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A ten-year plan to phase out live animal exports

Temporary bans on live cattle and sheep export have undermined confidence in the industry, driving property prices down and diminishing banks' willingness to lend for long-term improvement. If the industry…

Phasing out live exports may be the only way to save Australia’s northern cattle industry. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Temporary bans on live cattle and sheep export have undermined confidence in the industry, driving property prices down and diminishing banks' willingness to lend for long-term improvement. If the industry wants to avoid death by a thousand cuts, it must act now to phase out live export.

A phasing out of export of livestock for meat over the next ten years or so may be a necessity for a viable industry in the long term. It would require careful preparation and arrangements for compensation for those adversely affected.

Welfare issues

It is widely recognised that sending animals overseas to slaughter is not the only welfare problem. Indeed it is not even the most important welfare issue for livestock; good nutrition and veterinary care have a much greater impact over the animals' lifetime. However, live export is a welfare issue that we can fix, and developing a long-term solution will be much better for producers than the repeated temporary bans invoked by government.

Australia has little or no control over what happens to exported animals. AAP Image/Animals Australia

Most producers care a great deal for their livestock, and many have been deeply disturbed to see how some of the animals that they so attentively nurtured are treated after they’ve left their property.

These welfare problems are not just the multiple stresses that animals are exposed to during the export process, but Australia’s lack of control of the transport and slaughter process after the animals have arrived at their destination port. Regulatory authorities also have little control over practices on the ships: the stockpeople, vets and crew are employed by the industry so there is no independent authority to oversee the process. In other animal-risk situations, such as abattoirs, government inspectors are present: the same should be true on live export boats.

Markets for meat

The long-term prospects for beef and sheep meat exports from Australia are good. Demand, especially for beef, is increasing as developing countries become more affluent and change to a Western style diet. This will continue while wealth in Eurasia and the Americas transitions from traditionally wealthy countries to those until recently considered poor. Opportunities for export from Australia to Asia are considerable because of the limited land available in Asia for livestock production.

Introducing a permanent ban over a long period would allow Australian producers to adapt their systems. Meatworks would have to be set up in the north of Australia. For many producers, live export is the only option because of the lack of northern abattoirs. It is not economic to truck cattle thousands of kilometres to the nearest abattoirs, Brisbane or Perth. Abattoirs existed in the north until the 1990s but were phased out as the live export trade grew.

Demand for beef is increasing in developing nations. Pankaj Kaushal

Small-scale abattoirs handling some of the northern cattle cannot compete with the high prices paid for animals for live export. Several large-scale abattoirs handling most or all of the cattle would be required if live export is phased out; in fact, it is only if live export is phased out that they could be successful financially. The first is being built just south of Darwin and is expected to be finished next July. Each abattoir would employ several hundred people, including providing potential employment to disadvantaged indigenous communities.

New markets would have to be opened up, but some of the demand that has recently been met by sending live animals could be met by carcases. Ships would have to be adapted to take refrigerated cargo, but efficiency would be increased because they would only carry the consumable product. Carcase comprises approximately half of the weight of each animal, and only about one-half of the carcase is muscle tissue that is eaten. Transporting carcases is therefore cheaper than live animals.

In the short term, the prices that producers receive for their animals would probably fall, making it harder to provide the necessary feed and medications that ensure the welfare of livestock. In the long-term, however, strong world market prices for meat should be sufficient to sustain an efficient industry.

A more diverse, stronger and kinder industry

Australian producers could sell more expensive cuts, such as wagyu. avlxyz/Flickr

Exporting carcases rather than live animals would enable producers to grow the type of animal that their land can support. Rather than having to produce steers of less than 350kg for export from northern Australia to Indonesia, those with good quality land can grow their cattle to higher weights profitably at home.

A greater variety of production methods will be possible, to suit the many different markets around the world. There will be a market for animals at different stages of maturity, with different levels of marbling and subcutaneous fat. Carcases from high quality breeds like Angus and Charolais can be supplied to markets that pay a premium.

The market exposure and risk to producers will be reduced by diversifying the countries to which carcases are sent. Exposure and risk are both very apparent in the current situation where one country - Indonesia - dominates the market.

Australia can become a world animal welfare leader in its livestock production systems. Its outdoor environment offers a natural advantage.

People overseas are well aware of our live export issues. Addressing them before any more damage is done to the industry is vitally important.

Join the conversation

38 Comments sorted by

  1. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    I agree completely with this article - and so would the overwhelming majority of my neighbours - graziers raising the accursed whinging Black Angus cattle - based on my many discussions with them. This has been a hot topic - up with the weather - since the appalling video from Indonesia was aired on Four Corners.

