FARMER groups are being urged to consider defamation action against Animals Australia’s latest anti-live exports campaign by Queensland LNP MP George Christensen.
Animals Australia has used paid advertising on buses, billboards and taxis in its latest efforts to turn public opinion against the trade it has long campaigned to ban due to animal welfare concerns.
The advertising material includes the emotive slogans, “Live Export – It’s a crime against animals. Some trips should never be taken”.
But Mr Christensen said the animal liberationists behind the paid advertising were “engaging in a crime against truth with their latest propaganda campaign”.
“It is absolutely disgusting for those inner city, soy latte-sipping, snivelling, hand wringing socialists to be calling Australian farmers criminals,” he said.
“What they are doing is calling Australian farmers criminals and quite frankly I’ve had enough of it.
“These people need to be held to account for what they say.”
Slap in the face
Mr Christensen said he hoped organisations like the National Farmers Federation (NFF), member groups like AgForce in Queensland and the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association (NTCA) would consider possible action.
“I hope they would respond and challenge them on this properly and probably even legally, because I think defamation has certainly occurred here, when you are saying that live export is a criminal act,” he said.
“But I’ve got to tell you it is not a criminal act - it is legal and it is lawful.”
Mr Christensen said farm groups could also test advertising standards underpinning the campaign, which was less costly than defamation proceedings.
But he said defamation was worth exploring, despite the added cost, because action was necessary, “when someone is coming out and demonising an entire sector”.
Mr Christensen said many cattle producers in his electorate of Dawson – in areas like Bowen, Proserpine and around McKay – are engaged in live exports out of Townsville.
“I’ve got an issue with saying those people are criminals and I’m sure the farmers have an issue with it too,” he said.
“I’d hope some of the peak bodies in the sector are considering a case because they can’t get away with it.
“I’ve had conversations with a few blokes who run cattle in the live export game and they do feel victimised when this happens.
“They know they do a first class job with their cattle – in terms of animal welfare – but to say these people are engaging in illegal activity is clearly wrong.
“They are doing everything by the law and in fact they are probably surpassing requirements,” he said.
“It’s just an absolute disgrace and a slap in the face for this group to come out with this sort of stuff.”
Cutting their own throats
Mr Christensen said other countries are engaged in the global live export trade but Australia’s animal welfare standards in its markets are, “better than any other country on earth”.
He said a report into the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) - introduced in mid-2011 in response to animal welfare concerns in Indonesian abattoirs exposed by Animals Australia - highlighted those standards.
The report also showed Australia had worked with its trading partners to enhance animal handling and husbandry skills and improve animal welfare outcomes in export markets, having trained more than 7000 people to date.
In contrast, other countries have no ESCAS-styled quality assurance system or regulatory framework governing the welfare of animals sold and exported into foreign markets.
Mr Christensen said if Australia withdrew from the global live export market as urged by Animals Australia, animal welfare standards would only drop.
He said it would only penalise Australian farmers if Australia withdrew from markets like Indonesia with, Brazil, Argentina or another big cattle producing country simply filling the void.
“You know what their care factor is for animal welfare in other countries is - zero - and they don’t have any sort of (ESCAS) regime in place to do the checking,” he said.
“Pardon the pun but the animal liberationists are cutting their own throats on this topic.
“They want animal welfare to happen in these other countries and we are doing it but when they demand Australia withdraw from these markets, they’re basically saying ‘remove the good work you’re doing to promote animal welfare work in other countries’.
“But without Australia that animal welfare work won’t be promoted and certainly not by other countries.”
Government failures behind campaign
Animals Australia spokesperson Lisa Chalk said her group wrote to Mr Christensen a few weeks ago about the billboard campaign to explain why they undertaken the campaign.
“If anyone is angry about these billboards then they should direct their anger squarely at the Abbott government because it is their failure to take appropriate action on recurring cruelty in the live trade that has resulted in our decision to relaunch the public campaign to end live export,” she said.
“We are very confident that individuals such as George Christensen would very quickly change their position on live export if they were on the ground observing what was happening to Australian and other animals in these countries.
“Australia continues to supply animals to countries that have some of the worst track records in terms of treatment of animals of anywhere in the world.
“Animal protection groups will never sway from our position that supplying animals to countries where there are no local laws to protect them from cruelty is wrong.
“Any person who thinks that ESCAS will protect exported animals from being brutally treated is ill-informed to say the least,” she said.
No case: NFF
NFF President Brent Finlay said he was aware of the Animals Australia advertising campaign but did not believe it was illegal and therefore difficult to stop through any potential legal action.
But he said Animal’s Australia’s approach was to spend money on advertising on buses, billboards and taxis, while the livestock industry was actually investing money into making genuine and continual animal welfare improvements.
“Our industry’s approach is about actually spending money on animal welfare and we’ve seen that with live exporters investing in their supply chains,” he said.
“Industry is constantly improving and raising standards.
“We’re not perfect but we’re constantly striving for improvements.”
Mr Finlay agreed that if Australia exited live export markets, animal welfare standards would drop.
He said Australian livestock producers would also be concerned that those markets would then be filled by competitors with lower animal welfare standards.
“We have to continually invest in animal welfare but we also have to keep telling our story and again that’s part of the lobbying that we do,” he said.
“It would be great to have a massive pool of money that we could go out and claim all of the billboards, buses and taxis but that’s a huge amount of money and we don’t have those resources.
“Increasing animal welfare outcomes across the whole of the agricultural sector is what we have to continually focus on.
“We have to continually lift the bar on our own industry – and if something’s going on that’s not acceptable to our industry – we have to make the call.
“Everyone in agriculture has to be responsible for that, just like food safety in our production systems we have to improve all the time,” he said.
“It’s not by chance that we have this excellent reputation around the world for food safety and it’s the same with animal welfare because we’re the only country spending money in overseas markets, improving animal welfare.”
Mr Christensen said no other nation had invested more into animal welfare training and facilities in export markets than Australia.
“But if we just ban it, that investment will all be gone and live export will still happen – just not from Australia,” he said.
“Instead of an Australian cow getting potentially mistreated - which I acknowledge may happen - it will be an Argentinian cow or Brazilian cow.
“What does Animals Australia think: are Australian cows far superior to Brazilian or Argentine cows?
“That’s a bizarre philosophy, if that’s what they subscribe to.
“And let’s call a spade a spade; I don’t believe they actually care about the live export trade,” he said.
“They’re vegetarians and they are complete animal liberationists who think that animals shouldn’t be farmed or killed and consumed by humans.
“They think every animal species has the same status and humans are no different from a cow, or a horse or a monkey.
“Now maybe they speak for themselves but they certainly don’t speak for me and they certainly don’t speak for the farmers out there as well.”
Gaping flaws in ESCAS
A copy of the letter signed by Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said: “Gaping flaws in ESCAS have led to many thousands of animals being subjected to horrendous abuse, yet the recent review neither acknowledged nor addressed them.”
She said 100 per cent of all investigations undertaken by Animals Australia had revealed breaches of regulations, “yet the Agriculture Minister is telling primary producers the system is ‘working’,” she wrote.
“The Minister's claim that 99 per cent of exported animals are treated humanely is untrue and misleading,” the letter said.
“DA (Department of Agriculture) has admitted this figure was based loosely on what exporters tell them and that it wasn’t reliable.
“Visual evidence has consistently shown exporters assurances to be false.
“Further, most exported animals are slaughtered while fully conscious, a far from ‘humane’ outcome.”
However, the ESCAS report showed the pre-slaughter cattle stunning rates in Indonesia had escalated to almost 90pc since ESCAS implementation in mid-2011.