Every year millions of Australian cattle, sheep and goats are sent overseas — to countries where there are rarely any local laws to protect them from cruelty. Thousands of these animals don't survive the sea journey, and investigations have shown that those who do disembark alive can face appalling cruelty. Most Australian animals slaughtered overseas have their throats cut while they are fully conscious, leading to a painful and prolonged death.
Even before stepping onto a live export ship, these often effectively 'wild' animals will have suffered through long overland journeys to get to a port, usually followed by confinement in a feedlot to 'acclimatise' to unfamiliar feed, and the stress of being loaded in their thousands onto a huge ship.
Conditions on board live export ships are inherently stressful for the animals. Constant rolling motion, extremes of temperature, the risk of mechanical breakdown, injuries from hard concrete and metal decks, and journeys that often last weeks at sea all increase the risks for animals and contribute to unnecessary suffering.
If animals transported within Australia died in the numbers that they do on live export ships, cruelty charges could be laid. But the live export industry simply accepts these deaths as part of their business model.
Once Australian animals reach their overseas destination, they can be handled and slaughtered by workers who are often frightened, ill equipped and poorly trained. Much of the cruelty witnessed over the years in foreign abattoirs — whether in Indonesia, Jordan or Gaza — is the result of fearful workers unable to control large, untamed and stressed animals.
Australian government regulations — which don't even require that animals exported live are stunned before slaughter — are utterly failing to protect animals from cruelty overseas, while policing the live export system is left to a charity.
Again and again over the past decade, Animals Australia investigators have documented terrible abuse of Australian animals exported live — abuse that the government wouldn't even be aware of if it wasn’t for our evidence and legal complaints. Meanwhile, it seems to be 'business as usual' for companies implicated in live export breaches.
This cruelty continues while there is already a viable alternative to live export available to Australia.
Australia already has a viable alternative to live export in chilled and frozen boxed meat.
In 2014-15, boxed meat was worth eight times more to the Australian economy than live export for slaughter.
A 2014 Australian government-commissioned report also dispelled the myth that importing countries won't shift from live export to boxed meat. History has shown that when importing countries cannot get live animals from Australia (either because of drought impacting numbers available or suspensions due to cruelty or trade disputes) those countries simply increase their intake of chilled and frozen meat.
A series of independent economic reports over recent years have also set out that a well-planned transition from live export to boxed meat could create jobs, benefit the Australian economy and provide stability for Australian producers.
Numbers fluctuate significantly according to environmental conditions, international disputes and currency exchange but each year live export companies send approximately 1 million live Australian cattle and 2 million live Australian sheep overseas.
Boxed meat was worth eight times more to the Australian economy in 2014-2015 than live export for slaughter.
A significant number of cattle are also exported for breeding and dairy purposes, but they are not covered by the Australian government's Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). Animals Australia is continuing to campaign for animals exported for breeding to be brought under the same regulation scheme.
Australia predominantly exports live cattle and sheep for slaughter; however smaller numbers of goats, camels and some other animals are also sent.
Cattle and other animals are also exported live for breeding and dairy purposes, but are not covered by the Australian government's Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). Animals Australia is continuing to campaign for animals exported for breeding to be brought under the same regulation scheme.
While smaller numbers of animals have been exported by boat from Australia since European settlement, the live export industry as we know it today wasn't established until the late 1970's.
As far back as 1985, a Senate Select Committee raised concerns about animal welfare in the trade, pointing out that it can never be in the interests of animals to be exported live for slaughter.
Currently Australia exports live animals for slaughter to:
United Arab Emirates
Industry bodies and, in some cases, the Australian government, have also expressed interest in exporting to other countries including China, Iran, Cambodia and Saudi Arabia — but those trades have not commenced.
After Animals Australia's 2011 investigation exposing the brutal treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia, the Gillard government introduced a new system in an attempt to properly regulate the live export industry for the very first time.
The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) makes exporters legally accountable for the animals they sell right through the supply chain — from farm to slaughter in the importing country. Under ESCAS, before an exporter can obtain an export permit, they must be able to show that they have a secure supply chain in place in importing countries that will see animals only going through facilities that have been audited to comply with OIE (World Organisation of Animal Health) guidelines. It’s important to remember that these are very base-level guidelines that, for example, still allow animals to be slaughtered without stunning.
Animals Australia has since exposed major breaches of ESCAS, in places including Jordan, Israel, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, UAE, Mauritius and Kuwait. The fundamental flaw with ESCAS is that it still relies on industry self-regulation and, ultimately, regardless of what rules Australia puts in place, we still have no control over what happens to our animals once they set foot in other countries.
The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) has ensured that animal welfare is seen as an issue by exporters and importing countries for the first time, and for this the Gillard government should be acknowledged. But, ultimately, when it comes to compliance with ESCAS, without government oversight in importing countries, we are still reliant on the industry self-regulating and a charity being its watch-dog.
