QUESTIONS around whether mounting regulation of live animal exports is actually delivering discernible improvements to animal welfare are emerging as a key issue as efforts are made to recover the government's growing costs to police the trade.
The federal government's plan to recover its regulatory costs for live animal exports over the next three years could potentially push export licenses and fees up by 400 per cent.
The government anticipates by 2024/25 its costs will be $24m to run live animal export regulation.
Regulators have given assurances that streamlined administration and efficiencies can be built in to offset much of the potential hike in costs to exporters.
However, those assurances are being taken with a grain of salt by both exporters and the live cattle suppliers who will likely wear a good deal of the increased cost.
They want to see justification for the $14m increase in the regulatory cost base that has occurred in the past three years, pointing out it represents a 150 per cent increase in costs while overall per-head exports have reduced by the same percentage.
Both the peak lobby groups for exporters and cattle producers say all industries must contribute to their regulatory costs but it is reasonable to expect that the regulatory services delivered are as efficient as possible and any increase to these costs is fair and proportionate.
Cattle Council of Australia chief executive officer Travis Tobin said producer's profits can not take an unfair hit due to inefficient cost recovery practices.
"The department, as the regulator, must take ongoing steps to be more efficient when doing their work, just like any private company would," he said.
"The regulator must acknowledge it is spending producers' money and passing on unnecessary costs to producers can have very real, human consequences.
"The department has a duty to use our money efficiently and effectively and we are still waiting to see important work to speed up clearance times for live export consignments."
Australian Live Exporter's Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said increasing regulatory burden that did not lead to improvements to animal welfare failed to recognise the critical importance of the industry to the broader livestock production sector.
Live-ex was an industry valued at $1.8 billion in 2018-19, representing approximately 14pc of all beef exports, he said.
"This is disappointing for an industry that was justifiably deemed an essential service and continued unfettered during the COVID period making a significant economic contribution," he said.
Live exporters outlined the enormous investment that has gone into managing animal welfare in the trade at a seminar at this month's Beef Australia in Rockhampton.
Some companies report animal welfare compliance accounts for 60pc of their human resources.
The sentiment was that increased regulatory cost would do little to improve animal welfare outcomes from here.
Whether it was possible to be 100pc infallible was questioned.
"But we can invest very heavily in resources and systems to manage welfare and traceability, and we do," said Tony Gooden, from big export company Frontier.
Customer selection was critical, he said.
Frontier's customers had come to the conclusion it was better to process cattle under a western system, that it was more humane and more efficient, he said.
"Even through the difficult times of the past year (high cattle prices) our customers haven't sought to go around the animal welfare system, which is encouraging," he said.
"They know if they don't comply they don't have a business."
LiveCorp chair and chief executive officer of Consolidated Pastoral Company Troy Setter said the live export trade was an 'easy pick-off' for activists and that was setting worrying precedents.
"If your long-term aim is to stop people eating animal protein, you chip off at the pointier end and live-ex fits there," he said.
He made the point that in CPC business, which includes two feedlots in Indonesia and 300,000 cattle on properties across Australia, the lowest mortality rates were in the overseas feedlots and second was on ships.
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