General Information about the trade:

What does live export involve?

Traditionally, live exports involves the transport of live animals by sea, air or road from one country to another.  Over 100 countries export live animals.

As an island nation, Australia utilises air and sea transport to move livestock to destination markets.

Since 2011, Australian exporters have accepted the responsibility to ensure the welfare of slaughter/feeder livestock to the point of slaughter.  That means Australian exporters, even after they have sold the animals, trace animals, train staff and upgrade facilities along supply chains to the point of slaughter. Exporter and facility standards are independently audited by accredited international audit companies to Australian livestock export standards that are higher than the international animal welfare standards

Australia is the only country to have made this a requirement of trade.

Road Map

Why does Australian export live animals?

Australia has a long history of exporting livestock to many countries around the world and for many reasons which have changed over time.

In today’s trade, many countries want Australian livestock because:-

  • Of our proximity to markets (eg Indonesia and South East Asia) or longstanding trading relationships with purpose built livestock carriers (eg Kuwait)
  • Importing countries have confidence in the health status and quality of Australian livestock, our regulatory certification system, and our ability to supply 365 days a year
  • Australia can provide a variety of livestock classes (feeder/slaughter/finished/breeder/dairy) and breeds (eg fat tails, Brahman, European)
  • Australian livestock are higher yielding and more value for money than competitor livestock
  • Local businesses can use not just the meat, but the entire animal for different products
  • Increasingly our efforts to help improve animal welfare is recognised as contributing to wider social and ethical change, better treatment of local livestock, improved worker safety and better meat quality
  • It supports public policy programs to increase meat and dairy consumption and the endeavours of importing countries to provide food security
  • It strengthens breeding and herd numbers with quality genetics
  • It supports the development of a local processing sector in developing countries
  • It supports a wide range of consumers and different market segments that live animals processed locally are most suited to (for example wet markets)
  • Processing live animals locally is often cheaper than buying boxed or chilled meat slaughtered in Australia which is a high input cost industry compared to its global competitors
  • Religious requirements, particularly around festival times, dictate the slaughter of live animals (now under Australian controlled conditions where Australian animals are involved)
  • Our political stability has supported vertically integrated investment from a number of companies from destination markets, particularly Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar; and
  • It is principally about necessity for many countries that cannot produce livestock locally or  sustainably but believe strongly that affordable protein from live animals is important to the physical, mental and social development of their people

Many countries live export animals, not just Australia. The process of livestock exporting is increasingly requiring more specialised skills (eg in animal welfare) but the trade is a longstanding legitimate industry that occurs widely around the world on a day-to-day basis.

How many animals does Australia export live?

In 2015 Australia exported 1,331,745 live cattle, 1,959,761 live sheep and 89,145 live goats for feeder/slaughter purposes.

Australia also exported 73,600 dairy cattle, mostly to China in support of China’s public policy to increase milk consumption.

Is Australia the largest exporter of live animals?

Australia is one of the largest exporters of live animals particularly in the export of cattle along with France, Mexico, Brazil and Canada.

Somalia is one of the largest exporters of live sheep. In 2014, Somalia exported 4.6 million sheep and goats, 340,000 head of cattle and 77,000 camels. Other large sheep exporters are Sudan and Romania.

Australia is the only country that makes animal welfare a condition of trade and restricts the export of Australian animals to facilities that meet and exceed international animal welfare and importing country requirements.

What kind of animals does Australia export live?

Australia exports cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats for feeder, slaughter, breeding and dairy purposes. Small numbers of camels, alpacas and deer are also exported.

Feeder animals are younger and lighter animals that spend time in a feedlot to gain weight before being slaughtered.

Slaughter animals are heavier livestock that are at a suitable weight for processing at an abattoir. What might be deemed a suitable slaughter weight varies between Australia and our import markets.

Of course a range of other animals are also exported for non-commercial purposes including companion animals, horses and genetic material.

How long has Australia exported live animals?

Australia owes its livestock production sector to those first shipments of animals that travelled with the First Fleet.  Exports of Australian livestock started relatively early on, with the first shipment of horses to New Zealand occurring in December 1814. There are records of the first livestock shipments occurring as early as 1838.

Small commercial trial shipments continued for over 100 years until the early 1950’s when larger scale shipments of sheep commenced. Large cattle exports did not commence until the 1980’s when markets were established.

Where are Australian animals exported?

