A BILL to ban live animal exports will be reintroduced in the Senate this week by the Australian Greens as the party ramps up calls to replace live ex with a boxed meat trade.
Greens' animal welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said Thursday’s news of the resurrection of live trade between Egypt and Australia would “shock Australians and will cause suffering to exported animals”. The Greens and the RSPCA have voiced strong concerns over the continued use in Egypt of full inversion slaughter boxes, currently allowable under the Australian government’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) framework. ESCAS requires Australian exporters to establish supply chains which are consistent with World Organisation for Animal Health standards.
“These boxes are illegal in Australia and other parts of the world because of the distress and suffering they cause,” Senator Rhiannon said. “Yet the Australian government has no qualms in condemning Australian animals to this fate overseas in the name of profit.”
RSPCA Australia chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones said inversion slaughter boxes were “unquestionably cruel” and ESCAS should be urgently updated to prohibit their use. Inversion boxes are used to restrain and then rotate an animal upside down prior to having its throats cut while fully conscious to comply with an interpretation of halal slaughter practices.
According to certifying body Halal Australia, halal slaughter should cause minimal suffering. Halal slaughter in Australia uses a reversible stunning method, while conventional humane slaughter uses an irreversible stunning method. The difference in halal standards in Australia and some overseas markets is due to differing interpretations of the Quran.
Dr Jones said the decision to resume trade with Egypt was “premature” and the emphasis should be on first improving welfare standards before opening up “more and more markets, putting Australian animals at risk”.
“Despite previous arrangements (Memorandums of Understanding) having many of the hallmarks of ESCAS, they failed to protect Australian cattle from significant and ongoing cruelty - how can the Australian public trust it will be any different now?” she said.
“Egypt has an appalling record in animal welfare and we have no confidence that ESCAS will deliver anything better.”
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the introduction of ESCAS in Egypt would replace a government-to-government regulatory framework, and was a recommendation following a Department of Agriculture investigation report into allegations of mistreatment of cattle in two Egyptian abattoirs in May 2013.
“Australians have not forgotten the horrific footage last year of cruelty inflicted upon cattle in Egypt that resulted in a halt to the export trade with that country,” Senator Rhiannon said, claiming the Agriculture Minister was looking after “a few wealthy pastoralists” instead of focusing on employment growth in regional Australia by expanding the processed meat trade.
“Opening up abattoirs across regional Australia would create thousands of jobs and help secure Australia a stronger place in the expanding international trade in processed meat,” she said.
In 2013 the 170,000 tonnes of boxed chilled red meat that went to the Middle East brought in about $780 million dollars for Australia's red meat industries, the Senator said. Saudi Arabian demand for chilled and frozen meat grew fivefold last year, after that country banned beef from US and Brazil in 2012 due to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) concerns.
During 2013, Australian live cattle exports totalled 850,923 head (up 37 per cent on 2012), valued at $755 million. Australian live cattle exports for January 2014 were up 5pc on the same month in 2013, and up 64pc on the fiscal year to January aggregate. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia exported 59,864 head of cattle in January this year, taking the total for the fiscal year to January to 561,359 head.
“The fact that record boxed lamb shipments were sent to the Middle East in the last fiscal year and that Bahrain has totally replaced Australian live sheep imports with the import of Australian meat shows that there is a viable and more humane alternative,” Senator Rhiannon said.
The federal Opposition welcomed the recommencement of live trade with Egypt. Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said it was important to build public confidence in the trade, and reiterated Labor’s call for an inspector general for live animal exports.
“That’s a cop on the beat to make sure the regulator is properly investigating any supply chain problems we see from time to time,” he said, while questioning Mr Joyce’s decision earlier this month to open new markets to live export without a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in place.
The previous Labor government required MoUs to be negotiated with all overseas markets before Australian livestock could be exported. MoUs were first introduced into the livestock export trade in 2004 - the policy was expanded by Labor in July 2013 to include all new livestock markets, then reversed by Mr Joyce at the end of February when resumption of live trade with Bahrain was announced.
The Greens’ bill to ban live exports was first introduced to the Senate in June 2011 by Senator Rachel Siewert prior to the temporary suspension of live exports to Indonesia by then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig. It was reintroduced by Senator Rhiannon in March 2012. Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt introduced a similar Greens bill into the House of Representatives in 2011, and in February Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie introduced a bill to phase out the trade over three years - his fourth legislative attempt to stop Australian live animal exports, despite vocal support from both sides of the House for continuation and expansion of the trade.
Mr Wilkie said the trade was “systemically cruel” and was “shipping overseas the jobs of those who might process those animals in Australia”.
“There is no doubt that the trade has, in effect, cannibalised the Australian processed red meat industry,” he said.