However well-intentioned, the measures put in place to reassure the Australian public that animals traded live will be protected from cruelty are failing.
Some live export companies are consistently breaking these laws, without consequence.
A key failing of the system continues to be the Department of Agriculture’s unwillingness to take strong action against companies responsible for recurring breaches. In Kuwait for example, after multiple complaints, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged that it cannot control Australian sheep being sold illegally in cruel livestock markets ... yet, they have allowed exporters to continue to send sheep to that country. The sheep trade with Jordan has remained uninterrupted despite five separate complaints of recurring breaches resulting in horrendous cruelty to Australian animals. And the exporter implicated not only in Jordan but in a dozen complaints of breaches in Gaza and Israel continues to export, business and usual, to other markets. There is no incentive whatsoever for exporting companies to adhere to ESCAS regulations.
Even if regulations were being complied with, animals exported live still endure the stresses and risks associated with long distance transport by sea and the vast majority are slaughtered while fully conscious, resulting in a painful and prolonged death.
Animals Australia and all other animal protection groups around the world oppose live export, and we will continue to campaign for the millions of animals who are destined to be shipped to slaughter in countries where there are still no laws to protect them from cruelty.
Pre-slaughter stunning is not a requirement under the government's live export regulation scheme (ESCAS), which means that the vast majority of exported Australian animals are still having their throats cut while fully conscious in most importing countries.
Prior to Animals Australia's 2011 investigation in Indonesia, fewer than 5 of the more than 100 abattoirs that slaughtered Australian cattle there practised pre-slaughter stunning, with the live export industry citing widespread stunning as an 'aspirational goal' only. When the cruel killing methods of our cattle were exposed, putting at risk the future viability of the trade, the industry was forced to move quickly and it is now claimed that some 80% of approved abattoirs in Indonesia have stunning equipment — revealing the importance of exposing cruelty rather than facilitating it. This is an outcome surely all producers would support.
Due to Animals Australia's work with the Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan, all Australian animals are now stunned prior to slaughter in that country. Importantly, Jordan now satisfies 80% of its meat requirements by importing chilled and frozen products.
Australian animals exported to other destinations in the Middle East and South East Asia still have their throats cut while fully conscious, and these represent the majority of animals exported.
We have found there is a lot of confusion surrounding halal slaughter of animals. It's important to point out that the cruelty depicted in live export investigation footage is contrary to Islamic requirements and nothing to do with religion. It has been condemned by Muslims around the world.
Key requirements of halal killing — according to the Koran and Islamic leaders — include:
Investigations since 2003 in key Middle East countries that import Australian animals have found that, in fact, halal requirements (as listed above) are routinely ignored in each of Egypt, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
Much of the confusion about this issue seems to centre on the incorrect belief that halal slaughter can't involve stunning of animals. This isn't the case.
Muslim clerics and halal certification bodies in Australia condemn slaughter without stunning and it is illegal in Australia to kill an animal for any commercial purpose without stunning. Almost all 'halal accredited' meat produced in Australia comes from facilities that do stun animals before slaughter.
In terms of animal welfare, halal slaughter of animals within Australia is generally no more or less cruel than any other form of commercial slaughter in this country.
However, pre-slaughter stunning is not a requirement under the government's live export regulation scheme (ESCAS), which means that the vast majority of exported Australian animals are still having their throats cut while fully conscious.
While our work with overseas animal protection groups like the Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan has led to rapid uptake of stunning in some markets, the lack of animal welfare laws in most importing countries puts animals further at risk.
This is part of the reason why Animals Australia campaigns to end the export of live animals for slaughter to overseas markets, so their slaughter (halal or otherwise) will be dependent on Australian standards.
You can take action on the Animals Australia website to help all animals in Australian slaughterhouses.
Animal welfare legislation in Australia requires that all animals slaughtered in this country are stunned prior to slaughter. However, a legal loophole is still allowing several slaughterhouses in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales to kill sheep without stunning for a small ritual slaughter market (kosher and halal).
With Islamic and Jewish leaders in Australia largely accepting the stunning of animals and the vast amount of 'halal accredited' meat produced in Australia coming from facilities that do stun animals before slaughter, the suffering of sheep in ritual slaughter continues only to appease a very small minority.
The State Ministers for agriculture have met several times over recent years to consider this issue, but have failed to reach consensus. Get further information on the issue and how you can call for an end to unstunned ritual slaughter in Australia.
Yes, Australia exports halal-accredited boxed meat to all countries to which we send live animals for slaughter — the vast majority from animals who were stunned prior to slaughter here in Australia.
Find out more about what is involved in halal slaughter.
The live export industry clings to tired myths about its own importance to Australia's economy and producers, in an attempt to justify suffering inflicted on animals in the name of profit. But economic facts simply don't support this position. An extensive body of research shows that a well-planned transition away from live export towards boxed meat could create jobs, benefit our economy and provide stability to producers.
