This unbalanced, un-researched and naive opinion piece is from Brendan O'Reilly - Mr O'Reilly runs beef cattle and merino sheep on properties in the Southern Tablelands district of NSW. Our comments in bold.
Animals Australia wants a ban on all live animal exports from Australia, and live cattle are the latest target. Its lobbying is part of a worldwide campaign coordinated by the UK headquartered World Society for the Protection of Animals. In 2011 Animals Australia succeeded in convincing the Australian Government to introduce a temporary ban on the entire live cattle trade to Indonesia, and the continuing fallout threatens the future of the industry. Animals Australia, WSPA, CWF, Voiceless, RSPCA, HSI, PETA and Stop Live Exports along with every other animal welfare or animal advocacy organisation and about 70% of the Australian population wants a phase out of live animal exports and not just from Australia. Animals Australia did not "convince" the government to introduce a temporary ban - they furnished them with video evidence, DAFF investigated and made the decision to suspend trade to Indonesia.
To put the live cattle trade into perspective, Australia exported 617,301 head (valued at over $600 million) in 2012 (down 11% on 2011). Indonesia accounted for 45% of these exports, despite numbers to Indonesia being down 33% in 2012. In much of the NT and the northwest of WA, well over half of farm income comes from live exports, with about 87% of such exports historically going to Indonesia.
Animal activists say that the type of agriculture they are most opposed to is "factory farming". The Northern cattle industry is about as far removed from this type of farming as you can get. Mr O'Reilly seems to be unaware of the fact that there are multiple issues of concern to animal advocates - one of them is live export, another is factory farming (two completely different and separate issues) and there's probably another 20 on the list. He also seems to lump all animal advocates, animal welfare agencies and members of the general public into the "animal activists" basket.
The live cattle trade to Indonesia differs fundamentally from the trade in live sheep due to the relative proximity of the Indonesian market, and limited domestic outlets for these cattle. Australiais the only country that requires specific animal welfare outcomes for live animal exports and our ongoing involvement in the trade is a positive influence on animal welfare conditions in destination countries. A key disadvantage of reliance on the trade is resultant dependence on the decisions of the Australian and Indonesian governments. The key disadvantage Mr O'Reilly refers to is an issue we have been warning about for years.
Contrary to popular belief, Australia is far from alone in the live cattle trade. The US imports over 2 million head of live cattle annually (mostly from Canada and Mexico). Brazil exported 512,236 live cattle in 2012 (up 26%) to countries such as Venezuela, Turkey and Egypt. The EU also has a substantial trade, both across internal borders (several million head annually) with smaller numbers going to non-EU destinations (such as Russia, Turkey, and North Africa). India is also shaping up as a major player. Despite the number of countries involved in the trade, activists have concentrated their campaign on the EU and on Australia. Australia is the only country that spruiks itself as a "world leader in animal welfare". We can't claim that title whilst we continue to send millions of animals to their deaths in overseas markets where for 80% of them, the best they can hope for is a sharp knife and adherence to the woefully low OIE standards for handling and slaughter that the Australian Government has mandated. Nearly 70,000 animals have died on board, en route just in the last three years; 30,000 of them died from starvation. Whilst the mortality rate may be less than one percent, the morbidity rate is arguably 100%, with animals having to endure 24/7 fluorescent lighting, engine and ventilator/extractor noise (this is so loud it can be heard from 500 metres away when ships are in port), seasickness caused by the roll, pitch and yaw of the vessels, sea spray blindness and extremes of temperature on open-decked vessels and cramped conditions with insufficient space for all animals to lie down - depending on weight, sheep may be allocated as little as 0.64 square metres each, on voyages commonly lasting 20 to 30 days, but not rarely over 30 days and on one voyage to Izmar, Turkey, 41 days.
Stocking density for 'feeder' cattle from Australia. Photo source: Dr Lynn Simpson's ASEL submission
In many countries, which import live cattle, tradition, religion and lack of refrigeration means frozen or chilled beef is not a viable alternative. A further reason for Australian live export relates to the very high relative costs of Australian processors. Australia exports nearly all its commodities in a raw state because it can't compete on cost with foreign factories. If tradition and religion are factors in the continuation of live exports, how is it that our chilled meat exports are worth $7 billion as opposed to our $800 million live export trade, and we supply chilled, Halal-certified meat from animals slaughtered in Australia, to every country we currently export live animals to (or used to export live animals to) apart from Turkey?
Animals Australia claims that"400,000 cattle could be processed in Northern Australia rather than exported to Indonesia, and northern producers could more than double their earnings before interest and tax". I would like Mr O'Reilly to provide evidence that this is not possible.
