LIVE animal exporters have returned fire against a fresh attack on their industry’s economic and ethical standing, by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU).
In a statement issued today, the Newcastle and Northern NSW branch of the AMIEU demanded politicians at all levels of government “wake up” to “horrendous” job losses that live cattle exports are “inflicting” on the Australian meat processing industry.
The union said that at a conservative estimate, it believed over 40,000 meat-working jobs had been lost nationwide since 1990.
Asked to justify the number, AMIEU Secretary for the Newcastle and Northern NSW branch Grant Courtney said it was based on “evidence” of 150 plus plant closures since the early 1980’s with an average workforce of about 250-300 jobs.
Asked what other factors were at play such as droughts, Mr Courtney said the continuity of livestock and no equal playing field for cost of processor setup on infrastructure which was required to retain export licenses
He said the meat industry was also the largest manufacturing workforce left in Australia with 55,000 employees.
“Local processing means local jobs for local Australians,” he said.
“Live cattle export is bleeding our local meat processing jobs dry and inflicting unspeakable cruelty on poor mistreated animals in order to do it.”
The AMIEU statement said “it’s absolutely vital that our nation’s leaders acknowledge and act on the simple, undeniable fact that local meat processing gives back to the Australian community and the Australian economy and live exports do not”.
It said live export makes its profit by offering a higher price for cattle than local processors can afford to pay, uses a skeleton crew of exploited visa workers to send them overseas, then sells them at a massive mark-up to be butchered in inhumane conditions by untrained, underpaid overseas butchers.
“One study in 2009 specifically around live export of sheep demonstrates that a sheep processed locally adds 20 per cent more to the Australian economy than one which is sent overseas,” the union said.
“A further study in 2012 proposes that building a new processing facility in north-Western Australia would actually increase earnings for farmers by 245pc- and create more than 1300 local jobs at the same time.
“Meanwhile, the live export industry undermines the future of regional Australia while subjecting animals to constant cruelty and mismanagement scandals.”
But the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council Chair Simon Crean said livestock exports formed part of an overall, balanced industry strategy for the red meat sector that was now Australia’s largest value-added manufacturing industry.
Mr Crean said the total off-farm value for Australia’s red meat industry was worth almost $18 billion annually to the national economy and livestock exports were approaching $2 billion in annual worth, making it a top 10 agricultural export.
He said independent analysis showed the livestock export sector also generated employment for up to 10,000 Australians per year; mostly in regional and rural areas.
“For a range of reasons including cultural traditions, deficiency of local infrastructure or local industry development, there is an ongoing global demand for live animals,” he said.
“The red meat sector is best served by a strong live export and boxed sector that maximises opportunities for producers with a wide range of market options, which in turn promotes growth and improvements in our production capacity and increases the overall economic value of the beef cattle industry.
“Australia’s red meat supply chain draws much of its long-term resilience on the integrated way in which all players in the sector co-operate, including producers, livestock exporters and processors.
“Such integration, which is a pillar of the national red meat sector’s strategic accord, is a significant strength and helps us to grow our overall red meat production and output for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
Last year after unions demanded live export quotas, Cattle Council of Australia President Howard Smith said Australian beef producers were strong supporters of free markets and government intervention at any point in the supply chain would inevitably create market failure, “which will ultimately harm cattle producers”.
Mr Smith said Cattle Council recognised the processing sector was currently managing the decline in cattle numbers but it was essential to the Australian beef industry’s profitability that a long-term vision be maintained.
He said beef producers needed access to multiple, globally competitive markets to ensure the industry’s long-term sustainability.
“It is vital that both the processor and live export supply chains are healthy and open to the free market”, he said.
“The whole beef industry must work together to ensure that all supply chains are as efficient and competitive.
“Only through greater collaboration, throughout the whole supply chain, can the beef industry reduce the peaks and troughs that we all experience”.
Mr Smith said the Australian beef industry had always been subject to ebbs and flows in supply and demand for both cattle and beef.
He said that results in differing points in the supply chain being more profitable than others at various times and market conditions can never be attributed to any one factor.
Seasonal conditions, global supply, exchange rates and market access all contribute to the price paid for cattle and beef at any one time, he said.
“We are entering an unprecedented period of global demand for protein - we must not put constraints on our supply chains,” he said.
“We must invest in them and remove impediments so they can prosper and create jobs.”
Mr Courtney also raised arguments for the union, similar to those ventilated repeatedly by extreme animal rights groups that demand the live trade’s closure through government intervention.
“The live export industry is plagued with so many scandals that the Department of Agriculture (and Water Resources) needs to do an investigation into them once every two weeks,” he said.
“This is outrageous and it seems we are constantly seeing leaked videos showing horrific slaughtering conditions overseas.
“Local processing is done in compliance with the strictest possible standards and in accordance with best industry practices.
“We need politicians who are willing to stand up for local jobs and denounce this gross parasitic trade for the cruel profiteering exercise it is.
“Local communities need meat processing to stay alive and the Australian economy needs the money that work provides.”