Livestock Export Review

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Last updated: 2 Aug 2011

Jenny Deveraux

Independent Livestock Export Review
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601

Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission into the Independent Livestock Export Review. Together with my husband and family, we are live export producers based in the Northern Territory.   We have been involved in this industry for approximately 20 years.  The Government’s handling of the live export issue has been described as woeful and appalling, and I would have to agree. There is no excuse for simply closing the industry down overnight.  It was an over-reaction, completely unnecessary and unjustified.

I would like to say at the outset that we do not support animal cruelty, and were as were appalled by the images portrayed in the recent 4 Corners footage as anyone.  This cruelty cannot be ignored, nor condoned.  Having said this, however, this does not mean the live export trade is ““fundamentally broken, systemically cruel and not in Australia's economic interest”as has been claimed by those caught up in the emotion of the images shown and who have not independent knowledge of the trade.  Nor does it condemn those hard working Australians involved in the production and the vast supply chain that supports this important industry across Northern Australia.

The live cattle export industry is the largest contributor to the Northern Territory’s agriculture, comprising 47.9% of the total production value estimated at $251.1M. The flow-on effects from the industry in transport and retail trade are major contributors to regional economies in the Territory.  Australia’s livestock industry is a nett provider of increased animal welfare outcomes onshore and off-shore but we can play no part in improving animal welfare in Indonesia or elsewhere if we simply walk away.

I would like to address my submission to the terms of reference:

a. the facilities, treatment, handling and slaughter of livestock, exported from Australia, in the importing country for consistency with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recommendations and standards set out in Terrestrial Animal Health Code (2010) published by the World Organisation for Animal Health and other relevant standards

b. the adequacy of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) as they apply to the preparation and export of all livestock with consideration of responsibilities for compliance and enforcement of the ASEL

c. the adequacy and effectiveness of current Australian regulatory arrangements for the live export trade

The facilities, treatment, handling and slaughter of livestock exported from Australia clearly varies.  We have learnt so much about these facilities in recent months.  There are a number of facilities that meet, or could readily meet, OIE standards.  Those which don’t need continued development, training and support in terms of welfare and handling issues to ensure they do, and will, meet those standards in the future.

Australian producers have contributed significant amounts of money towards the education, training and development in this country.  It is important to remember that this is a third world country, with very different cultural standards and practices to Australia.  These standards may not have been met as quickly as we would have liked, but that does not mean that Australia should walk away from this important trade, in horror and disgust as has been suggested.  Although clearly difficult, the emotion needs to be removed from the analysis of this debate.  The enormous investments we have made to date and will build upon, will only continue to improve animal welfare and health standards across the board. 

It is illogical to suggest that because of the poor animal welfare standards witnesses in Indonesia (which importantly should be remembered is the exception, rather than the norm), Australia should cease the live export trade. Australia is one, if not the only country, that currently invests in animal welfare offshore. If Australia abandons the live export markets in Indonesia, or elsewhere, the investments and improvements we have made to date will cease,  or at the very least,  regress.  Cultural practices which do not comply with OIE standards will be reintroduced and continue unabated.  Indonesia will source a supply of cattle from other markets and these cattle will continue to be exposed to the same level of cruelty that sent Australians into this current frenzy.  This will expose Australia to even greater risks through the introduction of foot and mouth disease if it were to reach Indonesia’s shores.  Currently, Australia and Indonesia enjoy freedom from this devastating exotic and continued freedom from it is vital to the welfare of all livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, camels, buffalo and deer. Indonesia acts as a vital buffer zone between Australia and other South-east Asian countries where FMD is endemic. If Australia does not supply Indonesia with live cattle, the Indonesian demand for beef will be met by countries where FMD is prevalent such as India or South American and South-east Asian countries. In the event of an outbreak of FMD, Indonesia and Australia would witness animal welfare issues of unimaginable proportions, resulting in the slaughter and disposal of millions of animals. The feral pig, goat and buffalo population would act as a reservoir for the disease and it would be impossible to eradicate. The suffering and economic damage would be inestimable. Australia should take  this issue very seriously and, in recent years, has already invested more than  $22m to help ensure Indonesia's freedom from FMD. The risk of exotic disease to Australia is very much diminished if Indonesia sources live cattle from a proven FMD free country such as Australia. For this reason alone it is imperative that we maintain the trade. We cannot play a role in animal welfare outcomes if we simply walk away.

Livestock producers invest in the welfare of their produce from birth to the point of sale to ensure that these animals receive the best of care. They are weaned correctly, receive dietary supplementation where required, and vaccinations against a host of fatal diseases. Animal health products valued at $15 million and lick blocks worth $20 million are purchased annually for use on properties across northern Australia supplying the live export market.   These improvements were largely unaffordable prior to the live export trade.  If live exports cease, graziers will again be unable to afford such things as Botulism vaccinations and lick blocks; things that have become main-stream since the inception of live export.  Large numbers of cattle across northern Australia will die horrible deaths as a consequence of the closure of the live export trade. 

