OPINION: Greens spokesperson on animal rights SENATOR LEE RHIANNON responds to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on the Australian live export debate:
WHIPPING up a tirade about the Greens and their “extremist backers” supposedly holding producers to “ransom” over the live export trade might work for Mr Joyce’s fondness for colourful language but it does nothing to address the needs of rural communities.
His public response to the Greens Bill to end the live export trade and the disallowance motion to prevent the recommencement of the trade in livestock with Egypt has been short on rational analysis and big on abuse.
Mr Joyce in his outburst failed to recognise that the livestock industry is already changing. A responsible minister would be assessing how to expand future processed meat markets for producers, create jobs in rural and regional Australia and boost local economies.
Working to expand the trade in chilled boxed meat would deliver on all these fronts. The Greens are not against the interests of farming communities as Minister Joyce dishonestly suggests.
Our work to end the live export trade is designed to both reduce animal suffering and to strengthen rural communities through jobs growth and greater market certainty for the meat trade.
In 2012 I released the Greens Transition Plan that identified five key areas the government needed to work on to secure a profitable future for cattle and sheep producers.
These are: to encourage the development of new meat processing facilities in northern Australia; remove trade distortions and more vigorously market Australian meat overseas; boost skills and educate workers; smooth the transition for farmers and the meat processing sector; and establish teams to drive reform within government.
The good news is that despite a federal government minister stuck in the last century on this issue, trade in processed meat is growing. In 2013 170,000 tonnes of boxed, chilled meat was exported to the Middle East bringing in $780 million dollars for Australian producers.
Bahrain is an important example to highlight.
When trade to Bahrain was suspended in 2012 - Bahrain totally replaced live Australian sheep imports with Australian chilled and frozen meat. In 2013, Bahrain took more sheep in carcase from Australia than they have taken in live animals in many years. Economic reports show that sheep processed in Australia are worth 20 per cent more to the economy than those exported live.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, they have not taken live animals from Australia since the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) was introduced because they could not meet ESCAS standards. They take Australian meat instead.
As reported by FarmOnline, record lamb shipments, and record beef shipments into Saudi Arabia, have contributed to stellar growth in the boxed, chilled meat trade in this region.
It is hard to understand why Australia would choose to put further animals at risk in Egypt when we have a growing beef and sheep meat export trade with that country. The Meat and Livestock Association is actively working to increase meat exports to Egypt.
The regulatory system that Mr Joyce trumpets about when another case of animal abuse is reported cannot be used to justify the continuation of the live export trade. The government introduced ESCAS in 2012 in an attempt to trace animals exported from Australia through the whole export system.
Despite ESCAS being in place in many of the countries where we trade in live exports, there been numerous breaches of animal welfare standards. The credibility of the system has been further undermined by the unwillingness of the Department of Agriculture to sanction exporters responsible for the breaches.
My Joyce would be wise to take notice of what his Department is saying on this issue. The Department of Agriculture’s investigation released in March 2014 into why the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council suspended the live export trade to Egypt in 2013 concluded that the problems with ESCAS are systemic.
It is time the abuse and attacks on those who advocate ending the live export trade stopped. To stand for animal welfare should not be distorted as being against farming communities.
Minister Joyce is in denial about the long term viability of live exports. He needs to admit Australia has a problem and take action to transition to trade in boxed, chilled meat.
I believe Mr Joyce and I have a similar commitment to the future of rural Australia. It is time to drop the rhetoric and work to secure the future for all farming communities not just the few rich pastoralists who benefit from the live export trade.