Live Export

Live export: When good news goes unreported

James Nason, 22/06/2016


“Vietnam cattle cruelty: Email leak suggests live export industry puts profits before animal welfare” said the headline.

More bad news for Australia’s live cattle export industry from ABC’s mainstream television news on the weekend.

But was it really?

The headline was a follow up to the ABC 7:30’s broadcast the previous night of exclusive footage from Animals Australia showing cattle, possibly Australian but with no hard evidence reported to confirm that, being subjected to brutal sledgehammering in a Vietnamese abattoir.

The follow up article focused on a reportedly leaked letter written to Australia livestock exporters on August 25 last year by Meat & Livestock Australia’s manager of livestock services in Vietnam, veterinarian Dr Michael Patching.

In the letter, published in full with the ABC article, Dr Patching recounts the results of a meeting he had recently held with Vietnamese importers following an animal welfare breakdown to discuss their issues with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, and to find ways to improve their adherence to the animal welfare system.

Dr Patching tells exporters in the letter there was a clear message that “we (Australia’s livestock export industry) are not doing enough to accurately communicate with our clients (Vietnamese cattle importers)”.

The letter shows that work was being undertaken at an industry level to find solutions to prevent welfare breakdowns.

However, the ABC interpreted the document in a very different way, as the headline above indicates.

The negative headline seemed to draw on the ABC’s interpretation of one particular paragraph in the document.

In the final paragraph Dr Patching, states “If you put them (Vietnamese cattle importers) under pressure, they will find a solution that will beat the system (eg: tunnels in French and American Wars). We need to keep working with them to make their companies more profitable and less emphasis on compliance to regulations.”

The ABC report interpreted that paragraph as suggesting that Dr Patching is “appearing to urge exporters to put dollars before welfare”.

This same assertion is repeated later in the article by Animals Australia’s Lyn White, who describes the document as “damning”, and says it shows MLA is “encouraging profits over compliance in Vietnam”.

The article then quotes Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chair Simon Crean, explaining that Dr Patching is stating that sometimes it is better to use a “carrot” approach rather than a “stick” approach.

It is well known that improved welfare practices go hand in hand with improved profitability – less stressed animals at slaughter means better meat yields, reduced dark cutting, improved shelf-life of product, more efficient handling, time savings, lower costs etc. This is also why it makes no commercial sense for exporters or importers to flagrantly disregard welfare standards, as groups like Animals Australia claim they routinely do.

If threatening importers with punishment for non-compliance is not working, then demonstrating that their businesses can become more profitable by adopting improved welfare standards is another way of achieving the same outcome.

It is understood Dr Patching was not contacted to clarify what he meant before the ABC ran its article with its own interpretation of what he meant – that he was urging exporters to put profits before welfare.

The article followed the ABC’s broadcast the previous night of footage showing cattle being subjected to cruel treatment in a Vietnamese abattoir, supplied by Animals Australia.

The report caused further damage to the public standing of the Australian livestock export industry.

It was possible the cattle involved were Australian, perhaps even probable: one man off-camera reportedly says in Vietnamese the cattle are from Australia and the cattle have “distinctive ear notches” and holes in their ears, which Animals Australia tells the program means they are likely to be Australian cattle.

But the program only reports that the cattle “appear to be Australian”, presumably because it has no definitive evidence to prove conclusively they are, and the formal, independent investigation by the Department into the veracity of the footage, and the circumstances it shows, has yet to be completed.

The ABC did have the option to delay broadcasting the footage, as there is no firm indication of when it was actually filmed and therefore it was not necessarily time-sensitive, until the outcome of the formal Departmental investigation was known.

But that would have also meant surrendering a “scoop” presented to it by Animals Australia to a rival television network.

In dangling the carrot of exclusive footage, Animals Australia has enjoyed great success in having the footage broadcast at a time likely to cause maximum potential damage to the livestock export industry.

The ABC report came in the middle of a Federal election campaign, and immediately after the five-year anniversary of the June 2011 export ban to Indonesia. After a week of positive stories (in the rural media at least!) showcasing the genuine advances in animal welfare that have been achieved by the livestock export industry since that time, the broadcast helped Animals Australia to return media coverage of the industry back to a negative focus.

If the Department of Agriculture investigation shows conclusively that indeed Australian animals were involved, then few would argue that the full force of sanctions must be brought down in response, given that all exporters supplying the market pledged to adopt tough new standards to stamp this out after a similar episode 12 months ago.

The issue with the ABC’s decision to press ahead with another Animals Australia-originated attack on the Australian livestock export industry, at a time of Animals Australia’s choosing and without waiting until the formal Departmental investigation was finished, is this: What if the investigation finds Australian cattle weren’t actually involved?

