OF ALL the areas of dispute between animal rights groups and those who believe the live export trade has a real future, the practice of stunning Australian animals prior to slaughter in live export markets, appears to generate the most common ground.
If done right, it also presents the greatest area of opportunity to solve the many controversial and complex animal welfare issues at the supply chain’s pointy end, raised by the recent Indonesian live exports “fiasco”.
The ALP Caucus vote this week on an animal welfare motion failed to mandate stunning for all Australian animals in live export markets, but in reality that political result is only a minor bump on the road to redemption.
To secure a robust live export trade with animal welfare at its core, commercial incentives need to accompany any political measures that seek to improve animal welfare practices.
World Animal Health guidelines (OIE) standards don’t require mandatory stunning of cattle prior to slaughter but what’s to stop the industry showing leadership and responding to the challenge by designing a robust commercial solution now?
Positive action is already underway with some individual Indonesian feedlots reacting to the live export crisis by only sending Australian cattle to abattoirs with tight animal welfare rules, including stunning.
But while moves like this are promising, it can’t happen without aligning with overall goals and targets, which can be easily measured and monitored.
They need to be set with the agreement of animal rights groups here and abroad, with clear and transparent reporting on how they are being achieved, at regular reportable intervals.
For example, Australia will send 60 per cent of its animals to Indonesian abattoirs that stun pre-slaughter by January 1, 2012; 70pc by 2013; 80pc by 2014, and 100 per cent by 2015.
This approach will help remove much of the ambiguity and uncertainty that underpins arguments against the trade now, which are mostly emotive and unfortunately, come at the expense of those in the agricultural industry, who were hard at work taking care of their animals when they were blindsided and suffered “blamelessly” as a result of the government’s snap Indonesian suspension in June.
Because let’s face it, the slaughter of animals and even watching their throats being cut, stunned or un-stunned, is going to offend pretty much anybody.
And that stands no matter which way you look at the slaughter: through an annual industry or government report, a handy-cam held by a guerrilla reporter, ABC television, the nightly news, internet broadcasts, radio shock-jocks, and even reading about it in rural newspapers.
A recent live exports forum in Brisbane, hosted by the industry’s newly appointed leading spokespeople, the RSPCA, injected with a rock-star, tear-evoking appearance by Animals Australia animal welfare celebrity, Lyn White, revealed an encouraging word from an upcoming industry leader.
As Ms White used her speaking date to make more passionate claims about her dreams to close down the “evil” live export trade altogether, of which the RSPCA has a similar agenda, AgForce QLD Cattle President Grant Maudsley made a bold appearance acting as the only speaker genuinely supporting the trade’s long-term future and value.
He spoke from the point of view of a grass-roots cattleman and not an industry body or trade defender, in underlining the Cattle Council of Australia’s position that industry funds should now be directed towards the rapid introduction of stunning facilities in Indonesian abattoirs.
There may be some logistical or even cultural and religious issues to overcome with stunning but given recent events, the pathway forward has never been more inviting.
Ms White’s many foot-soldiers have found a potent voice in recent months, jumping at every opportunity to label live exports as a “filthy” and “evil trade” - and the industry has failed to counter these accusations successfully.
The rapid uptake of stunning with support across government, industry and animal welfare groups in Australia and in our export markets, would go a long way towards silencing them.