Four Corners sparks live export outrage

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 31st May 2011

Live Export - Animals Australia - collapsed steerA report by the ABC’s Four Corners has sparked renewed outrage over the export of live Australian cattle to parts of the world without animal welfare protections.

The report, which features evidence from Animals Australia of cattle being tortured in an Indonesian abbatoir, and other cattle suffering prolonged deaths from cut throats, prompted Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig today to suspend export to the three abbatoirs in question. The government has also appointed an independent reviewer to investigate the live export supply chain.

Calls have widened today to entirely end the live export of Australian livestock, 80% of which goes to Indonesia – an industry for which Four Corners cites a value of $300 million. Animals Australia said that the public reaction to the Four Corners report had been so strong that the websites for its own organisation, the RSPCA and activist group GetUp had all crashed this morning.

“We’ve seen over 35,000 Australians sign a petition against live exports in just five hours this morning,” said GetUp National Director Simon Sheikh. “It’s the fastest growing petition I’ve ever seen.”

“There is an overwhelming number of Australians wanting to take action and end live exports,” said RSPCA Chief Scientist, Dr Bidda Jones. “Anyone who has seen the footage uncovered in Indonesian slaughterhouses would be appalled by the brutal treatment of Australian cattle, cruelty sanctioned by Australia’s live exporters. The next shipment of Australian cattle is due to leave Australia for Indonesia shortly – the Gillard government must act to protect these animals by announcing an immediate halt to the live trade to Indonesia.”

“MLA and Livecorp have been deliberately deceiving farmers to ensure supply of animals and misrepresenting their work to the government to maintain support for the trade. It has never been clearer that this is not a trade worthy of government backing,” said Animals Australia investigator, Lyn White.

The nature of live export presents an inherent welfare problem, since live export is most valued by communities without ready access to refridgeration – which are also, by definition, less likely to have access to state-of-the-art abbatoir facilities, and more likely to transport and kill animals in ad-hoc ways.

A private members’ motion was introduced by Federal Labor MP Janelle Saffin last year in an attempt to ban the exports of live animals from Australia, after the deaths of 266 cattle on a live export transport ship bound for Egypt, the Wellard Group’s MV Ocean Shearer.

Nationals leader Warren Truss said that the images on Four Corners of “rogue facilities” were “shocking and unacceptable”, but said that the banning of live export would be “ill-advised and knee-jerk”, as there were no abbatoirs to process cattle raised in Australia’s north end, and no “practical options” for new facilities. However, last year, Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union federal secretary Brian Crawford said that he believed the live export trade was a factor in a  number of Australian abbatoir closures.

“The Coalition supports Agriculture Minister Senator Joe Ludwig’s call for immediate action to prevent Australian cattle being slaughtered in such appalling circumstances – including bans on rogue facilities wherever possible,” said Truss.

“The live export market is a niche sector. It caters to markets based on practical and cultural needs. Practical because in many far-flung areas refrigeration simply does not exist and the only way people in villages can get fresh meat is to buy a live animal.

“We are also dealing with centuries old practices and attitudes. Clearly, despite the investment of governments and industry in improving animal handling in destination countries, a lot more must be done.

“It is true that over the past 15 years Australia has been the only country in the world to invest in improving animal welfare standards in the markets in which we operate. Positive ground has been made, but not enough. The industry must use its influence to achieve better results.

“Our government and the industry invest heavily to constantly improve all aspects of animal health, husbandry and welfare. Both the government and industry have worked together to install state-of-the-art stunning facilities in major abattoirs in Indonesia and this must be bolstered to make it universal practice.

“I cannot stress how important it is to get this right. Live cattle trade is the only option for northern Australia’s herd and the north’s regional communities. There are no abattoirs in the north or west and no practical options to open new facilities. Leaving those vast expanses barren would create a massive biodiversity risk for Australia.

“It is true of the live trade, as it is with all trade, that the only way to change attitudes and behaviours is by engaging in those markets, with the people and their decision-makers.

“Calls to end the live trade entirely are ill-advised and knee-jerk. The Liberal and National Parties are prepared to work with the government to deliver improved animal welfare standards among our trading partners. Shutting the door will just hurt the cause of eliminating animal cruelty,” said Truss

Animals Australiasaid the Minister’s announcement that he would put his department in charge of an investigation in Indonesia was unacceptable.“This is the very department that has been doing the industry’s bidding for decades so no Australian can rest easy knowing these animals are back in their hands,” said White.

“The industry’s eleventh hour bid to suspend supply to three abattoirs is a desperate attempt to appease public outrage.”

“MLA representatives had visited six times in the last 14 months one of the most brutal abattoirs filmed in this investigation. Yet they are now suggesting further training is the solution when clearly they have failed to prevent the cruelty occurring there on a nightly basis.

“What MLA and LiveCorp don’t admit is that they have created the problem. They have been using Australian taxpayer funding to install restraint boxes for cattle that are inherently cruel and breach international animal welfare standards.

“These devices (Mark 1 restraint box) facilitate a distressing and cruel death and have been condemned by the world’s leading slaughter expert Temple Grandin as being ‘atrocious’ and as ‘violating every humane standard in the world’.

“If animal protection groups weren’t exposing this cruelty, MLA and LiveCorp would happily continue to install these boxes and supply animals to facilities where wanton cruelty against animals is the norm, as they have done for over a decade.

“MLA and Livecorp have been deliberately deceiving farmers to ensure supply of animals and misrepresenting their work to the government to maintain support for the trade. It has never been clearer that this is not a trade worthy of government backing.”

RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist Dr Bidda Jones conducted a full scientific assessment of the evidence from this investigation and found that every slaughter facility visited breached international animal welfare standards.

“Through my analysis I found that the majority of animals were subjected to physical abuse, such as tail twisting, hitting, kicking, eye gouging, and even tail breaking or tendon slashing. One Brahman steer with a broken leg was tortured for 26 minutes before being killed,” said Dr Jones.

“Cattle experienced an average of 11 cuts to the throat, with one slaughterman cutting at the throat of a steer 33 times. Half of all Australian animals observed being slaughtered showed signs of consciousness more than one and a half minutes after their throats were cut.

“But the most galling aspect of this evidence is that the industry’s installation of Mark 1 boxes has entrenched a system of restraint and slaughter that causes significant suffering and that would be illegal in Australia.

“This is what Australian industry presence in Indonesia for two decades has achieved. Putting live exporters in charge of animal welfare is like putting tobacco companies in charge of the public health system.”