AUSTRALIAN live exporters have defended their industry as world-leading in animal welfare standards after US animal rights activists interrupted Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s foreign policy speech at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Visiting the US last week for the 2016 G’Day USA program to promote public and economic diplomacy, Ms Bishop’s talk at UCLA was temporarily halted as a small band of protesters attacked Australia’s live animal export trade.
“For a moment imagine if all of you were the animals being sold and killed and brutalised on these death ships; on these things we call farms (and) in slaughter houses,” one male protestor said.
“It’s wrong and their voices need to be heard.”
Animal rights activist Amanda Copeland of the Earth Peace Foundation also interjected on the minister’s talk, describing Australia’s live animal export trade as “barbaric” and saying Americans and the world were against it.
Ms Bishop asked to respond to Ms Copeland’s assertions but was fobbed off as the rant continued, sparking jeers from the UCLA audience of about 100 guests.
“You don’t actually want to talk to me do you because I’m happy to meet with you,” Ms Bishop stated during the interruption.
Ms Copeland said Australian live export ships arrived on foreign shores with tens of thousands of dead animals on board that had suffered due to lack of ventilation.
She said the animals were then “hammered in the heads with mallets” when they reach the Middle East, electrocuted in the eyes with prods and “murdered for religious sacrifice”.
Ms Copeland and other protesters were later escorted from the room by armed security guards.
She later told media the protest resulted from being ignored by the Australian government and wanting to try and engage in a dialogue about animal welfare standards.
But reports of the US protest sparked debate on social media and a firm response by Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) CEO Alison Penfold, correcting false claims made by the animal activists.
Ms Penfold said the comments she’d seen from the activists were passionate but also wrong.
She said ventilation and water was provided to livestock on board export vessels and unlike any other livestock exporting nation, including the US, “we take responsibility for feeder and slaughter livestock, to the point of slaughter”.
The United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service says the US exported 445,000 animals live in 2014 – mostly cattle, horses, pigs and sheep - valued at about US$617 million.
US live animal export markets include neighbouring Mexico and Canada - but also Russia, Turkey, European destinations and Middle East and Asian markets where Australia also competes for live exports.
Ms Penfold said ALEC had also written to the Foreign Minister today (Monday) regarding the protest saying Australia remains the only country out of the 100 countries that export livestock that has made animal welfare a condition of trade.
“We are the only country that has converted the OIE (international) standards into measurable and auditable standards and the only country that requires oversees implementation of these standards to the point of slaughter,” the letter said.
“ALEC members have no interest in a business of cruelty and are focused on providing the necessary conditions right along the supply chain to support humane treatment and slaughter. “
Ms Penfold’s letter said Australia’s livestock trade provided food security for many countries on the pathway out of poverty around the world and also created development opportunities, jobs and wealth in urban, rural and remote communities at home and abroad.
But she said despite industry efforts, particularly since the shock of the Indonesian trade ban in 2011, “the legacy of perceived inaction on welfare is hard to overcome”.
“We expect to face loud opposition to the trade from minority groups whose philosophical opposition makes any objective dialogue difficult,” the letter said.
“That said, we are always open to such dialogue and have been increasingly engaging with a broader range of stakeholders and opening up trade practices to more transparency and scrutiny.
“Over 1000 feedlots and abattoirs in 19 markets now can demonstrate that they use handling and slaughter standards that meet and exceed international OIE standards
“Prior to 2011, very few facilities could demonstrate this so this alone is a mammoth achievement in a relatively short time period.”
On Facebook at the weekend, Ms Penfold said there had been a “definite reduction” in mortalities for livestock exports from Australia over the last decade due to research, better preparation of livestock pre-voyage and new vessels with better livestock support systems.
She said in 2014, Australia exported 2,240,000 sheep by sea with 15, 899 mortalities equating to a mortality rate of 0.71 per cent and 1,280,000 cattle with 1,592 mortalities (0.12pc).
“There is no comfort in any death on a voyage and our goal is to consistently achieve 100pc arrival rates,” she said.
Ms Bishop’s office was contacted for comment.