Such a claim beggars belief, as does activists' stated enthusiasm for a bigger meat processing industry in Northern Australia. Animals Australia's strong advocacy of vegetarianism instead suggests that that they would far rather close down Australia's livestock industries entirely. Animal activists appear to be using a strategy aimed at bankrupting both producers and others involved in the supply of livestock commodities through disrupting exports, having previously targeted the wool, live sheep and kangaroo meat industries. Animals Australia does not equal "animal activists" - this is a blanket description that Mr O'Reilly seems to apply to anyone who has the best interests of animals at heart or works to improve their treatment and status in Australia. Only the government, the suppliers and the industry itself have the power to shut down this industry. Agencies such as Animals Australia are just supplying the evidence, which is then investigated by DAFF and acted upon (or not).
So how realistic is the claim that the meat processing industry in Northern Australia could replace the live export trade to Indonesia and other countries? A little history never goes astray.
Many people are unaware that no large scale abattoirs currently operate north of a line between Townsville and Perth (over a third of the continent). All that exists are small scale meatworks serving local needs (generally killing less than a hundred head per week) so that most cattle surplus to the live export trade need to be trucked very long distances to the South (for often poor returns). Substantial abattoirs used to exist at locations such as Wyndham, Derby, Broome, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Batchelor, Mt Isa and Cloncurry. They all eventually closed due to a combination of competition from the live cattle trade, an inability to secure the year-round cattle supplies, and the vagaries of the international markets for beef. I think Mr O'Reilly has just reinforced our view that local processing and Australian meatworks industry has been very much negatively impacted by the live export industry. Who cried for those jobs lost?
Over the past couple of years there have been efforts to start up a major Northern export abattoir. AACO is building a new export abattoir near Darwin but work was suspended owing to difficulties in finding an Asian partner. AACO has announced that it is prepared to proceed on its own, though not all industry observers are convinced. It is notable that AACO's plant was intended to concentrate on heavier cattle that do not meet live export specifications and was never meant to replace the live trade. Noises about opening export abattoirs elsewhere in the North have effectively gone nowhere.
In short the capacity to process export beef on any significant scale in most of the North is non-existent and any new plant (if it is ever completed) would take about two years to become operational.
While the animal activists, animal advocates, animal welfare agencies and members of the general public and politicians opposed to live export won't admit it, the live cattle trade suits the comparative advantage of both Northern producers and Indonesia. Northern Australia has vast swathes of poor quality land with highly variable and seasonal rainfall, that can breed cattle very cheaply but has limited capacity to supply fattened cattle year round. Indonesia on the other hand can feedlot and slaughter cattle cheaply. In respect of animal welfare, road transport from the North to domestic abattoirs can exceed 24 hours by road train, and with cattle more readily fed and watered on board ship, sea transportation to Indonesia can be less stressful. I don't for a second believe that we won't admit that the live cattle trade suits the Northern producers - it suits them all too well, which is why we never see any positive input into alternatives for them.
The crisis in the live trade was precipitated by the ABC Four Corners documentary (aired on 30 May 2011) on cruelty to Australian sourced cattle in Indonesian abattoirs. Independent parliamentarians, Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon, demanded an immediate ban on such exports. Following support from Agriculture Minister Ludwig, an immediate ban on the abattoirs in question resulted. This was followed by a six-month ban (suspended on 6 July 2011) on the entire live trade to Indonesia. A condition on the resumption of the trade allowed the export of live cattle only where animals are managed through supply chains that meet international standards. A SIX-MONTH BAN? A five-WEEK suspension was put in place after DAFF's investigation of hours of footage provided to them by Animals Australia, and advice from Australia's chief Scientist.
Fresh calls to ban live exports arose on 7 May this year when "new" footage showing Australian cattle being inhumanely slaughtered in Egypt was shown on the ABC's 7.30 Report.
Australians have been lead to believe that the TV footage showing cruelty that shocked the public was typical of what occurs inside Egypt and Indonesia. The impression was also given that it was Animals Australia who had infiltrated Indonesian abattoirs. It now transpires that the TV footage was supplied by Tracks Investigations - The Eco Spooks, a UKbased commercial film production service to animal protection groups. Lyn White from Animals Australia did in fact visit ("infiltrate" implies she posed as a worker or acted dishonestly or misled to gain access) several randomly selected abattoirs and personally gained footage as did an accompanying animal advocate, Ian Shersby from the UK; the Four Corners crew did their own research, shot their own footage which reinforced the findings by Lyn White and Ian Shersby. Lyn White has worked with Mr Shersby on every investigation she had done since 2003. A spokeswoman for Four Corners said the footage shot by Animals Australia and its associate "was done openly" and this was obvious when viewing the footage.