Australia currently exports cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats to:

 AsiaMiddle EastNorth AfricaEurope
IndonesiaUnited Arab EmiratesEgyptRussia
VietnamKuwaitMauritiusTurkey
MalaysiaOmanKazakhstan
PhilippinesJordan
ThailandQatar
Japan
China
Singapore
Sri Lanka
Taiwan
Brunei
Pakistan

Australia has recently agreed access conditions for Mexico, Cambodia and Iran but exports are yet to commence.

ALEC has publicly expressed our eagerness to recommence the trade with Saudi Arabia under conditions that respects Saudi sovereignty, are consistent with Australia’s live export welfare assurance requirements, meets international OIE animal welfare standards and Saudi Arabia’s own animal welfare laws.

What are the sort of jobs in live exports?

All sorts of people work in livestock exports.  Here are just some of them:-

  • Veterinarians
  • Stockmen and woman, farmhands, jackeroos and jilleroos
  • Truck Drivers
  • Helicopter pilots
  • Stevedores
  • Deckhands, mates and ships captains

There are many indigenous people working on properties and a strong live export sector provides more job opportunities in places where there are often none.

The live trade also supports or supplements many family farm businesses not just in northern Australia, but right across the country.

In markets like Indonesia, local farmers often grow the crops that is used to feed cattle in feedlots.  For every one person employed in an Indonesian feedlot, there are seven jobs created in the local community.

What is a feedlot?

A feedlot is a place where livestock are fed and watered as part of a managed process of fattening or holding livestock prior to slaughter.

Feedlots come in different sizes but genuinely have the following consistent elements:-

  • An area of shade or cover
  • A range of different feed delivered in troughs
  • Constant access to fresh water
  • Space to walk around and lie down
  • Ground cover of different materials that are regularly cleaned out
  • Management by stockmen and vets to oversee cattle health and welfare; and
  • A hospital pen space for special care of sick or injured animals

What types of slaughter methods are used in overseas abattoirs?

There are approximately 570 approved abattoirs in 23 markets that have been approved to slaughter Australian livestock under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System standards. The exact numbers are held by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as the regulator of the trade.

Australian livestock must only be slaughtered in these approved facilities.  Slaughter in facilities that are not approved is a breach of ESCAS and can result in additional conditions or restrictions being placed on Australian exporters.

Abattoirs range from large, modern and newly constructed facilities that process large numbers of livestock to small, family run operations that process only a couple of head per night to service local communities.  Some facilities have multiple slaughter lines with several butcher teams working at the same time.  Others are more simple facilities that only have one slaughter line.

Increasing numbers of exported livestock are stunned prior to slaughter. Stunning, when performed correctly, involves rendering an animal unconscious using special equipment so the animal can’t feel pain.

Sticking is the process of cutting an animal’s throat using a very sharp knife to severe the major blood vessels in the neck ensuring rapid blood loss and therefore death.

The increasing use of stunning has helped develop more humane slaughter practices but is not yet  universally accepted as part of the halal and kosher slaughter process. The international animal health and welfare body, the OIE, does permit non-stunned slaughter under certain guidelines.  Non-stunned slaughter can be performed in a way that an animal can lose consciousness quickly. Industry accepts that for many Australians non-stunned slaughter is unacceptable and the onus is on Australian exporters to work with approved abattoirs to encourage a move to stunning, and where that is not yet possible, to ensure that non-stunned slaughter is done in a manner that minimises pain to the animals.

ALEC’s policy is to encourage the use of stunning prior to slaughter and as an industry we are working towards this goal.

Are animals being stunned prior to slaughter in importing countries?

Since 2011, more countries have adopted stunning before slaughter and it is ALEC’s policy to encourage stunning in all markets.  There are public policy impediments in a number of markets that do not recognise stunning as halal but industry is undertaking research in this area to influence this thinking.

Most exported cattle are now stunned.  Markets such as Vietnam, Japan, Jordan, and Russia only use pre slaughter stunning.  Almost 90% of approved abattoirs in Indonesia now use stunning which is a massive improvement in just five years.  Other markets such as Malaysia, the Philippines and China are increasingly using pre-slaughter stunning.

Through industry efforts Egypt has accepted the use of electrical stunning which is a major breakthrough.

We still have a lot of work to do in this area so more sheep and goats are stunned before slaughter.  What we do ensure is that fully conscious slaughter is undertaken in a manner that minimises distress or pain in line with international animal welfare guidelines.

