Mainstream animal welfare organisation the RSPCA has been accused of using misleading tactics more commonly associated with extreme animal rights groups in a new campaign against the livestock export trade.
In a media release issued yesterday the RSPCA claims to expose the “real story” about live exports.
The primary basis of its campaign is that the livestock export trade is worth much less to Australia’s national economy – $900 million a year according to figures used by the RSPCA – than the processed meat export trade, which generates $6.8 billion a year.
The RSPCA makes the claim that Government and livestock export industry representatives “have been trying to convince Australians for years” that the live export trade is the “main game” for Australian producers.
“The real story shows that it simply is not true,” the RSPCA says.
But livestock export industry leaders say they have never claimed live exports are the “main game” for Australian producers, and believe the RSPCA is deliberately trying to mislead the public.
“The live trade has never made such a claim and has no basis for saying so,” Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold said.
“What the trade has said is that it helps underpin price to producers, a claim substantiated by a number of studies produced and seen in practical effect in cattle and sheep markets across the country over recent years.
“The headline statistics also don’t match apples with apples as they include markets which the live trade does not export to (the US and EU), or has only a breeder trade (China), nor recognise the self-suspension of Egypt and Bahrain by exporters in the interests of welfare.”
In making its case that live exports are of little significance to the Australian economy, the RSPCAalso states that livestock exports have declined by 41pc since 2009, while meat exports have increased by 34pc during the same period.
While sheep export volumes have declined since 2009, cattle exports last year exceeded one million head, well above the 950,000 head exported in 2009 – which at the time was a record.
In response to Beef Central’s questions about the accuracy of its statements in relation to live exports, the RSPCA replied that it is “of the view that it is time producers and decision makers were reminded that the meat export trade is much, much bigger than the live animal export industry”.
“The long term trend for the export of live cattle and sheep is in decline,” an RSPCA spokesperson said.
“Meat exports is the market that most Australian producers currently service and is the future for Australia, Australian farmers and their livestock.
“Transitioning to a meat-only trade will protect Australian animals from long, cruel and unnecessary journeys and suffering overseas.”
ALEC’s Alison Penfold has described the RSPCA’s latest campaign as a “shallow and misguided attempt to manipulate public opinion”, and one that only weakened the RSPCA’s credibility as an objective arbiter of animal welfare.
“It is disappointing to see such a hack job, usually the purview of activists, become mainstream for RSPCA,” Ms Penfold said.
In contrast to the figures quoted by the RSPCA, Ms Penfold said that Australian livestock exports have grown since 24pc since first full year of the rollout of the Export Supply Chain Assurance system in 2012.
“So not only have we been able to grow the trade, we have done so while improving the welfare of Australian and local livestock in the markets we operate.
“I would think this would be an important point for RSPCA to consider given their interests in animal welfare.”
“Only the live trade does this (improves animal welfare in export markets) through our on the ground investment in training and infrastructure and has demonstrated to do so.
“The upshot is that not only has there been a growth in the live trade there has been a significant increase in better treatment of livestock around the world.”
She said the livestock export trade supported over 10,000 jobs across rural and regional Australia, contributed over $1.2 billion to the national economy, and had trained 7500 people in proper animal welfare practices in over 900 feedlots and abattoirs in 19 export markets.
Ms Penfold said that while ALEC prefers a constructive relationship with RSPCA and not a “slanging match” over this latest campaign, a number of the claims made could not go unchallenged.
“For starters their campaign in essence is based on an argument that Governments should pick winners based on export volume alone.
“That line of argument would rule out any Government encouragement and support for the vast majority of agricultural industries in this country that export significantly less export product than the meat processing sector, but still play a vital economic and social role in communities around the country.”