Lyn White openly gathering evidence in Indonesian abattoir. Photo: Animals Australia
Tracks Investigations has been doing work for Animals Australia (including in Egypt, the Middle East and Indonesia) for the past eight years. It also seems that the latest footage showing cruelty at Egyptian abattoirs (if the Egyptian authorities are to be believed) may have been filmed as far back as 2009 and subsequently "saved up" for recent release to maximise media impact. This all suggests that the Government and the public have been reacting emotionally to footage that is purpose made to shock rather than convey a balanced image of the industry. Given that the cattle shown in the footage taken in Egypt in October 2011 and April 2012 and given to Animals Australia in April by an Egyptian vet working at Ain Sokhna abattoir have been identified as Australian, and given that Australia suspended the supply of live cattle to Egypt from 2006 to 2010, I fail to see how this footage of Australian cattle could have been taken in 2009.
Most cattle industry players in Australia, as well as officials in Indonesia, would have accepted a suspension of supply to any abattoir guilty of undue cruelty, and this would not have been unduly disruptive. The sudden ban on all cattle exports (with accompanying vilification of Indonesia by our media and politicians) instead seriously damaged the cattle industry, and caused shock and anger in Indonesia. As did the footage showing brutal treatment (including eye-gouging, tail-breaking, whipping, kicking and rubbing chilli into steers' eyes) of Australian cattle in several Indonesian abattoirs cause shock and anger amongst caring Australians.
In Asian culture the concept of "saving face" (a combination of reputation, social status, dignity, and honour) is a central principle of etiquette. Causing Asian people to "lose face" (which was done recklessly and in full publicity through front page media on this occasion) is a grievous offence not readily forgiven. Such gross transgression by Australia was worsened by undertones of racism, religious intolerance, and moral superiority that still haunt our historic relationship with Asia. Unsurprisingly and in retaliation, Australia's live export quota ended up being slashed by about a third and export specifications were tightened, using the pretext of Indonesia moving towards becoming self-sufficient in beef production. Mr O'Reilly seems to completely ignore the fact that Indonesia cut quotas of live cattle exports from Australia, from 750,000 in 2009, to 510,000 in 2010 PRIOR to the footage even being shot by Animals Australia or Four Corners. There was a further reduction in quotas from 2010 to 2011 again prior to any perceived fallout from the suspension.
The shutdown of live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011 and the way it was done caused havoc because cattle which would have ordinarily been exported to Indonesia remained in the Australian market (with nowhere to go in many cases). It also led to financial losses all along the supply chain from producers to the Indonesian consumer, who suffered skyrocketing meat prices.
A very wet monsoon season in 2010-11 and to a lesser extent again in 2011-12 helped to delay some of the impact on Northern graziers because excess stock could be temporarily carried over. A poor wet season in 2012-13 (except for some unseasonal late rain in the Northwest) has now led to a flood of Northern cattle onto the domestic market (especially in Queensland). This contributed to falls in both live export prices and domestic saleyard prices (which were already under pressure from a poor season in the south). Hundreds of thousands of cattle are now likely to suffer from shortages of feed and thousands of unmarketable cattle may need to be shot in what will almost certainly be a bigger animal welfare crisis than that initially complained about.
About 30 per cent of Northern cattle producers are now believed to be under serious financial stress and Northern cattle properties are said to have fallen in value by between 25 and 40 per cent. AACO, the largest producer, now estimates its total losses as a result of the live trade suspension or as is a more commonly held belief, due to drought, bushfires, the high Aussie dollar and the reliance on the unreliable live export market (mainly write-downs to property values and lost profits) to be over $50 million.
Despite much of the damage to the industry being the result of disastrous Government decisions, the only assistance offered by the Gillard Government has been the Live Exports Assistance Package worth a paltry $30 million in total. This compares very unfavourably to the billions thrown at the car industry, despite the cattle industry being viable without government interference, and the car industry destined to disappear irrespective. (Could the fact that the car industry is heavily unionised explain the double standard?) As stated before, the damage done to the industry was done mainly by the droughts, bushfires, high Australian dollar and producers inability or unwillingness to factor in Indonesia's reduction in quotas for live cattle, which had been dropping drastically since 2009.
There have been recent signs Indonesia is reassessing its beef import quotas but it may take years for the live trade to fully recover. While there is a growing short term need for the Government to address the looming animal welfare crisis hitting Northern Australia, nobody really expects this to be a priority for the Gillard administration (while it lasts). As far as Animals Australia is concerned, it most likely will continue to ignore the domestic disaster it lobbied so hard to create. I do hope Animals Australia considers legal action for these blatantly untrue accusations directed at them. Perhaps MLA should be worried, given that they knew about the horrific handling and slaughter practices in Indonesian abattoirs, as per their report in 2009, AND were in a position to do something about it but subsequently failed to act?
Seems Mr O'Reilly just wants to shoot the messenger, not punsih the perpetrators and enablers. Profit at any cost.