Laws, Regulation and Government control of the Australian live export trade

What laws and regulations control the export of live animals?

The entire livestock export supply chain from on-farm preparation to point of slaughter is regulated and controlled by the Australian Government under two main regulatory systems:-

Furthermore, all livestock carrying vessels that service the Australian trade must have an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) license and comply with the provisions of Marine Order 43 of the Navigation Act.

Under the laws and regulations that control the activities of Australian livestock exporters, exporters must comply with a range of stringent requirements that include:-

  • Exporters must be licensed by the Australian Government
  • Livestock must be selected, prepared and cared for in compliance with legislated animal welfare standards
  • Livestock must only be prepared in Australian Government approved quarantine premises, known as registered premises
  • Skilled personnel including industry accredited stockpersons and in some cases government approved veterinarians must accompany and care for the livestock on the voyage (via sea and air)
  • Livestock export vessels must hold an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
  • Exporters must maintain control, traceability and ensure animal welfare of livestock from discharge through to the point of slaughter in their supply chains
  • Facilities in exporter supply chains must be independently audited on a regular basis in line with the government’s auditing and risk management requirements
  • Exporters must report on the outcomes of each voyage, including mortalities, which are then reported on a six monthly basis to the Australian Parliament. If mortalities exceed legislated levels, a comprehensive investigation is undertaken and conditions may be placed on future shipments to mitigate risks
  • Exporters must provide the Australian Government with an end of processing (EOP) report (within 10 days of the slaughter of the last animal within a consignment for cattle and buffalo). An exporter must also submit an independent performance audit report (IPAR).

What is ASEL?

The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) outline the animal health and welfare requirements for the livestock export industry from farm to the discharge of animals in the country of export.

There is a lot of detail in ASEL about how exporters must care for livestock along the livestock export chain to discharge including:-

  • Planning the consignment
  • Sourcing & on farm preparation of livestock
  • Transporting livestock from farm to registered premises to port
  • Pre-embarkation assembly
  • Vessel preparation and loading of the vessel
  • Sea/air voyage

ASEL is a public document and can be viewed here.

ALEC supports a review of ASEL by the Australian Government in consultation with industry to modernise the Standard based on sound science and bring it into line with other recent improvements to export certification processes.

What is ESCAS?

ESCAS stands for the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System. ESCAS was introduced in August 2011 and rolled out across all markets by the end of 2012.

ESCAS is a set of regulatory conditions placed on exporters that requires exporters’ to have commercial arrangements with supply chain partners to provide humane treatment and handling of livestock from arrival in the importing country up to the point of slaughter. The specific regulatory requirements can be found in the Export Control (Animals) Order 2004 (Cth).

It places the responsibility on exporters to ensure the welfare of exported feeder and slaughter livestock along the entire post discharge supply chain in overseas markets through to the point of slaughter.

Australian exporters seeking a permit to export feeder and/or slaughter livestock must show the regulatory, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, that their supply chain:-

  • Meets the Australian standards for animal welfare (based on the international OIE animal welfare guidelines with additional requirements)
  • Enables animals to be effectively traced by exporters along the supply chain to the point of slaughter
  • Has appropriate control through contracts with customers for reporting and accountability; and
  • Is independently verified and audited in line with the Department’s auditing timetable.

The Australian Government undertook a review of ESCAS and found that its introduction has been effective in delivering improved animal welfare outcomes and ensured the continuation of the livestock export industry. The report is available here.

What are the animal welfare standards for Australian exported livestock?

Australian welfare standards for exported livestock are based on the international animal welfare guidelines set by the OIE.

Under ESCAS, each element of the supply chain has defined animal welfare outcomes drawn from the OIE guidelines. When ESCAS was implemented, Australia converted these international guidelines into auditable standards and where necessary implemented higher standards than required in the OIE guidelines (eg not permitting rope casting).

To consistently meet the animals welfare requirements, a checklist has been developed, drawing out the key performance indicators contributing to the animal welfare outcomes. You can find out information about these standards, including the checklist used by auditors here.

Performance against this checklist under ESCAS is independently audited. The targets included in the checklist have been drawn from international practices and industry experience.

What are the OIE animal welfare guidelines?

The OIE animal welfare guidelines, on which the ESCAS animal welfare standards are based, are recommendations developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

These guidelines cover the welfare of food animals including the handling of livestock, land transport, feedlotting, slaughter with stunning and slaughter without stunning.

Information on the OIE animal welfare guidelines is available here.