    But it must be remembered that a large part of the live export trade was developed to dodge Australian processing costs and standards, with the more maverick end of the industry seizing…

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      If we can get some more freezer export markets like Wagu Beef into Japan (admittedly a niche example), we'd see the market shift pretty easily.

      I do agree that the big issue will be our more expensive processing costs. The margins are already small for farmers, they won't be able to take a hit, but then again, it isn't like Coles and Woolies are paying any more either.

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  2. Geoff Russell

    Computer Programmer, Author

    "MOST producers care a good deal for their livestock and MANY have been deeply disturbed ..." ... I've personally had contact with producers who refuse to sell to the live export industry ... 2 in nearly 30 years. So do you have any evidence for your quantifications? A random sample survey perhaps? If not then I'd suggest that no producer who sells to this industry gives a damn about how their animals are treated. Prior to the 4 corners expose, some could feign ignorance ... after all MLA was deliberately lying about the state of the trade, fabricating videos which deliberately give a false image, just as they do about the health impacts of their products. But now? No one can claim that now.

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      I think you will find it is the wider public that was ignorant, not the industry.

      The industry have been reforming the foreign markets for decades. What you didn't see in the 4 Corners report was the state the abattoirs were in 5 years and 10 years earlier. As one of the market reformers said to me, "you should have seen it when we started teaching them."

      These countries have little value for human life, trying to bring up their standards of animal welfare to our high levels is not an easy task. It requires a radical shift in their entire ideology, which all too easily wanes as soon as no-one is watching again.

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    2. Ewen Peel

      Farmer

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Spot on Tim

      While I don’t agree with everything in the article, it does raise some important issues.
      It is a classic case of imposing first world ideals on third world nations.
      It’s no excuse for the way they treat animals and they clearly have a way to go before every operator reaches the required standard.
      Ideally it would be good if we could process more here but the buyers of live animals clearly want them live and not dead.
      So a compromise is needed. Maybe it should be seen as an opportunity to go and teach, and show the buyers how to do it properly and the benefits it brings with better quality product when processed properly. MLA has gone part of the way but I believe that more could be done.
      Also maybe a bit more control over the operator’s in the buying countries so that suppliers to the backyard type processors were stopped and only the ones up to our standards were used.

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  3. John Nicol

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    This a good article with a practical approach to the problem of live exports. As Peter Ormonde has already pointed out, graziers would generally sell through the much more stable and straight forward local market to Northern meat-works. Unfortunately, wide spread industrial unrest in the meat-works during the 1950s and 60s lead to the eventual closure of these and the development of the export trade, to which I have personaly always been opposed, mainly on the economic basis of lost job opportunities…

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  4. Russell Wattie

    SMP Superintendant

    There was one thing missing from this article, that alters the perspective is the lack of refrigeration in remote areas of countries receiving livestock from Australia. Whereas small numbers of stock can be purchased and walked to these remote areas and slaughtered and eaten fresh without the availability of refrigeration there will be a further constraint of available trade opportunities for Australian farmers if live trade is phased out.

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Russell Wattie

      This is not a significant factor in the trade with Indonesia Russell. Folks without fridges do not buy - cannot afford - imported beef. The overwhelming bulk of Australian beef is sold to the emerging middle class in the cities - folks with cars and plasma TV's and air conditioning. They are dramatically altering their diet and are driving the increasing demand for beef.

      But this notion that we are selling beef to subsistence farmers in the paddy fields is just not actually true Russell. They can't afford it ... and they don't waste what little money they have buying food - they grow that, like they've always done.

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    2. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      A QUARADING farmer used to get his neigbours to help him draft off his prime lambs in october every year. Usually thousands to be sold at the Midland sale yards. One year the meat workers went on strike over wages and conditions and refused to process the lambs over a period of 4 days.Due to starvation he lost $60,000 . That action prompted farmers to look at an alternative to sell their sheep. If you went to the auction in those days the small butcher was often out bid for small lines of stock until…

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    3. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Trevor,

      Yep the meat industry was a shocker ... tough employers and tough workers, big fights and no prisoners taken. And of course the only time to go on strike is when you've got a yard full of sheep isn't it? No point having a strike if there's no work about. Pretty shocking if no one fed these sheep though. Anyway I reckon things have changed a bit since then - the nature of the industry has changed. New people, new owners and a different culture. When was the last time you heard of…

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    4. Clayton South

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The article raises some very valid points, but fails to address one major risk with the plan. Convincing these markets (particularly the Middle East) that chilled carcasses killed 3-4wks prior in Australia, will be of better quality than meat that is slaughtered and processed a few days or a week before in their own country. I know what I'd prefer if my local butcher had both. So the challenge is to hold onto the whole volume of market that Australia currently holds in these countries. It will…

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    5. Rina Cohen

      retired

      In reply to Clayton South

      If it wasn't for Animals Australia, the vast majority of Australians - including both producers and consumers - would still have no idea of the shocking cruelty dealt out to their livestock overseas. This is called "information", not "noise". Meat & Livestock Australia certainly wasn't letting the public know. If Animals Australia is creating "white noise", then MLA is creating "black noise" designed to keep us all in the dark.

