In his article, 'Animal activists mislead to destroy our northern cattle industry' Brendan O'Reilly is right to highlight the vital importance of finding a solution to the live export issue that benefits Australia's farmers. Yet we believe that a transition to a chilled and frozen meat trade is the only alternative that will be truly beneficial to the Australian economy, jobs and animals.
Australian farmers are the living, breathing heartbeat of Australian society. The agricultural sector, at farm-gate, contributes 3 per cent to Australia's total gross domestic product (GDP). The wider contribution of farming-related industries is far higher.
WSPA - the World Society for the Protection of Animals (a separate organisation from Animals Australia) - have invested in economic research which shows that chilled and frozen meat is already far more significant than live exports to the Australian economy (it contributes six times more than live exports to our GDP).
This positive trend for chilled and frozen meat export, combined with the declining numbers and profitability of live export, suggests that in order to create a positive sustainable solution, we need to play our strongest hand.
Trends are extremely positive for Australian meat exports - sheepmeat exports are predicted to triple, and beef exports double, between 2007 and 2050.
Looking further into this, economic research commissioned by WSPA indicates a potential 245% earnings increase for Northern producers if a northern abattoir built. If one or more abattoirs are built (as has been proposed by AAco) within easy reach of the major northern production regions (somewhere in Northern WA or Northern NT), research shows that jobs would be created and the economy stimulated. A northern beef processing facility could increase earnings for producers by over 245%. The research has demonstrated that processing up to 400,000 cattle each year would increase the gross regional product by up to $204m per annum for the regions which currently rely on the export trade. Over 1,300 additional full time equivalent jobs would be created.
The chilled and frozen meat story is one that is, and will continue to be, hugely beneficial for Australia.
The economic story of live export is a very different one, categorised by inherent risk to the farming community.
Indonesia accounts for the bulk of Australian live cattle exports, yet reliance on that market is a huge risk. Australia's export strategy is dependent on Indonesia's allocation of import permits, which in turn depends on the progress by Indonesia towards its target of beef self-sufficiency. Australia becomes reliant on political decisions, rather than market forces. Is this really the best long-term export strategy?
Similarly, the tariffs and subsidies of importing countries can change without warning. There are reports of Bahrain considering a move from blanket to targeted subsidies, meaning only the most deserving members of society would qualify for cheaper goods such as meat. This would mean that the subsidies that prop up the live trade could, at any time, be changed or removed, which would have a devastating economic impact. Is reliance on something so risky the best basis for a long-term sustainable approach? Additionally, many live animal importing countries are politically unstable which could easily (and potentially disastrously) impact on our export quotas.
The majority of Australia's live sheep exports (around 70 percent) are sourced from WA, and the flock is in a long term trend decline. In 1991 it comprised 35 million sheep, by 2012 it was estimated to be about 13.74 million sheep. This indicates that WA farmers have been getting out of the sheep business and earning higher rates of return from other activities, i.e. cropping. There is a trend towards fewer sheep farms and more mixed grain-livestock farms. It begs the question as to why people continue to support the failing live export industry – the alternative is far more positive for the economy.
The risks of the live trade are numerous, the solution relatively simple over time with some assistance by government to farmers and now is the time for the government to facilitate the transition to support farmers, jobs, the economy and the animals.
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