Why has Australia based its export standards on the international standards and not Australian standards?

That is a good question.  It has been argued that the international standards are lower than Australian standards and therefore not good standards for animal welfare. The Live Export Program is currently undertaking a benchmarking study that is comparing the ESCAS slaughter standard with the Australian standard to provide an objective analysis of this argument. 

As the live trade is working in over 20 markets around the world, the government decided to align the standards for Australian exported livestock with the international animal welfare guidelines of the OIE.  All the markets that Australia exports live animals to are members of the OIE and have agreed to the guideline.

Who audits exporters and supply chains? How independent are they?

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources requires evidence that the auditing company is accredited by a Conformity Assessment Body, for example JAS-ANZ or IAF. The accreditation should be to an international standards (such as ISO) in Quality Management Systems or equivalent. The Department also requires that the auditing company demonstrates:-

  • Independence
  • No conflict of interest, and
  • Possession of an appropriate level of competence and expertise (through qualification and experience)

To ensure that accredited auditors have the relevant competencies in auditing animal welfare, the Live Export Program has providing training programs for auditors. Providing courses and training of this nature has assisted ESCAS auditors meet normal requirements to undertake continuing professional development.

What types of ESCAS audits are required?

There are two types of audits required by ESCAS.

  1. An independent initial audit which is undertaken to determine whether an exporter can meet the regulatory requirements of control, traceability and animal welfare. The Independent Initial Audit Report (IIAR) is submitted to the Department as part of an exporters’ ESCAS submission.
  2. Independent performance auditing which is undertaken to monitor the ongoing compliance of an exporters existing ESCAS arrangements

Independent initial auditing, which is undertaken to determine whether an exporters ESCAS arrangements can meet the regulatory framework requirements for control, traceability and animal welfare. The Independent Initial Audit Report (IIAR) is submitted to the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) as part of an ESCAS submission.

Independent performance auditing, which is undertaken to monitor the ongoing compliance of an exporters existing ESCAS arrangements. The number of audits required is determined by the Department under its risk based performance framework.

Are live export laws and regulations sufficient to protect animals?

Laws and regulations controlling the trade are supported by exporters activities and investment to deliver proper handling, treatment and slaughter of livestock. This approach is critical because we are working with people in other markets, and in many cases, who have not had access to equipment, training and knowledge to learn and utilise modern day practices to support good animal welfare.

Australia has done more than any other country to improve the animal welfare of exported livestock which has flow on benefits to local livestock.  Laws and regulations have got us a long way but it is the investment in helping people change their behaviour and attitudes to livestock that is making the lasting, generational improvements to animal welfare.

There will still be incidents of poor welfare but we accept our responsibility for the wellbeing, welfare and care of livestock and working to prevent such incidents occurring.

Our efforts have significantly improved animal welfare and industry is currently working on several research projects that will enable more transparent public reporting of trade activities.

What is an Approved Arrangement?

The Australian Government is currently strengthening the livestock export certification process in line with other regulated and controlled commodities.

An approved arrangement is an agreement between the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and a livestock exporter that allows a more streamlined export certification process.

The arrangement is based on a manual that describes the processes and practices an exporter will follow to ensure they meet Australian Government requirements for the certification of livestock for export, including:

  • the Australian standards for the export of livestock (ASEL)
  • importing country requirements
  • other legislative requirements.

Approved arrangements only apply to on-shore activities conducted within Australia and do not change existing Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) requirements in any way.

More information on Approved Arrangements is available here.

How can I find out more about the Government’s live export laws and regulations, and current investigations into breaches?

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is the agency responsible for regulating and controlling the live export trade.  Information about the laws and regulations governing the trade, and how the Department administers them is available online at www.agriculture.gov.au

The Department also maintains a public list of investigations into alleged breaches of ESCAS and releases a report on its findings. This information is available here.

How many people have been trained in animal handling and slaughter in the last 5 years?

Over the past five years since the introduction of ESCAS, over 9,000 farm, feedlot and abattoir workers have been trained in modern handling and slaughter techniques support by new infrastructure from yards, races to stunning equipment and even simply proper butchers knives.  Exporters through the support of the LiveCorp/MLA have also produced special guides, training videos and Standard Operating Procedure documents in a variety of languages to provide ongoing reference and support material to embed better welfare practices in the facilities in which we operate.

What went wrong in 2011 and how can I feel assured that livestock are being treated better now?