A 2014 government-commissioned report confirmed what we already knew: live export is really not that significant to Australia.
Five other separate economic reports since 2009 have confirmed that live export is undermining Australia's meat processing industry.
ACIL Tasman's reviews into the live sheep trade found that phasing out live sheep exports would have minimal impact on farmers and would in fact reap greater benefits for producers and the economy through increased processing in Australia. They found that a sheep processed in WA is worth 20% more to the economy than a sheep sent overseas.
The 2010 report commissioned by Australia's major meat processors, reached a damning conclusion about the impact of live cattle exports on Queensland's beef industry. It found that live cattle exports were 'cannibalising' Queensland's beef processing sector and threatened to destroy $3.5 billion worth of assets, $5 billion in turnover and 36,000 jobs.
In 2012 a WSPA-commissioned ACIL Tasman report focused on the northern cattle industry and suggested that 400,000 cattle could be processed (slaughtered) in northern Australia rather than exported to Indonesia, and that northern producers could more than double their earnings before interest and tax.
And a 2013 report from the Sapere Research Group, commissioned by WSPA, concluded that the entire live sheep export trade, as it stands, could be absorbed by Western Australia which it found to have sufficient spare physical processing capacity. The report argued that this outcome would not only improve the welfare of sheep, but it would also protect the welfare of farmers, create employment opportunities and accrue regional economic benefits.
The vast majority of jobs currently supported by the live export trade will still exist when it is phased out and replaced with onshore processing. Truck drivers will still be needed to transport animals as will stockmen, animal handlers, people working at saleyards etc. A succession of economic reports have concluded that phasing out the live trade and replacing it with a meat only trade will in fact create jobs.
What producers and truck drivers and all those associated with the sheep and cattle industries need is certainty, and with incident after incident in importing countries, there is no security or certainty in the live export business.
There are around 8.5 million cattle slaughtered in Australia each year, and around 1 million are exported live. Thus, cattle exported make up only a small portion of the total cattle industry.
There are plans underway for several new abattoirs in the north of Australia. A large cattle abattoir has opened near Darwin. Another is being considered for Broome (WA) and a further one in Queensland. Many cattle originally destined for Indonesia from the Northern Territory and north Queensland were slaughtered in Queensland during the one-month suspension of the live trade to that country in 2011 in response to abattoir cruelty.
One of the country’s biggest meat processors, Teys Australia, has slammed proposals for live export from the nearby port: "[F]or the city of Rockhampton live exports out of Port Alma would be unequivocally bad... It means decreased value into the economy and less people we're able to employ."
Australia's major sheep processors have confirmed that they have the capacity to process all sheep currently going to live export. Again, approximately 32 million sheep are slaughtered in Australia each year, with just over 2 million sheep exported live.
Tellingly, two of the largest live export companies sending live animals from Australia, Wellard and LSS, have both purchased abattoirs in WA in recent years.
In the Middle East, which includes Australia's largest export markets for live sheep, research commissioned by World Animal Protection indicates that there is near universal household ownership of refrigerators.
In the case of cattle, Indonesia is the biggest importer of live Australian animals, but even there, estimates of household refrigeration range up to 60%. With a rapidly growing economy and rising demand for access to chilled meat from modern supermarkets and hypermarkets, refrigeration is no stumbling block for a shift away from live export to Indonesia.
History has shown that when importing countries cannot get live animals from Australia (either due to drought impacting numbers available or suspensions due to cruelty or trade disputes) those countries simply increase their intake of boxed meat.
As a result of not receiving live animals from Australia during the 18 months that a trade dispute closed that market, Bahrain imported more boxed sheep meat than ever — replacing live sheep with boxed meat virtually 'lamb for lamb', according to Meat and Livestock Australia.
A major 2014 government-commissioned report dispelled the myth that importing countries won't shift from live export to boxed Australian meat.
This is a well-worn claim made by the industry, especially when trying to convince politicians of the importance of their trade. Upon closer investigation, though, it just doesn't stack up.
For 30 years, exporters did nothing about animal welfare in importing markets. Operating on an 'out of sight, out of mind' business model, they depended on keeping the suffering of animals exported live out of the Australian public's consciousness. It has only been since Animals Australia began exposing the cruel treatment of animals in live export, sparking community outrage, that the industry has been motivated to take any action.
In fact, one of the only welfare 'improvements' introduced by the live export industry to importing markets was the notoriously cruel Mark 1 slaughter box which was condemned as not meeting even basic international welfare standards.
In 2011 four historic bills to end live export were tabled in the Federal Parliament — two in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives. The Australian Greens, Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie and South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon spearheaded these efforts politically to divert Australia's policy direction away from blinkered support for the live trade to increased domestic processing and increased chilled and frozen meat exports.
