“Australian livestock exporters’ social licence to operate – a cornerstone of our industry – is built around our ‘no fear, no pain’ commitment in relation to animals under our management.”

ALEC Chairman
The Hon Simon Crean.

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Q: What does livestock export involve?

A: Traditionally, livestock exporting involves the transport of live animals by sea, air or road from one country to another.  Over 130 countries around the world export live animals.

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

Australian exporters accept the responsibility to ensure the welfare of slaughter/feeder livestock through to the point of slaughter. That means Australian exporters, even after animals are discharged and sold, continue to 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.

Q: 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 South East Asia) or longstanding trading relationships with purpose-built livestock carriers (eg the Arabian Gulf)
  • 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 and breeds
  • Australian livestock are higher yielding and more value for money than other 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)

Q: What kind of animals does Australia export live?

A: 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 already at a suitable weight for processing at an abattoir. What might be deemed a suitable slaughter weight varies between Australia and our import markets.

Q: What types of slaughter methods are used in overseas abattoirs?

A: There are almost 600 approved abattoirs in more than 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.

In the case of Indonesia, our most important market, pre-slaughter stunning of cattle has grown enormously, from under 10 per cent five years ago, to around 95pc today

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.

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