Isn’t Australia the only country that currently invests money in the welfare of exported animals? Don’t we need to be involved in the trade to make a positive difference?

Livestock Global Assurance Program

I have heard people talk about the Livestock Global Assurance Program - What is it and how would it protect exported animals?

The 2011 Farmer Review of the livestock export industry commissioned by the Australian Government recommended that the industry explore the application of quality assurance to complement the Government’s regulatory compliance and control program ESCAS.

Over the past three years, industry initiated research has explored the role of QA and risk assessment as tools to assist exporters meet and demonstrate that exported livestock are treated in accordance with ESCAS animal welfare requirements.  A fully implementable welfare and risk assessment and certification program – the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) – has been developed and the research report which outlines the Program is currently under consideration by Australian exporters.

There is a lot of public information available about LGAP available at http://www.livestockglobalassurance.org/

We have all seen the failings and weaknesses of ESCAS. The development of LGAP has considered these in order to address them through a smarter approach to through chain welfare assurance.

Wouldn’t LGAP just be industry regulating itself and thus is a watering down of control of the industry?

Trade opponents have suggested that LGAP is a weakening of control and regulation of the industry and that LGAP is just self-regulation.  These comments are not accurate as LGAP increases scrutiny on the trade by independent parties at each point along the overseas supply chain.

A key point is that LGAP is built on ESCAS – traceability, control, animal welfare and independent auditing. The laws and regulations that require exporters to meet ESCAS will remain if LGAP is implemented.

LGAP is not self-regulation. The Program operates under rules and standards that operate separately to industry organisations with exporters, importers and facilities audited by independent accredited certification bodies and by auditors who must meet the high standards outlined in the Program rules.

Shouldn’t LGAP apply to the entire live export supply chain, not just in overseas countries?

LGAP has been developed so that upstream (eg food safety and hygenie) and downstream (on farm to loading) modules could be added at the Program’s considered discretion.

Does LGAP deal with stunning and inversion boxes?

Yes.  LGAP has been developed to recognise international best practice and to demonstrate the Program’s vision to foster practices that are considered more ethical.  Under the Program certification process, Level 3 certification – the highest level of certification under the program does not permit the use of non-stunned slaughter or the use of inversion boxes.

Who pays for auditors under LGAP?

Unlike ESCAS, auditors will not be paid for or their services arranged through exporters or facilities.  Under the LGAP Certification Rules, appropriately qualified and competent auditors will operate under the control of Approved Certification Bodies, which would be approved and appointed by the Program.

Auditors will need to be competent and demonstrate knowledge and skills in the area of animal behaviour, health, husbandry and welfare before being confirmed as an ‘Approved Auditor’.

To ensure confidence, trust, impartiality and consistency in the audit process, the Approved Certification Bodies will appoint an Approved Auditor to undertaken the external audit.  These Auditors will report the results of audits through the LGAP Conformance System including any nonconformities, view corrective actions and escalate or close out nonconformities.

Livestock Transport

Are livestock ships suitable for humanely carrying animals?

Australia places a particular emphasis on ensuring that the livestock ships that carry livestock, regardless the length of the journey, are transported humanely. We are continuing to do research in this area in support of continual improvement in the transport of live animals.

That focus commences before the journey even starts.  All livestock must be healthy and fit to travel. On a voyage all livestock are attended to and cared for by experience stock people and veterinarians on longer journeys.

Each vessel carries a supply of veterinary equipment and medicines, and if an animal becomes unwell they are cared for within the ship’s hospital pens or are humanely euthanised.

Animals have enough space within a pen to stand up and sit down throughout the voyage with access to feed and water.  Extra space is given to larger animals and in hot temperatures which is dependent upon the destination, time of year and pregnancy status.

Fresh air is constantly available to animals on all ships and circulated to the animals via the ship’s ventilation system.

Eight new special livestock vessels have been built and are now operating to transport Australian livestock by sea in the last five years. by way of comparison, the average age of the Australian livestock export fleet is sixteen years, compared to the international fleet (vessels not permitted to carry Australian livestock) is forty-one years. We expect with the growth in the trade that investment in new vessels will continue.

Millions of animals have died at sea over the decades of the trade operating. Is the situation improving?

It is true that millions of animals have died over the 60 years of transporting live animals to overseas destinations but those deaths have not gone in vein.  Australia has continued to invest in and implement research that is focused on reducing mortality and morbidity rates to increasingly drive the number of deaths to zero.

