It’s an industry that’s cruel and corrupt, but is it possible to end the live export trade? (Image source: Animals Australia)
By Lauren Wisgard | @LaurenWisgard
The live export trade has once again been making headlines in recent news, and none of it is positive.
The most recent tragedy was the capsized ship heading from New Zealand to Japan, killing all 5,867 animals and 41 crew members.
These ships are cruel by nature; the best-case scenario is thousands of animals standing in their own faeces in extremely cramped conditions, the worst is death by disease, heat, or storms.
For the industry, the suffering of these animals is little more than a sacrifice to get profit.
In Australia, millions of sheep and cows are sent to Southeast Asia and the Middle East to meet the food demand for a growing population.
The live export industry is one of poor regulation and cover up, and those who witness the cruelty and speak out are silenced.
Following a 2011 Four Corners report spotlighting the horrific cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle sent to the slaughterhouses of Indonesia, respected veterinarian Lynn Simpson was invited to submit a report to the Federal Government.
Dr Simpson was hired by the Department of Agriculture in 2012 to review the standards of Australian live export.
Her findings were disturbing, and she captured photographic evidence of the overcrowded conditions the animals were kept in.
The report was meant to be confidential but was leaked to the public in 2013 along with the photograph’s Dr Simpson captured.
The export industry is extremely powerful, and when the explosive report became public viewing, Dr Simpson was suddenly removed from her job.
Deputy secretary Phillip Glyde told Simpson at the time that she can’t keep her job because the industry “has a witch hunt against you”.
Dr Simpson told the ABC in 2016, “For the industry to be able to kick a government employee out of a government job, it speaks volumes, it is a form of corruption and that is all there is to it.”
The cruelty Dr Simpson observed was not an isolated incident, or even an issue that has since been corrected and revised, but it is instead the norm in a cruel trade.
RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones, also a member of the committee to receive Dr Simpson’s report, said to the ABC, “To me what has happened to her is indicative of the way the live export industry operates.”
“They don’t want the public to know what it is that this industry entails.”
According to PETA, animals in live export are crammed into open-decked ships, where they stay in that position for thousands of kilometres in all weather extremes.
Many animals die from heatstroke or disease on the journey there, and those who survive the journey are often taken to filthy markets in countries with no animal welfare regulations.
A mortality rate of one per cent of sheep and cattle during life export journeys is considered acceptable by government.
While this may seem like a small percentage, over the past 30 years more than 200 million animals have been exported, meaning 2.5 million have died due to the ship’s conditions.
Dr Simpson described the live export trade as “shipping’s modern slave trade”.
The capsized ship killing all animals and crew members was the most recent disaster due to this trade, but there have been many before and there will be more in the future.
Ending the live export trade will take time, because as charity Animals Australia said, it’s “a system that has been built on an acceptance of animal suffering”.
According to Animals Australia, the way to ban this trade is to continue to show the public the reality of the conditions, encourage farmers to turn their backs on live export, and continue fighting for new welfare regulations in the meantime.
When profit is the driving consideration of government and the agriculture industry, it will never be possible to have a humane live export trade.
Many believe that a future without live export is inevitable, and a shifting societal understanding of the animal welfare issues of these ships will be its demise.
But the live export industry still exists today because it is cheap to have animals as live cargo, and you can get more money for them in foreign countries than you can in Australia.
The problem is, when we transport these living beings to countries such as the Middle East, they are completely vulnerable to their laws, or lack thereof.
Australia has no control over their treatment or slaughter once they are on foreign soil, and therefore no regulation can keep them safe from cruelty.
A future without live export is not only possible, but morally it is a necessary trade to end.