This has happened before, and when it has, there has been no attempt by the media outlets involved to explain after the fact that their previous negative story about Australia’s livestock export industry did not actually involve Australia’s livestock export industry.

Would it matter anyway? By that time the damage has been done. Public support for the industry – one that is relied upon by thousands of Australians for work, by millions of foreign consumers for affordable protein, and which has been documented to positively influence the adoption of improved welfare standards in the countries in which it operates – has been further undermined. Animals Australia’s objectives have been achieved.

There is no suggestion here that the bad stories should not be reported (at least when it is clearly proven that Australia’s industry has failed to meet its welfare responsibilities). But there is the suggestion that the good stories should be reported as well.

In 2014 an independent review of ESCAS, commissioned by the Federal Government, found that 99.9 percent of the 8 million livestock exported from Australia from 2012 to 2014 were handled appropriately through approved supply chains.

That is a good news story, and a major achievement, given the many challenges Australian exporters face to get their customers in other countries, where Australian law has no weight, and where very different cultural, social and religious norms often exist, to invest heavily in installing appropriate infrastructure and staff training so they can buy Australian animals. This success has also translated into improved welfare standards for many non-Australian livestock handled in the same facilities.

However that positive report was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

In fact one of the few mainstream media stories we saw on the ESCAS report at the time ran under this headline: “System fails to stem live export abuse”.

Rather than focus on the 99.9pc the trade got right, the article homed in on the 0.1pc it didn’t.

Industry leaders have said before they know the trade will be judged in the court of public opinion on what it gets wrong, not on what it gets right.

As the ESCAS report showed, it actually does get a lot right.

But the mainstream media’s reluctance to report positive news about the trade means very few Australians would know that.


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  1. Nicky Jones, 28/06/2016

    OMG, Not the ‘they weren’t Australian cattle’ again. And do tell. When has an exporter EVER been hit with anything more than a wet lettuce leaf, no matter how obscene the cruelty and torture or how recidivist they have been? Oh yes, and a government review, OF COURSE we believe its findings. Especially when it’s usually only the exporters reporting on themselves.

  2. Graham johns, 23/06/2016

    Hugh winwood smith I most certainly have my facts right, did you not read the article this is in relation to? It is about the leaked email in which there is discussion on how to work through the problem without destroying necessary relationships. This was before any interference from groups hellbent on destroying their own economy.

  3. Hugh Winwood-Smith, 22/06/2016

    Graham Johns, you say the industry moved to act as soon as this was brought to their attention? I’m sorry but that’s completely false. They moved to act as soon as it aired on national television but Animals Australia brought this issue to the attention of the industry, with video evidence, a year ago, and the industry did not act. Get your facts straight.

  4. Graham johns, 22/06/2016

    What has this got to do with a woman?. John Kokanschi you have just proved you are a complete goose with that comment. The fact is that all involved in the export industry attempted to work through this issue as soon as it was brought to attention. What else can be done without destroying beneficial relationships?.

  5. Mark Lumsden, 22/06/2016

    Ok John Kochanski, why don’t these Asian countries import the equivalent quantity of chilled/frozen beef as they do live cattle? Do you think the cost of processing in Australia at around $350/head versus the Asian cost of around $12/hd has anything to do with it? Meatworker Unions caused the demise of many Australian abattoirs not live export. If the product is too expensive for the masses in Asia whats the point of importing it?. Plenty of high quality imported meat available for the affluent who can afford it. Clean, green product means little to the poor end of town in Asia, consuming enough protein to survive means a lot.

  6. P McDonald, 22/06/2016

    I have read through this article and I have viewed the ABC’s live export expose of brutality to Aussie cattle in Vietnam. How unfortunate that this article is unable to stick to the point and instead twists facts of animal torture to that of ‘a good story’. There is no good story wherever ESCAS is breached. I am extremely disappointed in what appears to me to be an assumption of stupidity and ignorance of your readers. It was clear from whence the animals came: Australia. Why waste our time dodging bullets on behalf of the live eport industry when you could write something meaningful and genuinely informative (and therefore, helpful) instead?

  7. John Kochanski, 22/06/2016

    What a load of un-referenced, un-supported self-serving crap, from an industry that exports Australian jobs and Australian standards of animal welfare – clearly putting profit first whilst and abrogating its welfare responsibilities.
    “99.9% got the trade right” – Doesn’t this just sound like made up fictional ‘data’ from the same authorities that have relied on a woman and the media to do their job of animal welfare. Fire the lot of them and let’s focus on our national strengths – clean, green well managed well husbanded beef supply which delivers premium quality hand-in-hand with animal care. Let the industry start to market itself properly, not just pull its pants down on price alone.

  8. Ashley James, 22/06/2016

    Well said James, no one in Australia would condone what we saw on television last Thursday but also no one in Australia has seen what has been done and is being done in Vietnam to improve animal welfare.

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