Animal instincts failing

17 Dec, 2012 07:40 AM
The celebrated expansion of the trade to Vietnam will almost certainly end in disaster.

OPINION: THE decision to expand the trade in live animals to Vietnam stripped the final layer of credibility from declarations that animal welfare is at the heart of the live exports industry.

Advocates for the trade always had a problem making such rhetoric credible. If one was to identify a destination for live exports that would make their rhetoric utterly incredible, Vietnam is the place.

In October, 1500 cattle were shipped to Vietnam. This follows a smaller shipment to the same destination last year. Industry, supported by the Northern Territory government, hopes to export 10,000 cattle annually within the next few years to offset the diminishing trade with Indonesia, a country determined to become self-sufficient.

This is a dangerous strategy.

Even before recent footage exposed behaviour described as "sadistic" by the spokeswoman of an Israeli abattoir that receives Australian cattle, a prominent industry figure recently remarked, "Until we have the next disaster, we still have an industry." To send live Australian animals to Vietnam to slaughter is to invite further disaster.

The livestock industry apparently believes Vietnam is a market of considerable promise for live exports. This view is shared by the relevant governmental departments, both federal and territory, and their ministers.

If the end of live exports is potentially but one disaster away, exporting live animals to Vietnam for slaughter will likely result in a sudden interruption to the trade, and risks permanent closure of the live exports industry.

The Vietnamese government does not have a proud record in respect to animal welfare. The notion has little resonance locally.

Even for a developing country, well publicised incidents of animal cruelty in Vietnam are both regular and disturbingly cruel in nature. Most of the relevant industry sectors are unregulated and where regulation exists, it is seldom enforced.

The celebrated expansion of the trade to Vietnam will almost certainly end in disaster. The only question is whether footage of the event will be captured and transmitted back to Australia.

The official line is that the Australian government does not tolerate cruelty towards animals and will not compromise on animal welfare standards.

Is it realistic to expect the slaughter of cattle exported from Australia will miraculously meet reasonable animal welfare standards in a country where cruelty towards animals is often tolerated, even at an official level?

The Australian government claims we lead the world in animal welfare practices. We don't, but we are well ahead of the standards evident in Vietnam.

Assertions that ongoing involvement in the live export trade provides an opportunity for Australia to influence animal welfare conditions in importing countries are used in an attempt to appease popular concerns. If the desire to improve animal welfare was genuine, government would combine with industry and invest in infrastructure that would guarantee all animals slaughtered in our exporting markets are stunned prior to slaughter, irrespective of their origin.

This would be an expensive task, however. The supply chain assurance regulations introduced in Australia earlier this year do not even provide the guarantee of pre-slaughter stunning for Australian live export animals.

There is certainly no assurance that Australian cattle will be stunned at the point of slaughter in Vietnam (at least not using a stunning machine). However, the industry would surely have insisted on assurances that animal welfare activists were denied access to Vietnamese abattoirs.

After all, the industry understands that with each disaster, it is more likely the government will cede to overwhelming public demand to immediately end the export of live animals. This would have an immediate and severe effect on the livestock industry and those whose livelihoods depend on it.

A transitional period must be negotiated before the next disaster to ensure the livestock industry and the people directly employed in it will continue to thrive. Although the livestock industry is reluctant to publicly admit it, steps have been taken to alter the balance towards domestic slaughter and processing.

The Australian Agricultural Company plans to build a multimillion dollar abattoir and meat packing facility in the Northern Territory. This step does make sound strategic sense. It is in the interests of the industry and its workforce that a gradual transition away from live exports is achieved.

What makes little strategic sense is the decision to export live cattle to markets where reasonable standards of animal welfare are regularly violated.

A further disaster in Vietnam will weaken the industry's hand in negotiating transitional arrangements with the government, and could well start a domino effect that the livestock industry and government will be powerless to stop.

Public opinion occasionally counts for something in a democracy, after all.

  • Andrew Hunter is chairman of the Australian Fabians. This is an edited version of an opinion piece which appeared in the Canberra Times.
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    Ian Mott
    17/12/2012 9:37:45 AM

    Yeah, right, the clown lost me when he claimed overwhelming public support for the end of live export when the polls show directly the opposite. And gratuitous advice masquerading as marketing analysis from one of the organisations most involved in the recent disgraceful suspension of the Indonesian trade is worthless.
    Bill Pounder
    17/12/2012 1:01:54 PM

    Meanwhile, on the streets of Indonesia, reseller prices have risen 40% in 4 mths, & unable to jack up prices resort to reducing portions. Processor prices are up 65% on 12mths & also about 50% more than equivalent Australian prices. Typical self-righteous pious know-all socialist Labor helping strugglng nearest neighbours by starving them of protein, vitamins and minerals. Ugly own goal and diplomatic condescension extraordinaire. Overall, another one in the eye for regional co-operation and mutual trust.
    Ban live exports
    17/12/2012 1:32:04 PM

    This industry spends more money (including taxpayers money )on PR and marketing to countries without animals welfare protection - than they do animal welfare. The PR dept continually spins out lines stating there is no brutality in the industry, although no one ouside industry is allowed to see! The horrific and brutal exposes we see on our TV could very well be the norm. This is a discusting, brutal self serving industry which has thrived for 30 years under a veil of secrecy and needs to stop NOW. It;s very obvious they care nothing for animals welfare and everything fpr profits!!!! Shameful!
    17/12/2012 1:48:47 PM

    The public are overwhelmingly opposed to this trade in live animals for the very reasons this article describes. Vietnam, China, and now re-exploring Egypt? This industry is after profit no matter what the cost to Australian Animals Welfare and we have had a gutful.
    Jay newell
    17/12/2012 2:03:27 PM

    Glad they didnt try to pass this off as anything more than an opinion piece.The fact is vietnam have been petitioning us for over 3 years to get Australian stock,they have invested millions and done everything asked of them including accepting on ground training and full time Australian presence to oversee handling and slaughter..This will boost both econamies and its target goal is to improve AW in Vietnam,supplying people with alernative source of protien.This will dramaticly reduce the amount of domestic animal meat consumed and put presure on the illegal monkey meat trade. improving aw..
    Susan Kulka
    17/12/2012 2:22:10 PM

    Live exporters would be foolish to think that there is not overwhelming support to phase out live export of all animals as soon as possible. It is also true that if this industry cared about humane treatment of those animals it would not be sending them to Vietnam as that would be downright cruel now, wouldn't it.
    17/12/2012 4:40:06 PM

    If you truly believe "polls" that only ever entice those industry hounds that want to keep live trade Ian then you are as deluded as they wish you to think. By far the majority of Australians want live trade stopped and it is only a matter of time seeing as grubby business can never keep itself clean.
    17/12/2012 4:56:29 PM

    Ian, what polls would they be? You seem to discount a 400,000 strong petition that was presented within the last few weeks...
    Ing Reils
    17/12/2012 5:47:09 PM

    An impressive, intelligent article. Thank you Andrew Hunter for pointing out what is blatantly clear to the majority of people who are opposed to this cruel industry. There is no way of protecting our animals in countries which have such a poor reputation for animal welfare. It is refreshing that this article was published in The Land - it's obviously not just us city slickers who are opposed to this shameful trade.
    17/12/2012 5:48:25 PM

    Human welfare in Vietnam is barely past the middle ages. :Lets not pretend this great 'new' market is going to make it any easier to keep Ban Live Export folk off your back
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