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    6. Clayton South

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Rina Cohen

      Fair point Rina, but as a financial member of Animals Australia I am sometimes frustrated at the misguided direction of some of their campaigns. There seems to be a lot of loud "information" regarding the live export trade where unfortunately 30-35000 animals die each year on the journey to their destination. But another of their campaigns regarding companion animals, is listed in the "other issues" section of their website and doesn't rate a mention anywhere on the front page of the website or…

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    7. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Clayton South

      The ABC Country Hour shows different figures for the deaths of livestock at less than 0.5% in 2011 with 3.5 million being exported. The other feature is that the rate has been declining , mainly due to the stock being prepared for two weeks before being loaded on to the ships. Not all these deaths are at sea as there is a leakage of sheep when being off loaded and when they are put through for processing. ie stealing, just as in the old days, slaughter men employees used to have large lunch boxes…

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    8. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Sadly Trevor the backyard DIY slaughtering of sheep is an annual event in much of the Middle East ... not just a one-off. It "celebrates" the end of Ramadan... and is an ancient cultural practice. And none the less barbaric for all of that. And it happens every year. And we know it does.

      It's a hell of a way to be making a quid Trevor.

      Not just protein - they are animals. And I'm afraid only folks who don't give a damn about the fate of their flocks and herds would be involved in it…

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    9. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, I don`t know how many sheep farmers have "choppers", mostly have sheep dogs and motor bikes. What makes your reply so stupid is that farmers are not whinging, but have cooperated with the industry to achieve many good reforms in the supply of livestock,as indicated by the reductions in losses over a short period. Are you asserting that the trade should be phased out over 10 years and the competition of the live trade will cease , causing prices in australia to fall below the cost of production. That suggestion is as good as the Federal agricultural minister saying farmers should put up the price of milk after the two big supermarkets subsidies their milk sales to get market share.

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    10. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to trevor prowse

      "much needed protein"? Nobody needs animal protein, doctors worked this out decades ago. All beef does is reduce the available protein and cause more bowel cancer. What happened to Japanese bowel cancer rates after they started to eat more red meat? They went from 20,000 new bowel cancers a year to about 101,000 these days ... not quite up to our rates yet, but they don't eat as much beef yet! As the richer people who eat beef get more bowel cancer, they need more doctors and being rich, they demand them and get them. So poor people lose out as scarce resources get diverted to cancer wards.

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    11. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Trevor - please try and avoid being abusive and calling my comments here stupid. This site is for grown-ups who want to discuss issues seriously.

      As for sheep farmers with choppers I did know one fella out near Broken Hill with a helicopter but he didn't export live sheep and wouldn't think of it actually. His family had been on the land there a long time and he took great care of each and every one of his animals. Depends how much dirt you've got to cover.

      I do know lots and lots of northern…

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    12. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Who said these comments----But we need to wean ourselves off this trade -

      And I'm afraid only folks who don't give a damn about the fate of their flocks and herds would be involved in it. Not farmers in my book, mate. Just hungry bastards who neither like or respect the animals in their care.

      they do nothing but whine and whinge and demand the right to let them end up this way - just to buy the latest turbo-prop or chopper.

      If we set out a program to switch from live exports to local processing…

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    13. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Clayton South

      Yours is a very relevant approach both to animal welfare and to many other factors in life where efforts are made for improvement, but because they still fall short of being perfect, some would require that they be disenfranchised.

      I have always believed that we should work towards the export of processed beef only - economics, jobs, animal welfare, hygeine etc. However, your comments provoke thought. If we do not replace the live trade with processed beef in, say, Indonesia, there will be other animals treated cruelly, perhaps more so, than our own. May be we should persist with live exports and continue to improve the whole exercise and try to demonstrate the best practices to others.

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    14. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to trevor prowse

      I actually can't see any inconsistencies in these statements Trevor. Nor are they "stupid" - you just don't agree with them.

      If you would like to point out the inconsistencies or defend the live export trade that is fine by me - but calling someone's statements "stupid" is not an argument or a discussion - it is abuse and offensive - it is what is called an ad hominem attack - playing the man rather than the ball.