The mortality rates of cattle exported by sea have varied, since 1995 between 0.1% and 0.42% annually.  In 2014, the average mortality rate for cattle from Australia was 0.12% (1,592 mortalities in 1.28 million cattle exported. Increasing numbers of shipments of cattle to South East Asia have zero mortalities.

The mortality rates of sheep exported by sea in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were approximately 2-3%. Since 2003, mortality rates of exported sheep have not risen above 1%. In 2014, the overall mortality rate for sheep was 0.71%.

Mortality rates of livestock by air are historically the lowest of all modes of transport. There were no mortalities among the small consignment of goats exported by sea and a rate of 0.45% of goats exported by air in 2014.

Mortality Rates

Mortality rates are significantly lower today than in the past because of deliberate actions by industry including:-

  • New boats with better pen design, watering, feed and ventilation systems
  • Better selection and preparation of livestock
  • Reduced loading of livestock in line with heat stress risk including extra space to larger and/or pregnant animals
  • Use of bedding and ‘washing down’ of decks during voyages

There are a number of current research projects that are expected to direct further improvements in the transport of livestock.

Trade Economics

What is the value of the live export trade and who gets the benefits?

In 2015 the FOB value of live exports was $1.893 million dollars.

The benefits of this return are spread across the livestock sector and are shared by exporters, producers and the many other people involved in the process of exporting live animals.

Do Australian farmers really need live exports?

Australian live exports is of importance Australia’s economy and producers but this can never justify cruelty or sub-standard welfare or treatment of animals.

An extensive body of research shows that live exports creates jobs, stability and economic activity in rural and regional economies and for the nation. A transition away from live exports or an outright ban would see at least four FTE equivalent jobs lost for every one job gained.

Activists that because live export is only a small industry it is not that significant and should be banned? But live animal exports are one of Australia’s 10 top agricultural exports (by value) and not sure that banning an industry because of its relative size is a sound policy argument against any industry.

Australia’s top agricultural exports (by volume) – 2015/16:

Major agriculture export productsA$m Total
Total Farm Exports$45,222100%
Beef$9,17820%
Wheat$5,60412%
Wool$3,4407.6%
Meat (exc Beef)$2,4975.5%
Horticulture$2,3985.3%
Dairy$2,3025%
Wine$2,2114.8%
Barley$1,8714.1%
Live Animals$1,8634.1%
Suagar$1,7663.9%

Activists claim that because most farmers do not live export, the trade is not significant and should be banned.

The following studies have shown that the absence of the live export trade would result in lower domestic livestock prices.

  • Centre for International Economics (2014), Contribution of live exports to the Australian wool industry, prepared for Australian Wool Innovation
  • Centre for International Economics (2011), The contribution of the Australian live export industry, prepared for LiveCorp and Meat & Livestock Australia
  • ACIL Tasman (2009), The value of sheep exports from Western Australia, prepared for RSPCA Australia
  • Clarke et al (2007), The live export industry – assessing the value of the livestock export industry to regional Australia, AgEconPLus and Warwick Yates and Associates for Meat & Livestock Australia
  • Hassall and Associates (2006), The live export industry: value, outlook and contribution to the economy, prepared for Meat & Livestock Australia
  • Keniry et al (2003), The Keniry Review: Livestock export review: final report, prepared for the Australian Government

On average, farm cash incomes and rates of return for farms selling cattle or sheep for live export exceed other producers.  Producers do not need to totally rely on live exports to benefit.  Many producers supplement their incomes from domestic supply by selling livestock suited to or specifically prepared for the live trade.

Live exports also helps generate thousands of jobs in regional and remote areas where job opportunities are limited. This includes in areas in northern Australia where jobs for indigenous workers are even more limited.

It is not just Australian farmers who benefit from live exports but also farmers and small businesses in the markets that we export to.

Australia is also a nation that is proud of trading history.  Live exports helps support economic activity in developing countries where incomes are substantially less than our own. Many countries are developing their own processing sectors to supply domestic protein demand and create local jobs in poor regions. In Indonesia for example, for every one job created in a feedlot, another 7 jobs are created in the local community and these jobs often support large extended families.

But if Australia stopped exporting animals, wouldn’t our live animals be replaced with our boxed product?

The simple answer is no.

Other countries are already sourcing live animals for slaughter from a range of Australia’s livestock competitors including Brazil, Ireland, France and India.  And when Australia has stopped exporting for lengthy periods, these competitor countries and others have moved to supply livestock without the any animal welfare consideration or oversight.

