Live Export

Support and hostility for live exports in senate submissions

James Nason, 09/09/2011

A Northern Territory veterinarian has warned that banning the live export trade would create more animal welfare problems than it would solve.

The warning is contained in one of 429 public submissions lodged by individuals and organisations to the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Committee which is currently investigating animal welfare standards in the live export trade.

None of those responsible for lodging submissions could be accused of being fence sitters, with passionate arguments and heavily referenced, statistically backed positions used by both opponents and supporters of the trade to support their views.

The Senate Committee chaired by NSW liberal senator Bill Heffernan has its work cut out as it attempts to wade through the detail of 429 submissions as well as the evidence given by dozens of speakers at hearings in Darwin, Canberra, Broome and Katherine.

The committee is expected to hand down its findings and recommendations later this month.

Among the many individuals to make public submissions was Gehan Jayawardhana, a Darwin-based vet who spent 22 years specialising in cattle production with the NT Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries.

During that time he led a four-year project looking at the relationship between stocking rates, the number of weaning musters and cow death rates in the Victoria River District of the NT.

In his submission Dr Jayawardhana said the project quantified the number of extra cows per year that would die if live exports to Indonesia were banned and producers were unable to muster, supplement or turn-off stock due to lowered income.

“As an example in a population of 2.5 million cows, the retention of 500,000 live export animals on fully stocked properties (20pc increased stocking rate) coupled with only one weaning muster in the year (instead of two musters) and reduced supplement will lead to an extra 10pc deaths,” Dr Jayawardhana said.

“This means 250,000 extra cows and most of their calves dying under horrific conditions, reduced welfare for the survivors and significant rangeland degradation.

“In my opinion live export is vital for animal welfare in north Australia as large numbers of cows and calves starving to death causes far worse cruelty than that occurring in a minority of Indonesian abattoirs as shown on 4 Corners.”

In another submission, US animal handling expert Dr Temple Grandin suggests that one solution to animal welfare problems in Indonesia abattoirs would be to build more Australian-owned abattoirs in the market.

“I recommend that Australian managers maintain ownership of the cattle until after they are slaughtered,” Dr Grandin said.

“This would require building several slaughter houses in different parts of the country which would be staffed by Australian management.”

In another submission the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union said the live export industry presented a huge barrier to investment in beef processing in northern Australia.

The submission cited a 2010 Government study that looked at the feasibility of establishing a meat processing facility in north western WA or the Northern Territory. It found that a new processing facility could not be expected to work as an option of last resort behind the live trade.

“Processing would need to become the dominant stream in the region of the abattoir, with live export as a back-up option," the report concluded.

“It is hard to envisage a substantial processing stream generating commercial (sic) acceptable returns to investors in this environment. The live export tap can be turned on and off fairly easily by producers in response to market conditions and customer practices. By contrast the processing stream, once turned ‘on’, cannot be turned ‘off’ very often or for very long.”

The AMEIU submission said the live export trade had cannibalised more than 20,000 direct jobs in the meat processing sector since the early 1970s.

The submission was also critical of MLA’s decision in response to anti-live export campaigns by animal rights groups to increase its expenditure on public communications aimed at building community trust and confidence in the trade from $347,000 in 2004-05 to $1,729,000 2008-09.

The wide-ranging submission also challenged MLA’s claims that it had no knowledge of poor animal handling practices in live export markets. MLA had a presence in every major region Australian livestock were exported to, including Bahrain, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. “Any defence based on ‘we weren’t aware of it’ is simply untenable,” the submission said.

“Overall the theme of the industry response has been ‘export first – make gradual improvements to welfare later’.

“Any improvements that have been made have been at a pedestrian pace and of highly questionable efficacy.”

The document also urged the Senate Committee to examine an RSPCA report that accurately traced reports produced by MLA/Livecorp in 2004, 2005 and 2008 and indicated “a high level of knowledge about animal welfare issues in Indonesia.”


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