Live Export

Opinion: Farmers must keep asking the hard questions about live export

Beef Central, 07/02/2014

In recent weeks Beef Central has published an exchange of opinion pieces between Australian Farm Institute director Mick Keogh and Animal Welfare Community Legal Centre principal lawyer Dr Malcolm Caufield about animal welfare standards in Australian live export markets.

Today Dr Caulfield responds to Mr Keogh’s most recent article which was published on Tuesday.

This will be the final article we will publish in the exchange but all interested parties are welcome to continue the debate in the comments section below.

In his article “Mistruths and distortions don’t help the welfare of exported animals” (Beef Central, 4 Feb, 2014), Mick Keogh says:

“ESCAS imposes a higher standard on livestock exporters than applies in the Australian domestic market”.

What does this mean?  Does Mr Keogh mean higher animal welfare standard?  If that’s what he means, he is wrong.  He should be asked to say what this statement is based on.

If Mr Keogh means a higher standard of traceability, then he may be right.  But that misses the point, because the traceability which is part of ESCAS is aimed at protecting animal welfare (by keeping animals in a closed system all the way to slaughter), whereas the traceability in Australia (ie NLIS, and local requirements) is aimed totally at disease control and tracking.  It is nothing to do with animal welfare.  As I said, there is no need for traceability because Australian domestic law imposes responsibility on every owner of an animal (and indeed others who have care and control who are not owners).

Also, I do apologise to Mr Keogh for saying (in my article “Bagging animal rights groups not a good look for farmers”) that he wanted to get rid of ESCAS. He didn’t say that.

However, the main thrust of what I wanted to say still stands, and that is that ESCAS, and like arrangements, fail repeatedly as you would expect when you try and force your views and practices on another country.

He continues: “The fact that Australian livestock exporters have adopted this standard…should be something for which the industry deserves praise…”

Mr Keogh omits to say that prior to the revelations on 4 Corners in 2011, the export industry had no intention whatever of doing anything like this.  The only market where an ESCAS-equivalent was operating was in Egypt, under an Order made in response to earlier revelations of cruelty at Bassateen abattoir by Animals Australia.  The MLA report which initiated the inquiry and revelations said, most notably, that pre-slaughter stunning was “an aspirational goal.”  This illustrates how things changed after those revelations, and how both government and industry has never been pro-active but rather, has always reacted to these sorts of revelations and subsequent public outcry.

Regarding breaches, Mr Keogh stated: “The more sensible approach is to investigate why the problem occurred, and to try and implement improvements to reduce the risk of similar future problems.”

This misses the point that the Department of Agriculture is not carrying out investigations in these markets, so the revelations of the failure of ESCAS by Animals Australia is probably the tip of the iceberg.  This system has been operating for some time now and the findings of this non-government agency show repeatedly that it is not achieving the desired outcomes.  Furthermore, when things do get exposed, there is evidence of some pretty dubious activity on the part of the Department of Agriculture.  For example, when Bahrain rejected a shipment of over 20,000 sheep, claiming scabby mouth infection, and those sheep ended up in Pakistan where they were brutally slaughtered, the ensuing Pakistani government enquiry described the Australian health certificate (issued by the Department) as “bogus”.  By contrast, the Australian inquiry into the incident did not even mention this issue.

Mr Keogh also said: “Australia is a world leader in setting and implementing standards to improve animal welfare in destination markets, and the removal of Australia from these markets would result in a reduction in animal welfare standards in those markets.”

It appears that in every destination market, the response to ESCAS has been to implement a two-tier system, where local animals are dealt with in the usual (ie unacceptable) fashion, while Australian animals are supposed to be dealt with according to the OIE recommendations (ie ESCAS).  If Mr Keogh can show evidence of an improvement of the way domestic animals are treated in destination markets, then he might be credible.  This sort of view also completely begs the question of what the industry is about.  It is not about improving standards in importing countries, it is about making profit.  If the profit was not there, the animals would not be sent.

The bottom line is the whole concept of ESCAS is quite silly.  The idea that Australia can impose animal welfare standards in importing countries which do not have a culture of protecting animal welfare and indeed have a culture of not caring about animals is one which no rational person would support.  The fact is that Saudi Arabia, one of the bigger Middle Eastern markets for Australian sheep, has imported only one shipment of animals since ESCAS was put in place.  One would have to conclude the Saudis have refused to play the ESCAS game.


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