europe, sheep and cattle are transported throughout the EU and into Northern Africa and Russia, and animals from Australia, Argentina and Brazil are loaded on to ships and sent to the Middle East.

This is because the live export trade makes economic sense.

It is the cornerstone of the Western Australian sheep industry which contributes more than $1.4 billion to the WA economy.

In addition to the more than 5000 sheep farm businesses that rely on the income that comes from the export of sheep, it also employs directly and indirectly thousands of West Australians — including stock men and women, shearers, transporters, stock agents, feed suppliers, veterinarians, and stevedores to name a few.

Last year, Australia exported around 1.5 million sheep to markets in the Middle East and, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, live sheep exports rose 21.4 per cent between March 2017 and March 2018.

Most of these sheep were exported from WA to countries like Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, countries that are willing to pay a premium for imported meats because they consume far more than they produce.

Further, because of cultural reasons, and the lack of expensive refrigerated markets, many of the customers in these countries demand fresh meat that is generally eaten immediately after slaughtering, rather than chilled or frozen boxed exports.

Of the more than 100 countries exporting livestock around the world, Australia is the only one that invests in ensuring and improving animal welfare outcomes throughout the entire supply chain, including slaughter in other countries.

While those opposed to the export of any live animal, whether it is sheep, cattle, goats, or camels continue to advocate for Australia to ban the live trade, the simple truth is if we don’t supply the livestock to these markets, someone else will.

Already, after the suspension two months ago of WA live sheep exporter Emanuel Exports’ license to export, we have seen many Middle Eastern countries including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait begin sourcing sheep from other countries, including Iran, Somalia, Sudan and potential new markets including Saudi Arabia.

They have also begun importing frozen boxed meats from other countries like Ireland, Canada, and China, rather than Australia, as retaliation for our cessation of sheep shipments in the lead-up to the annual Festival of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha.

Most of these countries now supplying sheep to our established trade partners, have some of the lowest animal welfare standards in the world, and, unlike Australia, do not regulate specific animal welfare outcomes for live export.

Of the more than 100 countries exporting livestock around the world, Australia is the only one that invests in ensuring and improving animal welfare outcomes throughout the entire supply chain, including slaughter in other countries.

According to the latest reports from the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, since 2010 sheep mortality rates have fallen.

In 2017, the delivery rate of all sheep exported from Australia was 99.29 per cent, a clear indication our live export regulatory process is continuing to secure world leading outcomes in animal welfare.

There is no disputing that with demand for meat rising all over the world, WA’s livestock industry will continue to face countless challenges from animal-rights activists and burgeoning vegetarian and vegan life-stylers over the future of the live export trade.

However, their claims that the Australian live export trade is unnecessary, cruel, and should be phased out, remain hollow, especially in light of the facts that it is an industry that continues to grow and strengthen Australia’s trade relationships, provides a sound economic return for farmers, is ensuring sound animal welfare outcomes both at home and around the world, and continues to have a very strong future.

Tony Seabrook is PGA president

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