Opinion: Truth first casualty of livex war, Part II

Mick Keogh, Australian Farm Institute, 07/06/2013

In last week’s opinion piece, originally published on the Australian Farm Institute website, many of the so-called facts about live animal exports that are being broadcast by Animals Australia in support of a ban on the trade were shown to be wrong.

The article elicited a number of comments on the AFI site from proponents of a ban on live exports, none of which refuted the points made in the previous post, but several of which did raised further issues in support of a ban on live exports.

The first of these was that if Australia banned live sheep exports, then data from 2006 shows that Middle East nations would switch to buying processed mutton and lamb exports from Australia, and Australian sheep producers would be better off as a result. The second was that the 'lack of refrigeration' argument (which is used to justify the need to export animals live and have them slaughtered close to the point of consumption) is false, which means live exports to these nations cannot be justified.

Looking at the first claim, (which was supported by reference to a single year of data, six years ago), the following two graphs display relevant data which completely refute the 'substitution' argument. The first graph shows live sheep imports by all the Middle East nations Australia has exported sheep to, and Australian live sheep exports for the same years. What is very clear from the graph is that even when Australian live sheep exports are reduced (as has been the case since 2004, the level of live sheep imports by these nations has been maintained and in some years increased.

It highlights that, in years when Australia reduces live sheep exports, these nations simply source sheep from other locations – none of which have programs that aim to improve animal welfare standards in those nations. In other words, all that would be achieved by banning Australian live sheep exports is that animal welfare standards in the markets previously serviced by Australia would worsen.

The following graph highlights that Australian processed lamb exports have indeed increased (from a very low base) to these nations over the past five years, and this is a welcome development. Those with any knowledge of the sheep industry will of course point out that processed lamb is not produced from sheep that are used for live exports. And, contrary to the claim made by a comment in response to the previous post, mutton exports have not increased. In fact, the comment referred to the one single year when imports of mutton did increase, and the graph highlights how deceptive it was to make the claim about the substitution of mutton imports for live sheep imports, based on that single year of data.

The question of whether or not live exports can be justified on the basis of a 'lack of refrigeration' in export destinations (and hence the need for live animals to be slaughtered close to the point of consumption) is more difficult to answer definitively.

There are no readily available statistics on the availability of refrigerators in live export market destinations, although anyone who has traveled to places like Indonesia and Pakistan would be well aware of the lack of refrigeration – and in particular cold chain logistics – away from major cities. For Middle East nations, the picture is less clear. As the following graph highlights, Qatar and Kuwait have GDP per capita levels equal to, or higher than Australia, and many citizens would be expected to have access to refrigeration (although the data does not identify the distribution of wealth among the nation's citizens). Virtually all other export destinations have GDP per capita levels that are just a fraction of Australia's, and hence would be unlikely to have ready access to refrigeration in the home, let alone reliable cold chain logistics between ports and markets.

Even in cases where refrigeration is available, if consumers prefer fresh meat rather than chilled or frozen imported products, then Australia sheep producers or exporters are not in a position to 'insist' they buy chilled or frozen product – as the previous graphs highlight. Australia could cease supplying live sheep, but that would simply result in other nations increasing live sheep exports, rather than forcing consumers in these locations to buy imported sheepmeats.

The above graphs and data reinforce the fact that if Australia were to ban live exports, the result would simply be a worsening of animal welfare standards in the nations Australia previously exported to.
No amount of spin or selective data can change these facts, which simply highlight the level of deception and misinformation that opponents of live exports are prepared to use to support their cause.


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