All bar one bill was voted on and defeated, with legislation to end the trade introduced by Senator Lee Rhiannon still alive in the Senate.
Get details of Animals Australia's live export investigations.
Animals who are exported live for 'breeding' purposes are not covered by ESCAS. This includes the very high number of dairy cattle that are sent to China, Russia and elsewhere. Any semblance of legal protection for breeding animals ends when they are unloaded from the vessel or plane in the importing countries.
In 2012, two Australian whistle-blowers exposed the appalling conditions Australian sheep and dairy cows were subjected to on a property in Qatar. Within a one week period 1 in 4 animals — including heavily pregnant cows and young calves — died of malnutrition, thirst and neglect. Of 10,000 Australian 'breeding' sheep on the property, 7,000 died of malnutrition and heat stress.
In late 2012 the Australian Department of Agriculture considered whether to bring breeder and dairy animals under the government's new live export regulations (ESCAS). Despite this shocking incident in Qatar, they sadly decided not to tighten regulations or ensure traceability and accountability of exporters for the welfare of these animals.
One week after the Four Corners program aired in 2011, the live cattle trade to Indonesia was suspended for one month. While the Gillard government has since faced much criticism for this short suspension, it would have been unconscionable to continue sending animals into this environment when even the industry was admitting that cruel treatment was routine and widespread. The short suspension proved to be the catalyst needed to drive the rapid uptake of pre-slaughter stunning in Indonesia, which the industry claims is now around 90%.
The Gillard government then imposed a new system of live export regulation called the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), which requires live exporters to only use accredited supply chains and abattoirs. Live cattle exports resumed in August 2011 to a reduced number of feedlots and abattoirs in Indonesia. The Australian industry designed and taxpayer-funded 'Mark 1 slaughter box' which cruelly tripped cattle to the floor prior to the throat cut, was deemed inhumane and banned from further use.
In February and September 2012, Animals Australia lodged formal complaints in relation to breaches of ESCAS in Indonesia. The first involved the cruel taunting and slaughter of cattle, for which the exporter involved was sanctioned; the second is in relation to cattle being slaughtered outside of the approved supply chain. Sadly, the Department of Agriculture determined that they did not have enough evidence to substantiate that the cattle were Australian and therefore no charges were laid — despite the facilities in question being approved for Australian cattle.
New Zealand has not exported live animals for slaughter for over a decade, instead focusing on producing boxed meat for Europe, Japan and Asia.
After a public debate about live export in 2006 and 2007, the New Zealand Government prohibited live export for slaughter (the 2007 Customs Export Prohibition Order) unless a stringent set of welfare conditions could be complied with, both on ships and in regard to treatment in importing countries (these included auditing of feedlots and abattoirs, compliance with OIE animal welfare guidelines and stunning of animals before slaughter).
No live animals have been exported for slaughter since the Order was introduced, and New Zealand's Agriculture Minister recently foreshadowed it may soon been completely prohibited through an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act.
Former New Zealand Agriculture, Jim Anderton, was interviewed on ABC radio in 2011 and, when asked if New Zealand had been disadvantaged by not exporting live animals, he declared that given the high value of other New Zealand agricultural exports which could be at risk if the country's reputation was tarnished by the live export trade, 'it is a no brainer as a country and we would not ever think about it (resuming live export) now'.
As an animal protection organisation, it's our job to represent the interests of animals and live export is not in their interests. Every time live animals are loaded onto ships there are unacceptable risks that cannot be overcome. Bad weather, mechanical breakdowns, trade disputes have all led to the deaths and suffering of animals on board vessels. It cannot be ethically justified to put live animals through the risks and stress of long distance sea transport only to be slaughtered when they arrive in destination countries. This is why every animal protection organisation in the world opposes live export.
Animals Australia's position is that animals who would have been exported live should instead be processed onshore, under Australian laws and regulations, with their meat exported.
Read more about Animals Australia’s approach to animal advocacy.
Both the Federal ALP and Coalition officially support live export. However, a growing number of ALP politicians are vocal opponents of the trade and have been active voices within the Labor party caucus for change.
The Australian Greens are opposed to live export and have introduced two Bills to have the trade banned.
Federal Independent Senator Nick Xenophon introduced a bill in 2011, which would have seen the trade phased out over three years and replaced with an increased trade in chilled and frozen meat. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
The Palmer United Party has not taken a clear position on live export, although MP Clive Palmer has publicly stated his concern about cruelty to Australian animals in live export, and questioned the government's lack of 'leadership' on the issue.
While it is clear that live export is losing support politically, given that both major parties continue to support the trade it's important that your local Federal MP hears from you that you will not support a party that supports live export.
Please also consider sending your elected representative a hard copy letter, giving them a phone call, or even paying them a personal visit at their offices to make an even stronger impression.
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