AUSTRALIA: The live export industry cares about its animals
Posted: November 23rd, 2009 - 10:50am
Source: The Age
Peter Dundon, Middle East livestock services manager, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)/LiveCorp based in Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain, writes in this op-ed that it's the time of year again when animal activist groups escalate their campaigns against the livestock export trade by using an important religious celebration to spread incorrect claims designed to mislead the Australian community. It is the same time of year when the Australian livestock export industry increases its year-round animal welfare activities to deliver even further improvements in the trade.
As an Australian animal welfare specialist living in the Middle East and working with imported Australian livestock I am well positioned to tell you the truth about Australia's livestock export industry.
Let's start with the economic arguments. It is well known that the trade underpins the domestic market and if it was to cease it would have a devastating effect on the incomes of livestock farmers who are already struggling with the effects of the drought. This is especially true in regions such as Western Australia, where sheep exports represent 60 per cent of total sales.
Nationally the industry provides jobs for more than 13,000 people, many of these in remote and regional areas, and it contributes more than $1.8 billion per year to the Australian economy.
Australia currently supplies the Middle East with a range of products, including livestock for locally processed meat as well as chilled and frozen meat. People in the Middle East purchase what they require and the market determines its own balance. Many people cannot afford chilled or frozen meat, and often require live animals for cultural and religious reasons or because of a lack of refrigeration.
The reality is that the value of the overall Australian trade to the Middle East lies in our ability to meet the market requirements for both meat and livestock products. Australia is delivering what the customer requires, which includes live sheep, and we do it better than any other country.
Australia operates to the highest standards in the world for the export of live animals, and is strictly regulated by the Australian Government. The Australian industry has worked incredibly hard to improve the welfare of animals during the voyage overseas and it's a huge achievement that following these journeys 99.1 per cent of sheep and 99.9 per cent of cattle arrive fit and healthy – but we are still working to improve this result.
It's a 15 to 20-day voyage from Australia to the Middle East, and animals travel in well ventilated pens where they have room to move around, lie down and access constantly available food and water. All livestock are inspected by Government veterinarians before they leave Australia and again when they reach their destination.
An Australian Government accredited vet and Australian stockmen travel with the livestock in addition to the stock-handling qualified crew, ensuring all animals are well cared for and any sick or injured animals are identified and given extra care. The sheep and cattle travel extremely well on the ships and arrive in the Middle East in good physical condition. It's simple — if they didn't arrive fit and healthy, our customers of 20 years wouldn't buy them. That they arrive in such good condition is one of the main reasons our customers prefer Australian livestock.
At their destination port the animals walk off the ship, onto livestock trucks and are transported to feedlots, where they again have constant access to feed and water. The majority are then processed in local abattoir facilities. During the Eid al Adha festival some local people prefer to buy live animals, which they slaughter at home and share with family, friends and the poorer members of their community. Others buy live animals that are slaughtered in an abattoir and the meat is then taken home.
A lot of my work in the Middle East is focused on animal welfare. I work with a team of committed animal welfare specialists to upgrade facilities, provide practical animal welfare training, and monitor and improve livestock management. A example of this is training local stockmen on low stress handling techniques for Australian sheep.
As an industry we understand some will disagree with the export of livestock, however, we hope people will seek the truth before making up their minds, rather than relying on one-sided claims about the trade.
We are here living and working in the marketplace alongside the people who import and care for our livestock, committed to making changes and improving animal welfare. We are making a difference, but we know there's more to do and that it will take time.
The bottom line is that our industry cares about animal welfare. We care about Australian livestock and we care about providing Australian farming families and communities with a livelihood.