      Now if you have some facts - like the improvement in survival rates that you cited earlier - or anything else to contribute to the issue please feel free to do so - but do not insult people you disagree with or label their views as "stupid". That is what folks with no actual arguments do.

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    15. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      If the live trade is phased out over a ten year period it would have the following problems ---Mr John Edwards is quoted in the farm weekly (11th oct) "-Australian processing costs to put beef in a box is about $300 a tonne compared to the US`s at roughly $160 a tonne and even less in Brazil". Again Micheal Percy, Yalleen station says that it is now costing $80--100 a head to send a beast to the processing works compared to $30--40 with the live trade..What the industry people are saying is that…

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  5. Ernest Bennett

    Mr (retired)

    A good timely article. One point: If the purpose of overseas live cattle (and sheep) exports to the Middle East to concur with the halal requirements of the target markets, then why do we not have halal butchery in Australia? If I recall correctly there was such an abattoir (in the Riverina?) which did employ, and successfully, some Muslim immigrants for this very purpose. Why not build Oz-subsidised freezer rooms in Indonesia and not the abattoirs, such as Four Corners highlighted? And Indonesia and Middle East have a more than sufficient fuel supply (oil and gas) to operate them economically..

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Ernest Bennett

      G'day Ernest,

      There are a few halal butcheries about ... one is up near me here ... staffed mostly by Afghans. All up there are 123 certified Halal abbatoirs in Australia at present.

      The MLA has spent some of graziers' contributions designing and installing a few more humane containment crushes and the like - but these just skirt the problem and are by no means a viable generalised solution.

      Far better are your suggestions regarding containerised freezing gear. But that would see these cattle being slaughtered here - with Australian wages and consitions and with Australian health and welfare standards. And that will not be acceptable to some live exporters - not all but some.

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      As far as I understood a lot of the abattoirs were Halal. I know the main sheep ones in WA are, which seems to come down to the slaughterman.

      I doubt the pig abattoirs are Halal......

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    3. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Yep ... I've been searching everywhere for halal bacon without success - one of the reasons I could never convert to Judaism or Islam I'm afraid. Sin smells so wonderful with my eggs.

      As for halal abattoirs this is a real growth market if we're half smart - not just domestically but globally - and it can attract a decent premium as well. I think the way it works to be certified halal one gets a certification from an Imam or Mullah who inspects the joint and checks out the slaughtering practices.

      Can't see what the problem is with shipping out freezer containers full of certified halal beef and lamb myself. But it will take a while to make the transition I think. It will be interesting to see how the new AA Co operation in the NT operates. I reckon they'll clean up.

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    4. Luke Bowen

      Executive Director

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      You will find that Australia already exports enormous volumes of halal meat. 60,000t + into Indonesaia alone in 2009. it is not new. any northern facility would do so as those in the south currently do.

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    5. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Luke Bowen

      Precisely Luke ... and that is a drop in the ocean.

      And I hope the industry in the north and west recognises this fact. With any sense AA&Co's operation in the NT will have some export halal accreditation.

      There really seems to be a dialogue of the deaf happening on this issue of live exports. I know from my neighbours that these "incidents" on TV damage them and their markets significantly here they reckon.

      I'm a big fan of co-ops myself and to be honest I cannot see why more graziers did not explore this model for breaking the stranglehold of local processors instead of live exports - which was always going to be a cheap and nasty option.

      Geez ... now I wonder where you'd find a mob of folks used to handling cattle and dressing up carcasses who aren't beyond some seasonal work out in the bush?

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  6. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    If a market for farmers and abattoirs to sell into was paying good money, the live export trade would disappear.

    All that has to happen is a refrigerated export market has to be set up and be consistent. Just removing the market means that Woolworths and Coles have a monopoly on the already low prices they pay for everything. That would kill sustainable farming and have wide ranging ramifications on the environment.

    The big thing is that the local market battles to keep abattoirs running as it is. Abattoirs battle to have consistent supply and demands to keep staff. They are a key part of any new export market and would need more than platitudes and promises to work.

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  7. Luke Bowen

    Executive Director

    I am not sure where to start with this?! Quite frankly I don't have the time and don't normally do blogs for that reason. This was brought to my attention by a landcare officer who was disturbed by it so I decided to respond.

    Why do we constantly get, sometimes well meaning but simplistic, uninformed commentary like this which feign credibility but only serves to demonstate the complete lack of understanding of, climate, geography, pastures, markets, economics etc as these relate to the tropical…

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  8. Katrina V Love

    logged in via Facebook

    Actually Trevor, the on board mortality rate for cattle was higher in 2011 than it had been since 2006, and the on board mortality rate for buffalo was the highest it had been in the 12 years of DAFF's accessible records.

