Live Animal Export Trade

​​​​The live export industry is an important part of Australia's vibrant and growing livestock industry. In 2009 the live export sector earned $996.5 million and underpinned the employment of around 10 000 people in rural and regional Australia.

Australia leads the world in animal welfare practices. The Australian Government does not tolerate cruelty towards animals and will not compromise on animal welfare standards. Our ongoing involvement in the livestock export trade provides an opportunity to influence animal welfare conditions in importing countries.

The government and the livestock export industry are working cooperatively with our trading partners to address post-arrival welfare concerns and to improve the transportation, handling and slaughter practices of livestock in overseas markets. The department is jointly funding a number of projects with the live export industry to improve infrastructure and training to promote better animal handling and slaughter practices. Australia is the only country that requires specific animal welfare outcomes for livestock exports. Our ongoing involvement in this trade provides an opportunity to influence animal welfare conditions in importing countries.

In 2003 a broad-ranging investigation into Australia's livestock export industry chaired by Dr John Keniry recommended a range of initiatives to improve animal welfare conditions in the livestock export trade including better infrastructure to reduce livestock stress or injury and training for feedlot, abattoir and transport staff in overseas markets.

In the 2009-10 Budget, the government announced the Live Trade Animal Welfare Partnership, which will invest $3.2 million over three years, including $1.6 million from the government with matching support from Australian producers and livestock exporters to further improve animal welfare in, and support trade with, overseas markets. The Government has also introduced legislation that provides stronger regulation of the livestock export industry. This includes a requirement to comply with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.

This legislation was an important step by the Government to overhaul the livestock export trade. Arrangements to ensure exported animals are well treated during road and sea transportation are an important part of the standards. Ships must comply with strict rules about ventilation, drainage and provision of water and food. Each animal must have access to food and water on demand and enough space to lie down, and there must be special pens for sick animals to receive veterinary care.

Under the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997, a report on the carriage of livestock on any sea voyage to a port outside of Australia must be tabled in each House of Parliament every 6 months. The reports to Parliament are based on the total voyage mortalities for each voyage. Some voyages include several consignments for different exporters, so it is possible for a consignment to experience a high mortality incident, but for the outcome of other consignments on the same voyage to be under the reportable mortality level. For this reason, some of the consignment mortality events may not appear in the report to Parliament, which is tabled every six months.

The department investigates all consignments which record a reportable mortality event.

The Australian standards for the export of livestock (ASEL) defines a reportable mortality level on a voyage or air journey as, the percentages listed below or 3 animals, whichever is the greater number of animals:

  • Sheep and goats: 2%
  • Cattle and buffalo on a voyage less than 10 days: 0.5%
  • Cattle and buffalo on a voyage more than 10 days: 1%
  • Camelids: 2%
  • Deer: 2%

More information about mortality investigations.

Australia has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with ten countries in the Middle East and Africa region and negotiations continue with other trading partners in the region. A key element of these MOUs is that animals be unloaded on arrival regardless of their health status. The MOUs also allow us to help our trading partners improve post arrival handling and slaughter through cooperative activities based around improving animal welfare.

Suggestions that the live trade could be completely replaced by chilled and frozen meat fails to take into account the requirements of the market. While Australia has developed a significant trade in meat products, the lack of refrigeration and cold chain facilities, as well as strong cultural preferences for freshly slaughtered meat precludes Australia from servicing all of its export markets with processed meat products.

More information

Last reviewed:
04 Aug 2015