At the point of export, livestock are subjected to rigorous health and welfare checks by an Australian Veterinarian who performs a “fit and healthy to travel” inspection of every animal. These inspections are strictly monitored and audited by AQIS who re-examined and assess the documentation to ensure that high levels of integrity are maintained.  This provides an additional layer of security to ensure that animal welfare standards are maintained.  Any animals found not meeting these standards are removed and isolated.  At the point of loading onto the ships, Australia again has some of the highest standards in the world determining the conditions for the animals, with strict and regulated stocking densities, feed and water requirements, and rigorous maritime inspections that must be maintained.   The ships are equipped with vet kits on the ships that the Australian stockmen use to treat minor ailments in consultation with Vets.   Today the live export industry benefits from the high quality of export vessels available and purpose built to address animal welfare standards.  This has resulted in a less than 1% mortality rate on cattle in transit and contributes to the welfare, weight gains and well being of stock.

d. the types of livestock suitable (weight, age, body condition, breeds) for export as feeder or slaughter animals

The live export industry is an open market, and Indonesia is within its rights to determine the type of cattle they wish to purchase.  Northern Australia is well suited to producing lean ‘store’ cattle, but fattening cattle in the north is tough. Indonesia is one of the most cost efficient producers of animal feed in the world, so there is a natural synergy that needs to be further strengthened through co-operation to achieve mutual benefit. There are limited opportunities for other industries in vast areas of Northern Australia. Serious environmental, economic and social impacts would occur without profitable beef cattle production. Much of northern Australia’s rangelands can be described at best as marginal country, harsh in the dry and inhospitable in the wet. Many of these properties will become unviable and will have no alternative but to walk away. This will have flow on effects for natural biodiversity outcomes through land and environmental degradation from weeds and ferals, uncontrolled fires, and erosion. This is a no-win situation for everyone.

Beef consumption in Indonesia has been increasing rapidly in recent years and, until the live export ban, Australia was supplying approximately 25-30pc of this demand via the export of more than 500,000 head annually. The majority of beef consumed in Indonesia is sourced from their dwindling herd of local cattle. The supply of live animals is also important for religious and cultural reasons. The purchase and ritual slaughter of live animals at the end of Ramadan is a fundamental pillar of the Qaran and the Middle Eastern culture.   Although Indonesia forecast they would like to be self sufficient in animal production by 2014, the reality is that as the population’s protein intake continues to increase, they are unlikely to be able to meet that demand and will rely on markets, such as Australia, to supplement cattle supply.   Indonesia's food security is fundamental to the welfare of all nations, and has been abruptly compromised because of the knee-jerk reaction by the Minister for Agriculture to suspend the trade in order to appease the opponents of the live export industry. The ban was an over-reaction and is completely unnecessary and unjustified.  It may take many years for the trade to return to the current levels and foster the same confidence, if it ever actually does. 

e. the extent of monitoring required for each export consignment of feeder or slaughter livestock, in a manner that ensures accurate and transparent reporting to the Australian Government of the condition of the livestock from departure from Australia up to and including the point of slaughter in the country of destination

f. the risk management strategies necessary to address the welfare of animals from departure from Australia, up to and including the point of slaughter in the country of destination

Australian live export producers do not torture their produce, nor do they condone inhumane practice beyond the point of sale.  This would be the only instance where livestock producers are being held accountable for the welfare of their produce beyond the point of sale.  I ask you, how can this be justified?  Our continued investment in the trade is the only guarantee Australia can have in addressing these practices and ensuring OIE or higher animal welfare standards are achieved in the future.

The Australian Live Export industry is one of the most regulated cattle supply chains in the world with every aspect of this focussing on ensuring the best welfare outcomes for the cattle involved. If the live export trade with Indonesia ceases, Indonesia will source cattle from further afield and these cattle will be forced to undertake a much longer and more treacherous sea voyages under far less stringent welfare conditions than we impose on our much shorter voyage.  This will surely lead to a lowering of welfare standards, and increased suffering for animals from those countries that take our place.

The adoption of NLIS tags on all export cattle can provide a means to trace animals throughout the system.   At the present time, livestock producers employ this method of traceability for cattle, with minor exceptions including cattle sold to live export from the property of origin.  This system currently equates to considerable costs and resources for producers and they should not be further penalised through the introduction of additional tagging or tracing systems.

g. other matters relevant to these terms of reference that the reviewer considers appropriate.

Australia, through the MLA or other representative, should have suitably qualified representatives in the abattoirs to supervise the slaughter of cattle until such time as we are confident that these higher standards are common place, accepted and not likely to regress.  If cultural practices do not permit animals to be shot at the point of slaughter, stunning would be the most suitable option.

I personally believe MLA has failed the Australian producers for who they claim to represent.  There have been much innuendo and suggestion about the ethics and performance of MLA representatives in Indonesia and it would appear that at the very least this current dilemma suggests they should also be subject of an independent review and evaluation.  If they cannot deliver on the role they have been tasked to do, this organisation needs to be disbanded and replaced with a body accountable not only to the Australian live export producers that they source their funding from, but every Australian who has been impacted by the recent suspension of live export trade to Indonesia.

Jenny Deveraux