‘No fear, no pain’: What really happens to livestock when they leave Australian shores?

Feature Article by Olivia Nankivell

‘No fear, no pain’ is the mantra used by the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC). Yet the 60 Minutes investigation into live export negligence in early April shocked the nation, prompting calls for the brutal trade to be banned completely.

More than two thousand sheep died onboard the Awassi Express last August during an intense heat wave en route to the Middle East. Footage of livestock covered in filth, gasping for air and fighting for space will be forever etched into the mind of every Australian viewer – view here.

Many of us don’t often think about the plight of livestock onboard live export ships. In fact, many of us don’t really know what happens to them at all.

We would prefer to imagine them frolicking freely onboard the ships, smelling the fresh ocean air, and being blissfully unaware of what’s to come.

That idealistic image couldn’t be further from the truth. So, what really happens to livestock when they leave Australian shores?

Aimee Weir, spokesperson for Adelaide Against Live Export (AALE), has in-depth knowledge on the issue. Armed with a growing group of volunteers, AALE work tirelessly to create public awareness of the negligence of the live export industry.

Since 2014, AALE have monitored the process of live export: from the farm, the feedlot, and then the trucks to the ships – taking countless hours of video footage to report to the authorities.

Mrs Weir said the ships that depart Port Adelaide are extremely old and were initially designed as car carriers.

“They’re simply not equipped to have livestock onboard. The animals are housed in really cramped conditions; they have to stand for the entire journey, and there’s certainly not enough room to lay down or move around,” Weir said.

With one ship being able to carry up to 75,000 animals, many are unable to access an adequate supply of food and water. On a journey of up to five weeks, the weak livestock will inevitably die.

“The weak ones will die a slow, prolonged, cruel death. They’re not going to have a humane death,” Weir said.

Weir also commented on the lack of ventilation and the severe heat stress inflicted upon both livestock and crewmembers.

“Coming into winter, we watched the Bader III load in Port Adelaide. It arrived in Israel in 45 degree temperatures. It puts so much stress on their bodies.”.

Supporting this claim is PETA’s Media Officer, Emma Hurst; she says the livestock suffer from cramped conditions, poor ventilation, and heat stress.

“The animals are prodded, kicked, and herded onto crowded, filthy, multi-tiered, open-deck ships and forced to stand for long periods of time – in a sickening slurry of water, urine, and faeces.” Hurst said.

“A mortality rate of up to two per cent of the many thousands of sheep and one per cent of cattle during each journey is considered ‘acceptable’ by the Australian government.”

What happens to livestock when they reach their destination country?

Many Australians don’t know where our livestock is exported or what type of treatment they receive from the importing countries.

According to the Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC), as an island nation, Australia utilises air and sea transport to move livestock to destination markets.

Kuwait, Qatar, Indonesia and Vietnam are the largest live export markets, valued at a total of $1.4 billion, despite suffering a forty percent drop of live exports in the last decade.

ALEC claims to accept the responsibility of ensuring 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,” ALEC says on their website.

Despite these claims, the live export industry has endured severe controversy and countless scandals over the past decade.

According to Emma from World Animal Protection Australia, Since the Department of Agriculture created the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) in 2012, there have been nearly 150 complaints of non-compliance.

“Many of those that survive the journey are handled roughly at their destination and  killed while fully conscious. Too many suffer outright brutality,” she said.

The reputation of the industry has diminished due to media reports of breaches of animal welfare, both in Australia and overseas, including a 2011 Four Corners investigation into the treatment of Australian cattle, and a 2006 Animals Australia investigation into Egyptian slaughterhouse malpractice.

PETA’s Emma Hurst says that the Australian government has had ample opportunity to create meaningful action.

“A 2011 exposé by Four Corners revealed that the eyes of Australian cows exported to Indonesia were gouged out, and their limbs were cut open while they were still conscious. A joint investigation in 2006 by PETA and Animals Australia documented that workers in an Egyptian slaughterhouse stabbed Australian cows, gouged their eyes out, and disabled them by slashing their leg tendons,” Hurst said.

“After every high-profile incident politicians have expressed concern and then taken no meaningful action at all”.

Does the industry has any control over slaughterhouse malpractice in foreign importing countries?

AALE’s Aimee Weir certainly doesn’t think so: “There’s no way we can have eyes on what’s happening to our animals once they reach their destination country,” she said.

“No matter what the Australian government says, we have absolutely no control over what other countries do. We simply don’t have the legal jurisdiction”.