    It is true that on board mortality rates for sheep have continued to drop, but so has the number exported (possibly lower density rates?) but still

    A/ morbidity rates on board are not taken into account and may arguably be 100% if you consider the ventialtion/ammonia, sea sickness, salt spray blindness, disease, injury, dehydration, inanition and just plain old trauma problems and

    B/ it was recently revealed by an on board vet that they are pressured and blackmailed into under-reporting mortality rates, so what are they really?

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  9. Jo Rea

    Sometime Economist

    This quote from the article is just one which could bear more scrutiny.

    “Introducing a permanent ban over a long period would allow Australian producers to adapt their systems. Meatworks would have to be set up in the north of Australia.”

    What exactly are producers supposed to do for income in the many years between a permanent ban and the setting up of meatworks. You have acknowledged in your first paragraph that they are in a perilous position.
    Why exactly do you think that meatworks would…

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Jo Rea

      Jo,

      I don't think anyone is advocating an immediate blanket ban on live exports at all. We are talking about a ten year program to help those graziers who are willing to give it a go a better way of operating.

      What we are trying to work out is what sort of options are there and how can we make the industry viable and humane, and into the business make a few more jobs and buld a few more communities.

      AA&Co are currently negotiating to build a processing on a greenfields site near Darwin...

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  10. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Why must we phase out the live trade? Because of emotive TV programs? The instigators of these programs believe no animals should be killed for human food ; regardless of how carefully transport and slaughter are conducted.
    Those supporting the live trade can't claim that Oz costs of production make Oz meat exports unprofitable when the vast majority of meat exported is not on the hoof but frozen or chilled / cryovacked. Some is halal. Despite cheap illegal labour used in US abattoirs Oz still…

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    1. Katrina Love

      Campaign Manager

      In reply to wilma western

      No Wilma - we are not phasing out live exports because of "emotive TV programs".

      Have you watched the footage of the slaughter of thousands of sheep in Pakistan? Have you watched the footage of the slaughter of 200 Australian sheep in the banned Al Rai meat market in Kuwait in August? Have you watched the footage of the thousands of breeding cattle and their calves who were left to die in 50 degree heat on Al Waab farm in Qatar in August? Did you view the footage of some the 46 breaches to OIE standards exposed in ESCAS=approved abattoirs in Indonesia in February? Did you even watch the footage aired in Four Corners' A Bloody Business last May?

      There is nothing "emotive" about exposing horrific animal cruelty and abuse, but if it DID so happen that an emotive TV show provided a catalyst for the end of this dirty, deceitful, backward and barbaric trade in misery for the sake of a quick dollar, then bring it on.

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  11. Nev Norton

    Farmer

    Lets see now.
    Ban Australian live exports as a remedy to ending animal cruelty in indonesia and the middle east.
    Who are the exporters?

    Australia, India, Brazil, Argentina, and probably more that I'm just not aware of.

    Which exporting country has the highest animal welfare credentials? Australia, as far as I know.

    Clearly, if you wanted to stop the live trade, what would be the smartest strategy to achieve that? assuming that the protesters care about the livestock, no matter the country…

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Nev Norton

      Dead right Nev. These damn greenies have ruined it for us - for all of us. And especially for the stock. I am weeping as I write this thinking about the fates that await local livestock now that we're not holding the medieval brutes to book.

      You should've seen what these fellas up there were at when we first went up ... made cannibalism look like a decent diet option. And we showed them how to do it right. How not to invite folks in to videotape the Thursday night shift down at Awon's backyard.

      You live exporters just don't want to have local processing. You don't mind the problems about welfare and hygeine. It's what you've done - though no longer than for 18 years actiually - not in any significant numbers. Gee there must be a good quid in this business.

      Damn greenies. How do they want to get their Macca's ... tickle them to death with feathers???? How dare they go pointing stuff out that no body knew anything about at all ... not really?

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  12. David Milstein

    Retiree

    The live export trade was introduced because the Islamic market wanted to ensure that the animals were slaughted to meet their religious requirements. Some customers have deplorable slaughter systems and improving these systems MUST be a priority. Stopping the export might make us feel good but it will only result in the market being served by other, less caring suppliers. That will be in the interests of the animals???
    Another driver of live export has been the uneconomic practices forced onto slaughter houses by the unions. Changes to the industrial laws introduced by the current Federal Labor Government will ensure that a viable meat export industry, if forced to refrain from live exports will collapse.

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