The reason for this is that in any market there are different types of consumers who want different products.  It is wrong to suggest that a live animal is easily replaceable with a carcase that has been slaughtered in Australia.  The idea of freshness is often tied to seeing and choosing a live animal rather than just accepting meat is fresh as we do in Australia.  For other consumers, the cost of a live animal locally slaughtered in much cheaper than purchasing chilled or boxed meat.  In other instances, the meat from a live animal slaughtered for religious occasions is given to the poor.

The Australian Farm Institute undertook an independent assessment on the question of replacing live animal exports with processed product and the consequences.  You can read this assessment here but the findings were clear – abandoning live exports means abandoning both a force for improved animal welfare standards in destination markets, a loss of economic activity in rural Australia and a replacement of Australian livestock with livestock from other countries.

What will happen to the people who rely on the live trade for their income if the trade is phased out or banned outright?

The assertion by trade critics that jobs will continue is based on the false premise that animals exported live are suitable for domestic slaughter.  This is simply not the case.

The fact is the debate about the live trade does not need to be an either/or proposition.  Producers, our rural and regional economies and the nation as a whole benefits when the red meat sector as a whole is able to grow and prosper without artificial restrictions or constraints.

What producers and all those people who are associated with the live trade need is certainty.  Industry is providing that certainty by taking responsibility for animal welfare and working with customers to implement better practices in systems with more modern equipment, training and support at the same time working with government to open up new markets for Australian livestock. These activities send the right signals to producers and other supply chain participants that the trade has a strong and sustainable future.

Cattle Exports:

How are animals treated once they reach Indonesia?

Much of what is written by animal welfare groups and activists about Indonesian abattoirs refers to standards in place in 2011. The standards were not appropriate for Australian livestock including the use of Mark 1 boxes which did not properly restrain livestock causing pain and distress.

Since the introduction of ESCAS and the Australian export industry’s investment in training in handling and slaughter and new infrastructure, Australian cattle are handled and slaughter very differently today.

Livestock are now properly restrained in new restraint boxes.  Mark 1 boxes have either been removed or modified so that animals are properly restrained during the slaughter process.

Over 90% of live cattle are stunned before slaughter.  In 2011 the number was closer to 15%.  We recognise that many Australians want all cattle stunned before slaughter and it is ALEC’s policy position to encourage all markets to adopt stunning.  In some regions of Indonesia, local religious authorities do not permit the use of stunning as a halal practice so Australian exporters work with these abattoirs to ensure that non-stunned slaughter occurs in line with the international animal welfare guidelines for non-stunned slaughter to minimise any pain and suffering during the slaughter process.

Animal Welfare Officers oversee slaughter to check that slaughter is done correctly.

Importing Country Animal Health Requirements

What are health protocols?

Health protocols are agreements between importing and exporting country governments which set out the agreed requirements that will apply to ongoing trade.

Such agreements exist across commodities, including for the livestock export trade.

For livestock exports, health protocols focus on animal health and include the conditions under which animals will be permitted entry into an importing country.  So just like Australia manages biosecurity for imported products, importing countries do the same for our exports.

The conditions in agreed health protocols aim to reflect the relative animal health and disease status of the importing and exporting countries, and Australia’s excellent animal health status and systems are vital in providing the assurances that underpin workable health protocols.

All of the conditions included in an agreed health protocol must be certified by the Australian Government for each export in an official health certificate, attached to the export documentation.

To ensure accurate certification, the language of the protocol must be clear, unambiguous, achievable and related to animal health. For trade to occur, protocols must also be commercially viable.

What are the common elements of health protocols?

Not all protocols are the same and depend upon the importing country’s own disease status and animal health priorities.

Some common elements included in protocols are:-

  • Disease freedom (country, zone and property)
  • Residency (on-farm, in Australia or in a zone)
  • Testing (e.g for disease)
  • Quarantine periods
  • Treatments (eg parasites, ticks)
  • Vaccinations
  • Individual animal inspection (eg for infectious diseases and injury)

How are health protocols negotiated?

Protocols are negotiated by the Australian Government with the government of the importing country. In Australia it is the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Biosecurity Team that undertakes the technical and official negotiations. In most cases, industry through the MLA/LiveCorp Live Export Program provides technical advice, information and support to the negotiations.

Australia has negotiated some 100 protocols for the livestock export trade.

