AN article this week suggesting animal cruelty will escalate under a new live cattle export arrangement between Australia and China should be viewed with the same degree of scepticism as reports last Friday, which spread rapidly on social media, alleging actor Macaulay Culkin had passed away.
Scratch below the surface of the dramatic headline and you soon discover the only cruelty that’s been inflicted is towards objective research and proven facts, via another attempted internet hoax.
What’s more concerning, the article promotes a biased and arrogant assumption that Chinese culture is somehow inherently predisposed towards animal cruelty - that Australian society doesn’t suffer such moral shortcomings.
“I’m a strict vegetarian,” wrote Siobhan O'Sullivan, a research fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences at University of Melbourne.
“I’m not for killing cows.
“But if I were an Australian cow, and I were to be killed, I would prefer to be killed in Australia than to take my chances in China.”
The article’s underlying intention is clearly revealed by Ms O’Sullivan’s accompanying disclosure statement which says she has received funding from animal rights group Voiceless.
“Sections of this article are based on an article co-authored with Dr. Yangzi Sima,” it says.
“It is currently being prepared for peer review.”
But if that peer review excludes critical feedback from livestock industry professionals and others who understand animal welfare in the broader context of lawful meat production and cross-cultural consumerism, we can safely assume the final copy will also butcher any form of deeper truth or practical reality.
Ms O’Sullivan’s article said live animal exports had been a divisive political issue in recent years with passions reaching “boiling point” when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard temporarily suspended the trade following the ABC Four Corners program of May 31, 2011, spearheaded by Lyn White of Animals Australia and her team.
“Since then, the trade has recommenced,” she wrote.
“The former Labor government introduced a live export tracking system called the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS); Lyn White has been awarded an Order or Australia; and under the Abbott government live animal exports have expanded, including into China as a new market.
“Meanwhile, the community appears not to have changed its mind that live animal exports are cruel and a serious question mark hangs over the government’s ability to police and enforce its own rules under the assurance system.
“In my view the deal with China is likely to increase the suffering of Australian cattle.
“Unlike Australia, China has no comprehensive animal welfare law.”
The article detailed a historic overview of animal welfare and protection laws in China and other countries.
It ultimately asserted that if Australian animals do find themselves in the most modern Chinese slaughterhouse, “they will die in a country with zero rules prohibiting animal cruelty”.
However, deliberately or not, the article missed a critical point about ESCAS being designed and implemented so local laws aren’t purely relied upon in export markets.
ESCAS was implemented post the Indonesian cattle ban to provide a tighter system of tracking and traceability for animals in all export markets.
It is effectively a form of Australian government regulation acting over and above the legal jurisdictions of the 18 countries in which it now operates.
As recently as October 30, one of the nation’s leading authorities on live exports - Agriculture Department deputy secretary Phillip Glyde - said ESCAS was the mechanism that enabled the trade to be restarted and it had “definitely” generated better outcomes.
At the live exports conference in Melbourne, he showed a slide indicating that since July 2011, 6.3 million animals have been exported to 18 different countries, with a 98 per cent compliance rate.
Those statistics don’t or can’t account for the large volume of animals originating from other countries that have also been processed through ESCAS according to higher welfare standards.
Of course, this type of information failed to rate a mention in Ms O’Sullivan’s article and one can only ponder why such details were ignored.
Mr Glyde said in his personal view, it was “very clear”, from submissions received in a current government review of ESCAS, that the system had “definitely improved animal welfare outcomes”.
He said there had also been significant improvements in infrastructure and training in export markets, with thousands of workers being upskilled.
This record of performance improvement demonstrates Australia could in fact play a vital role working co-operatively with China to improve future animal welfare outcomes, coexisting with the aid of ESCAS.
After all, with or without Australia operating in the market, China will still be slaughtering and handling animals in significant volumes.
But of course, Ms O’Sullivan’s article doesn’t recognise this potential reality.
Also, if Ms O’Sullivan truly believes what she’s written about China’s alleged lack of legal protection for animals and its link to poor welfare outcomes, then she should naturally support an immediate opening of the live export trade to countries like Saudi Arabia.
Saudi claims to have their own laws and high standards that are OIE compliant – but don’t want ESCAS in play, as they consider it a breach of their sovereign rights.
The article also mentioned Ms White’s award for her role in the Indonesian ban that’s now subject to a multi-million dollar if not billion dollar class action claim against the government by local industry crippled by the then Labor government’s actions.
But she failed to acknowledge the decoration of Queensland grazier Don Heatley who was chair of Meat and Livestock Australia at the time of the Indonesian crisis, for serving the industry he loves.
This year, Mr Heatley was appointed head of the Commission for International Agricultural Research which supports foreign aid programs and was also honoured in the Queen's Birthday list with an OAM for his services to primary industries.