TENSIONS continue to simmer between livestock exporters and outspoken critics like Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia.
Fresh calls have been made for the animal rights and welfare groups to end their long-running and at times bitter public campaigns against the live animal trade.
A range of speakers at the LIVEXchange conference in Perth yesterday referred to the most significant confrontation between the warring factions - the 2011 Indonesian live cattle export ban - and its impact on the live export industry, including driving improved animal welfare standards and outcomes, to meet community expectations.
Outgoing LiveCorp Chair David Galvin - who will be replaced by WA-based director, farmer and former Grains Research and Development Corporation Chair Terry Enright – pointed to improvements like the massive uptake of pre-slaughter stunning, since the shock ban occurred.
But he also said Australian exporters now face higher costs to access markets like the Middle East due to the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) which was imposed by the former Labor government in response to the unprecedented public outrage that underpinned the 2011 snap suspension, on the Indonesian market.
However, foreign export competitors aren’t subject to the same hefty costs and animal welfare regulations and standards that underpin ESCAS and are now taking a greater market share, at the expense of Australian traders.
Mr Galvin said in the Middle Easter, two to three million non-Australian sheep are now being put through abattoirs that operate under ESCAS requirements, according to OIE standards, along with millions of sheep exported from Australia.
“Again this is a sensational outcome for animal welfare,” he said.
“But since 2011, due to increase costs of delivering ESCAS in the Middle East, Europe as gone from sending 500,000 sheep per year to now sending 1.8m sheep a year to the Middle East and 130,000 head of cattle.
“There are no animal welfare standards applied to those sheep or cattle – there’s no requirements by the European Union to look after them – therefore the costs to send it there and process it there, is much less than Australian animals.”
Mr Galvin said what’s been achieved by the live export industry, “unfortunately, in my opinion, gets no credit from the Greens, Animals Australia or the RSPCA”.
“I call on the RSPCA and Animals Australia to work and go to Europe and lobby the European governments to have the same animal welfare standards apply to their animals, which apply to our animals,” he said.
“It’s only fair; it’s only just.
“Industry has been at the forefront of positive changes and continuous improvement – LiveCorp and the industry is not complacent.
“It’s not just me saying this but the world organisation for animal health (OIE) - the preeminent body in the world for the welfare of animals - says the Australian live export industry is the greatest contributor to the improvement of animal health worldwide.
“That’s an amazing statement and we should all be proud of it.”
In acknowledging the presence at the conference of RSPCA representatives, including the national Canberra based agency CEO Heather Neil who was central to the Indonesian ban campaign, Mr Galvin urged a pragmatic change of attitude towards live exports and a modern acknowledgement of welfare improvements, globally.
“I also call on the RSPCA to drop its policy, to close the industry,” he said.
“In doing so we can work together worldwide to push and assist the development of even better achievements in animal welfare and in particular, I talk about European sheep and cattle going to the Middle East.
“I look forward to their positive response.”
Mr Galvin said he was also pleased to see, that “despite our detractors”, the live export industry received bipartisan support from the Coalition and Labor political parties.
“I think this is very important for the industry,” he said.
He also acknowledged the work of former Labor minister and MP Simon Crean who has been Australian Livestock Exporters' Council Chair since 2014 and was in the federal cabinet when the Indonesian ban was implemented in mid-211.
“It’s great to see Simon Crean as Chairman of ALEC, throwing his considerable knowledge and intellect behind this great industry,” he said.
“Over the last two and a half years working with Simon it’s great to see his personal effort in rectifying the problems of 2011.”
Mr Galvin reflected in detail on events since 2011 and the live export industry’s “achievements”, saying over 11,850 people had been trained overseas by the live export program, in animal welfare, handling and slaughter practices.
“This is an extraordinary amount of people and it shows the amount of effort the importers, the exporters, LiveCorp and MLA (Meat and Livestock Australia) have put into making animal welfare the pre-eminent consideration of this industry,” he said.
“Mortalities on ships are now below 1 per cent for sheep and less than that for cattle – 95pc of cattle that go to Indonesia are now stunned, this is up form 5pc pre-2011.
“Industry should be immensely proud of this effort - it’s just a tremendous statistic and a tremendous animal welfare outcome.
“Not only are Australian cattle being stunned but there’s also up to 1 million plus local cattle that are being stunned in Indonesia through the facilities provided by this industry.”
Mr Galvin stressed community accountability on animal welfare standards and being connected to community values was critical to the live export industry’s future and a common theme mentioned in other conference presentations.
He said exporters were currently confronted with some of the most difficult economic conditions it had faced with low prices for stock impacting viability – but even with these challenges industry has increased its contribution to the national economy.
Live exports supports 10,000 jobs in regional and rural Australia and contributes $1.4 billion to the Australian economy yearly, he said.
Crean: without Australia, animal welfare standards drop in live exports
Mr Crean said he agreed RSPCA and others should end their opposition to the trade and acknowledge the improved animal welfare outcomes “but quite frankly that’s up to them”.
“I would have thought the common purpose here was to improve animal welfare standards and closing the trade will not do it, in Australia, because we compete with 130 other countries in the world and none of them are required to apply the same standards as us,” he said.