Eid Al Adha / Korban

What is Eid al Adha/Korban?

Eid al Adha (Middle East) or Korban (South East Asia) means the Festival of the Sacrifice and marks the completion of the hajj (pilgrimage) rites at Mina and commemorates of the trials of Abrahim who was prepared to sacrifice his only son in reverence to Allah. During Eid Muslims all over the world sacrifice a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The sacrificed animals are called adhiya and must meet a certain age and quality standard. The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts. A third is given to the poor and needy, a third is given to relatives, friends and neighbours and the final third is retained by the family.

The desire to practice Eid or Korban by sacrificing an animal is a deeply held religious belief and practice that is shared across generations. It is one of the most important religious rites of the Islamic faith.

In 2016 Eid/Korban will be held around 11–14 September, depending on the moon.

What role does the Australian livestock export industry play in Eid al Adha/Korban?

Millions of animals are slaughtered over the Eid/Korban period including livestock from Africa, Europe and South America. Australian livestock sheep, goats and cattle will only make up a small percentage of these numbers but despite this, Australian exporters work in market for many weeks preparing special additional systems (over and above ESCAS) to manage the challenges of this high pressure, high demand period.  This work involves forging animal management and sales systems that respect the practice of religious traditions while ensuring good welfare practices and outcomes for Australian livestock.

No other export nation does anything similar, and indeed, anything at all.  These measures are even unique to Australia where Eid al Adha is also celebrated.

The management systems employed by Australia and its customers has evolved over a number of years – from “in the ute, not in the boot” campaigns designed to improve the transport of livestock to carcase sales and ticket systems that remove any general public interaction with Australian livestock. Cooperation has been built by Australia by working constructively with customers, feedlots and abattoirs to develop and implement systems that support religious practices rather than frustrate them including the cessation of direct livestock sales for home slaughter to ticket systems and carcass only sales models.

Under ESCAS requirements, animals must not be sold outside of approved supply chains. This means that irrespective of the management system in place at Eid/Korban, at no time of the year can Australian livestock be purchased for home slaughter or for slaughter at facilities that have not been approved as meeting international animal welfare standards.  If livestock are found outside of supply chains, this indicates illegal and unapproved removal of Australian livestock and such actions are not condoned, approved or endorsed by exporters.

What are the risks and challenges for Australian livestock exporters during Eid?

The sale and distribution of Australian livestock (increasingly in carcass form) during Eid is done over the course of just 4 days at limited locations and meet the requirements of ESCAS.  This puts enormous pressure on facilities and staff to manage the expectations of large crowds and also creates significantly increased demand for healthy Australian livestock which are in limited supply.

The focus of exporters is on minimising the risk of poor welfare practices and outcomes and responding as quickly as possible to breakdowns in management systems. A range of strategies have been implemented to tailor management programs in Middle East markets to meet market needs and risks including:

  • Pre-Eid/Korban supply chain risk assessments, training and support by exporters and Live Export Program consultants to prepare facilities and staff in the requirements for Australian livestock management systems and welfare requirements
  • Implementation of the “Mecca Model” in, UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar where tickets for carcasses are sold pre and during Eid and these are collected at a separate point, removing all interaction between livestock and the general public.
  • Restricted supply chains and livestock sales systems to reduce access to Australian livestock in other markets and ensure Australian livestock are only slaughtered at approved facilities
  • Encouraging and supporting charity slaughtering whereby large numbers of Australian sheep are processed at ESCAS facilities and distributed to the poor. This removes individual sales and selection pressures; and
  • Additional exporter and LEP consultants in market during Eid/Korban to oversee and manage systems in cooperation with customers and facilities and deal with problems as they arise.

South East Asian markets have different systems in place.  In Malaysia, the slaughter of goats and sheep is undertaken at approved abattoirs located on goat farms spread across the peninsular.  There is   provision for slaughtering Australian goats and sheep at approved mosques in Kuala Lumpur. In Singapore, the government and religious authorises manage the Korban process with Australian sheep in approved mosques.

Despite exporter efforts, no system is foolproof and the greatest risk to the welfare of Australian livestock during Eid/Korban is leakage from supply chains. The demand for Australian livestock is so strong during this period, but availability so limited, that black marketeers can be expected to seek to profit from Australia’s efforts to limit access to livestock in the interests of animal welfare.  Any leakage should be immediately reported to authorities and Australian exporters to enable remedial actions including the recovery of stolen livestock to be undertaken where possible.