It’s reasonable to say that Australians are out of touch with the live export process.

“The live export industry operates on a lack of transparency; it’s completely hidden from the public,” said Mrs Weir.

“In terms of factory farming and live export, the common person thinks Australia has high welfare standards for animals – it couldn’t be further from the truth,” she concluded.

Looking to the future, Emma from World Animal Protection believes the live export trade isn’t the only option for the Australian meat industry.

“We’re calling on the government to grow the more humane chilled and frozen meat industry in place of live export,” Emma said.

“Transitioning to the chilled meat trade would ensure that animals are slaughtered and processed in Australia under our regulations, and protected from arduous sea voyages and inhumane slaughter overseas”.

Thanks for reading,

Liv x

For The Love Of Meat?

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“I had no idea that there were any environmental factors that were damaging in meat production”

“It’s disturbing”

“No one thinks about that sort of thing”

“That picture is far from the supermarket”

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These were some of the responses after witnessing the extent of land clearing for cattle farming in central Queensland, Australia. Approximately 40 football fields worth of land are cleared for cattle grazing, every single hour.

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Matthew takes to the street to ask people some questions. Were you aware of land clearing? “Somewhat. But not to that extent.”

Food critic and gourmet farmer Matthew Evans takes a fresh look at Australia’s insatiable appetite for meat, and what it is doing to the environment, our health, and the animals themselves.

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Watch Here – SBS On Demand.

SBS’s For The Love Of Meat (episode 3) follows a single cow through the process of grazing, rapidly growing and being carved up for cuts of meat. Along the way, Evans finds out some shocking facts about how damaging beef production is to the environment.

Worldwide, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average person consumes 34 kilograms of meat per year.

This following stat shocked me.

In Australia, the average person consumes 90 kilograms of meat per year, thus crowning Australia as the second largest meat consuming nation on the planet (behind the USA).

So what exactly is our love for beef doing to the environment? Well, it isn’t good. Firstly, more than half of Australia’s land is used for grazing livestock. That’s an insane amount of land being used for our lazy day BBQ’s and weekly dose of spaghetti bolognese.

Most of the debris from land clearing is burnt, which has consequently doubled Queensland’s greenhouse gas emissions since 2011. Not good. Furthermore, 600 Aussie animal species are suffering as a result of extensive land clearing. Okay, still not good. Lastly, due to the spread of cattle grazing, polluted streams of Queensland are leading to the demise of our oceans, but more specifically, our already suffering Great Barrier Reef. Definitely not good.

However, there are some viable solutions to the growing concern of animal agriculture sustainability within Australia. It all comes down to simple education and a willingness to change our habits.

Solution One. Lead a more plant based diet.

You’ll notice that I put ‘more’ in italics. This is because for many people, cutting out meat entirely isn’t an option. But, there is no excuse not to try. It’s not about cutting it out entirely, it’s about being aware of the process and reducing our overall intake (at least to match the average of the rest of the world, come on guys).

Here are some quick stats from the CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences Research Centre.

Lentils and bread produce 1kg of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) for every 1kg of product.

Chicken, 3kg of GHG’s for every 1kg. Pork, 6kg for every 1kg.

Lastly, Beef produces a whopping 25kg of GHG’s for every 1kg produced.

This takes into consideration all parts of the process. So, you can see that cutting out weekly portions of meat will make a difference.

Solution Two. Nose to tail philosophy.

Ever heard of it? The nose to tail philosophy basically encourages the utilisation of the whole animal. It urges us to respect the deceased animal’s life, which echoes the Native American practice of hunting buffalo in a sacred manner to feed a whole tribe, while wasting little of the animal in the process.

Some of the most in demand cuts of beef are also the smallest parts, such as rib eye and scotch fillet. From a 500kg cow, roughly 4kg’s of rib eye is produced. That’s a crazy amount of waste when the majority of the other parts are ignored, such as the liver and kidneys, or offal. Interestingly, Nutritionist Karen Inge believes that offal contains a higher amount of iron, zinc and essential vitamins compared to the actual flesh.

Again, it’s about eating smart and eating for the planet. I believe that as a society, we are quite disconnected from where our food comes from, especially meat. If we all took some time to educate ourselves and consider the long term implications, we may be able to reverse some of the incredibly damaging effects of animal agriculture.

Please watch Matthew Evan’s For The Love Of Meat. You won’t regret it!

Thanks for reading,

Liv x