“Take us out of the game and you don’t improve animal welfare standards, you lessen them.
“The RSPCA also needs to continue to understand there is a demand for live product – this is not a choice between boxed beef and live.
“There are institutional problems, infrastructure problems and cultural issues by which the demand for live exists and if it exists, we have to ensure the animals involved experience a ‘no pain, no fear’ environment and only Australia is committed to that and the RSPCA should be supporting our efforts and recognising a trade that does exist.”
Mr Crean also said he “completely agreed” that RSPCA and Animals Australia sgould lobby the European governments to have the same animal welfare standards apply to their animals, that apply to Australia’s.
“This is not only something RSPCA needs to be involved in, our government needs to be involved in it,” he said.
“If they’re requiring our exporters to be the only ones that apply these standards, that puts us at a competitive disadvantage.
“If in fact the purpose is to implement OIE standards or better, then we need global support for that, so calling on the European Union, from which a lot of our competition comes now, it’s only fair.
“If they’re talking to us about social standards, labour standards, environmental standards, they’re also embracing animal welfare standards.”
Mr Crean said while pressure form RSPCA and others had helped create improved animal welfare outcomes but the Indonesian ban was all about the “community response” and it was “huge”.
“I was a member of parliament at the time and was inundated with emails,” he said.
“When that footage was shown it was about fundamental community outrage and the (WA Agriculture Minister) Alannah Mactiernan who spoke at the conference is exactly right.
“Even though it has dissipated now, you only need repeat incidents of that, to revive it because people don’t like it and they don’t like to think that’s how animals are being treated.
“Now we’re doing everything we can not only to improve the situation in Australia and gain acceptance but we want to take that internationally as well.
“Another part of the issue is, our trade isn’t just exporting the commodity, the beast.
“It’s exporting the quality, traceability and nutrition that goes with it and exporting this commitment to animal welfare.
“This is a global challenge and it needs a global response and who is leading it?
“Australia and the live export industry.”
RSPCA – Australian live exports no global leader
RSPCA said its policy to try to ban live exports wasn’t about to change.
“Animal welfare needs to be at the forefront of the live export industry – they have a long way to go to meet the Australian community’s expectations,” Ms Neil said.
“The Australian community expects Australian animals to be managed in accordance with Australian laws and it doesn’t really matter where they are.
“The live export industry has had 30 years of that not happening and it still doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.
“Our policy view is animals should be slaughtered as close to the point of production as possible because that’s in their best interests, in terms of welfare.
“The Middle East, Indonesia China and Vietnam are not the closest point of production.”
RSPCA Australia policy officer Jed Goodfellow was also at the conference and did not support ending the anti-live exports campaign.
“Every major animal welfare organisation in the world is opposed to live exports and we’re no different and our policy is not going to change, any time soon, on live exports,” he said.
Ms Neil said she’d spoken and said at several live export conferences, data on animal welfare “has to put on the table of which the live export industry is incredibly reluctant to do”.
“There’s no data about that’s objectively measuring animal welfare,” she said.
Mr Goodfellow said NZ - not Australia - was a leader in live exports welfare standards having effectively prohibited the export of livestock for the purposes of slaughter.
“Any nation that’s concerned about animal welfare would follow that lead,” he said.
“In the UK now there’s a lot more debate over whether live exports even to Europe should continue and the UK may well be moving in that direction as well.
“To suggest Australia is a leader means you’re talking about being a leader from a very low base and a leader in an industry that’s fundamentally incompatible with acceptable welfare standards and is not a position where we’d support it or give the Australian live exports industry a pat on the back for what it’s done.”
Ms Neil said the live export industry had only made “demonstrable, significant changes” in the way it operated on the back of public exposure driven by media exposure.
“All of the significant changes in the live export industry have all been only because practices have been exposed on TV,” she said.
“You need to remember, companies don’t have to wait for regulation to set the benchmark.
“The best way for any industry to operate is to go beyond compliance.
“A number of companies operate in Australia and also operate in other live export markets and there’s nothing stopping them from meeting Australian standards, in their other operations.
“Unless someone can prove to me that this is not the case, my understanding is that none of them are applying the Australian required operating standards, in any of their other markets.”
Ms Neil also agreed with a point made at the conference by one key-note speaker that ‘profitability is not justification for unacceptable welfare practices in livestock production.
“The reason we get from the Australian live export industry, as to why they have to continue to do the things they do, like putting two million sheep into the Middle East and allow them knowingly to be killed without stunning, is because that is the profitable thing to do,” she said.
“But that’s not an excuse any more.
“The Australian community expects companies to act ethically and put animal welfare at the forefront of their decision-making and there are many other industries that have proved you can have good animal welfare and you can be profitable.
“I’d argue increasingly, in the sorts of markets that the Australian industry services, higher welfare standards will aid access into those markets that are crying out to be serviced, across Asia.”
Mr Goodfellow said animal protection organisations were campaigning globally for live exports to be prohibited.
But he said, in the interim, while live exports continue, getting equivalent standards, like the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Standards for live exports, was important.
“I know there have been developments to seek to get the equivalent, same standards to the way ships are designed and we’d support moves for countries like Brazil, to adopt similar standards,” he said.