Live animal export is a polarising issue that continues to be used in the parliament for political gain, cashing in on a superficial public sentiment driven by ratings driven media with no genuine consideration of the complexities around the trade.
The debate about the legitimacy of the industry seems to settle singularly on perceptions that the industry can’t meet Australian standards of animal welfare.
The trade can meet those standards, but there is much more at play.
I am a livestock producer. I care deeply about the welfare of my animals and I want to be confident that they are treated and handled well throughout the supply chain. I do not participate directly in the live animal export trade, but the Australian domestic livestock trade I do participate in is ultimately affected by the export trade.
The discussion around the industry is emotionally charged and has become grossly disrespectful of any opposing view. People demand to know if I do or don’t support the trade, very few are interested in understanding why I have that view.
I make no secret of the fact that I do not support banning the live animal trade, nor do I support or condone animal cruelty. Instead of qualifying my thinking, the inquisitors brand me a hypocrite, immoral, cruel, stupid, dishonest, greedy and or corrupt with no regard for how or why I arrived at my position.
If I only read the Animals Australia feed of information, opinion and footage I would probably also think there is no justification for the industry. However, the published agenda of Animals Australia is to shut down zoos, horse and dog racing, animal sports, rodeos, all livestock industry and so on, on animal welfare grounds so their attitude to live exports is clearly skewed.
I have instead sought to inform my opinion broadly and with as much balance of information as possible.
The accepted standard for mortality in live exports is 2 per cent in sheep and 1pc for cattle. The overall industry figures consistently remain well below these standards. This alone suggests that the footage and reporting is not representative of the general conditions in the trade.
Much is made of the idea that greed underpins animal cruelty in the trade. This is counter intuitive because the commercial incentive is to deliver the animals in a saleable condition. Dead or injured animals represent an economic loss. Quite apart from the ethical problem in cruelty there is a clear economic disincentive for it.
Our ongoing participation in live animal exports is leading to demonstrable and ongoing improvements in animal welfare outcomes in transit and in destination countries. For example, prior to 2011 15% of Australian cattle were stunned before slaughter in Indonesia and today that number is 85%. This is a marked improvement in animal welfare in a destination country that our trade presence has significantly helped and will enhance on an ongoing basis.
I remain very uncomfortable making moral judgements about foreign cultures and standards particularly in relation to the provision and preparation of food where food security remains a much more significant political and social issue. I am further concerned about the reaction in those countries we currently supply if we continue to superimpose an openly judgmental, affluent, western, first world perspective on access to food on societies that are not as wealthy, educated or tolerant as our own.
I am a moderate. I am appalled that so many people have formed an intransigent view with so little balance. Live animal exports is not mutually exclusive of high animal welfare standards and should not be. I will happily debate my case in resolving the policy inside the Dems.— Peter Mailler (@PeteMailler) November 20, 2018
The disruption and knock on effects of banning live animal exports can’t be quarantined to just those people, communities, businesses and landscapes involved in live export supply chains. The structural adjustments required if the trade is stopped have not been considered fully in the debate. The glib optimism about increasing domestic processing is not reflected in practice and the AA Co’s Livingstone abattoir speaks loudly to this.
My observation of the 2011 suspension of cattle exports resulted in far reaching social, economic and environmental impacts beyond the participants in the trade and caused deleterious animal welfare outcomes beyond those they prevented. These impacts persisted long after the suspension.
The Moss review is about as balanced a document that can be found and reinforces most of the positions I had previously formed. It too, was highly critical of the failures in the industry and regulatory framework, but at the same time did not recommend an end to the industry. The review recommended stronger, more independent and more transparent oversight of the industry to provide objective accountability.
I do not think the animal export industry is faultless. I do not think that Australian welfare standards are being upheld in every instance, but at the same time I do not think they aren’t being upheld in every instance. Moss said, “Exporters are individual businesses, some of which may have behaved in a non-compliant way that has adversely affected the reputation of the industry as a whole.”
I am disgusted that the framework that was put in place around live animal exports has been undermined from within the Department that was supposed to administer it. I am furious that (Barnaby) Joyce is so obtuse as to not realise that the only way to ensure the industry maintains its social licence to operate is through objective, balanced and rigorous enforcement and prosecution of breaches of the regulation.
The live animal export industry can and must comply with the prescribed animal welfare standards.
There have been failures in compliance and there are legitimate concerns about compliance and enforcement that must be addressed robustly for the industry to continue.
The simplistic and populist agenda to ban the trade is not the best solution. We must fix it.
- Peter Mailler is a third generation livestock and grain farmer from northern NSW. He holds a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Science and founded the Country Minded political party.