ESCAS skewing priorities

A disproportionate focus on animal welfare relative to concern for human welfare is just plain wrong

WHEN the former government allowed live exports to resume following the suspension in June 2011, it imposed a scheme on exporters known as ESCAS (Exporters Supply Chain Assurance System).

Prior to the suspension, exporters of livestock were only required to track exported animals from the property of origin in Australia to the port of export and report on the outcome of the voyage.

Under ESCAS, permission to export requires the exporter to retain control over the animals through to slaughter in the destination country. That means either vertical integration or appropriate contractual agreements with the importer, feedlot operator, transporter and abattoir operator.

Evidence of traceability is also required so individual animals (cattle and buffaloes) can be identified and located at any point. Exporters of sheep and goats must have a system based on counting and reconciliation at points along the supply chain. An end-of-processing report must be supplied for each consignment along with an independent performance audit report.

Exporting without a licence or intentionally contravening licence conditions carries a penalty of five years in prison.

What prompted the 2011 suspension was footage supplied to the ABC by Animals Australia showing cattle from Australia being inhumanely slaughtered in Indonesia. Since then Animals Australia has come up with further claims of cruelty to animals, mostly sheep, exported from Australia to Jordan, Kuwait, Israel and Lebanon, all of which the ABC has dutifully reported.

Animals Australia is an animal rights lobby group committed to forcing an end to all live exports, amongst other animal welfare issues.

It has no policy on human rights matters such as the oppression of women or persecution of Christians in destination countries. It is all about the animals.

The group does not, for example, insist that Australia stop exporting wheat to any of the 27 African countries, Yemen or Iraqi Kurdistan where female circumcision is practised. A 2013 UNICEF report found that 125 million women and girls in those countries have been affected.

It has nothing to say about export destinations that do not allow women to vote or that treat women as chattels, or the growing number in which Christian churches are being burnt down and their congregations brutalised. Indeed, there is no equivalent to ESCAS for exporting anything other than livestock.

As a corollary, the ABC also has very little to say about those issues, especially in comparison to its coverage of the complaints raised by Animals Australia.

This prompts an interesting question. While a lobby group might be excused for focusing on one issue to the exclusion of all others, is it appropriate for the taxpayer-funded ABC to do the same?

Perhaps more importantly, what does it say about our priorities as a nation that we should seek to impose our standards of animal welfare on other countries under ESCAS while saying nothing about issues that scream out for attention, such as the oppression of women and persecution of Christians?

While there are international treaties that assert human rights are universal and should not be subject to cultural interpretation, that is not the case with animal welfare. Cultural differences are hugely important.

Both the halal and kosher methods for slaughtering sheep, for example, consist of using a well-sharpened knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts the front of the throat, the carotid artery, windpipe, and jugular veins. There is no prior stunning. That, and images of animals being bled (consumption of blood is not permissible in either case) appals Animals Australia.

Similarly, Animals Australia considers images of sheep being dragged by their legs and stuffed into car boots as evidence of outrageous cruelty, despite it being not much different from what occurs in every shearing shed in Australia. Nobody seems to have explained to them that sheep are not good at walking on a lead.

There are undoubtedly instances of cruelty to animals in our export markets and we should obviously seek every opportunity to convince our export customers not to be cruel. A bit of information and education can often go a long way.

But the ability to use our influence is diminished by a holier-than-thou approach that assumes our animal welfare standards are universal when that is clearly not the case. Moreover, a disproportionate focus on animal welfare relative to concern for human welfare is just plain wrong.

Both the government and the ABC ought to stop allowing Animals Australia to set their priorities.

Animal welfare is important, but not something we should seek to impose on our customers while we show such little interest in human welfare.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 year and was recently elected to the Senate for the Liberal Democrats. He may be contacted at
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    David Leyonhjelm

    David Leyonhjelm

    has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
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    8/11/2013 8:45:49 AM

    Why does it have to be a question of protecting one or the other? Surely we can show compassion towards both human and animals. Shouldn't our goal be to protect both from unnecessary pain and suffering.
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    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at


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