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Humanising animals, civilising humans - culling live animal exports

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Tuesday, 9 October 2012


National sovereignty and disregard of animal interests guarantee that the appalling treatment of Australian sheep in Pakistan will continue to reoccur. The only humane response to live animal exports is a complete cessation.

Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of live cattle and sheep. Most of these animals are exported to the Middle East or Indonesia, where animal welfare standards are non-existent. The now well-publicised brutality that many of these animals are subjected to during slaughter is merely the sharp end of a pitiable path to the killing yard.

Each year tens of thousands of animals die cruel deaths in the transportation process. The Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries statistics show that more than half a million animals died during the sea voyage from Australia to overseas ports between 2000 and 2010. This comprised of 496,162 sheep, 12,417 cattle, 4,518 goats and 122 buffalo.

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The cause of death varied, but most involved animals suffering slow and painful deaths. The six most recent investigations by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) reveal that the most common reasons for the deaths were heat stress, pneumonia and exhaustion/starvation. Not a single case of old age.

Most of these deaths are foreseeable and preventable. The problem is that no one cares. The

animal export industry is manifestly accepting of cruelty. It is so harsh that the industry builds in high numbers of painful deaths as the cost of doing business.

It is only voyages that have more than 2% deaths of sheep and goats or 1% of cattle deaths that even come under scrutiny from the Australia Quarantine and Inspection Service - we should be grateful that our airlines are not run on a similar basis.

The live export industry generates more than one billion dollars annually for Australian and is credited with 'underpinning' 10,000 jobs in the rural and regional area. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries also states that the live export industry cannot be replaced by chilled meat because of the lack of refrigeration facilities and a 'strong cultural preference for freshly slaughtered meat in the importing countries.

Neither argument is tenable. People in the Muslim countries are willing to accept chilled/frozen meat which has been killed in a manner consistent with their cultural requirements. There are dozens of halal certified export abattoirs in Australia. It is possible to export halal meat (animals killed in accordance with Muslim requirements) that is prepared in Australia, where nearly all animals are stunned and render unconscious animals prior to slaughter. This was a view shared by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. In fact, the chilled meat trade to the Middle-East in fact already exceeds the live export trade.

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Moreover, there seems to be no labor imperative for the trade. The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union in 2007 opposed the live export trade, and estimated it cost 12,000 meatworkers' jobs and continues to undermine the sustainability of the abattoir industry. The West Australian AMIEU secretary called it an 'obnoxious trade'.

In the technology age, the view that lack of refrigeration justifies cruelty is nonsense. This has been addressed by Animals Australia which has noted that many of the importers of our meat are wealthy oil-rich nations and during previous bans of live exports to those countries, there was a 3-fold increase in exports of frozen mutton and lamb to that market.

There is no question that economically the live export industry is considerable, but it is tiny compared to the frozen meat export industry. Cessation of live exports will in all likelihood lead to a commensurate growth in the frozen meat industry and a higher number of Australian jobs (given the labour involved in killing and packing animals).

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is the author of 20 books and over 100 refereed scholarly articles. He is not connected with any political party or other interest group. He is the author of Australian Human Rights Law (forthcoming). Mirko is the author of Being Happy and Dealing with Moral Dilemmas.

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