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The politics & ethics of live export

By Sophie Love - posted Tuesday, 4 November 2014

We can be proud that Australians are so horrified by further revelations of horrific cruelty to our live exports. It shows us as the compassionate, caring people we are. And we must applaud the work of the animal activists who have exposed these horrors. But the Live Export issue is a political hot potato and we must tread with caution, especially in an ISIL era of heightened fear and suspicion of Islamic practices and ideals.

The Live export trade is a necessary and lucrative business for Australian farmers and Government and also a mainstay of political goodwill between our nation and others. In 2009 the Live export industry earned $996.5 million and provided employment for approximately 10,000 people in rural Australia.

Improving outcomes for our animals means addressing cultural differences in a diplomatic manner or insisting on humane slaughter here in Australia. But the reality is that there are many nations and people who will not accept that. This is a long game which will take years to resolve satisfactorily. Despite the hysteria it is not practical or appropriate to stop something so big overnight. If we ban live exports, those countries currently importing our livestock will simply source elsewhere or grow their own. We are actually better placed to improve animal welfare by continuing the trade and working closely with the supply chain, tightening loopholes and insisting on the highest standards and treatment at every step. We can work with recipient countries' governments to change attitudes and treatment of animals at purchase and slaughter. We can't do that if we walk away.


Farmers tend to duck at times like this. Frightened of the fracas and the cruel words sprayed around like shotgun fire by people with little understanding of the realities of animal production for human consumption. Most animal activists tend to be vegetarian or vegan which obviously kew their understanding of animals as a protein source for the majority of mankind.

However, their work in exposing atrocities to our animals awakens Australian carnivores' compassion in a huge hue and cry on Social and Mainstream Media. What I find so interesting is that those same people are not more interested in where their meat comes from within Australia. How Australian animals are treated, trucked and killed.

There is plenty of shock value in the images from overseas but day after day Australian animals are trucked huge distances without feed or water to saleyards or abattoirs or new owners. Australian abattoirs are ever fewer and further between and on farm slaughter banned except for own consumption, so travel stress is a given in every animal's life.

Yes, our slaughter practices are among the best in the world, but you only have to take your animals to the abattoir once to understand that mass management of animals in high stress life and death situations is never going to be pretty. Animals are very smart - they know exactly what is going on, and like humans facing death they struggle and try to run from their ultimate reality. Australians need to be far more cognizant of the fact that animals die in their hundreds of thousands every day here in Australia in order to support the Aussie obsession with meat and lots of it.

And what of the lives led by these animals before they die? Chickens raised in huge sheds sickening with the acrid stench of faeces, too big to stand on their own legs, genetically modified to grow to kill weight in a mere 5-7 weeks, as opposed to what is natural - 14-20 weeks. These chickens are sick and stressed and Australians eat them in their millions - 400 million are raised and killed in Australia each year.

But where is the angst about that? Is it ok to be cruel to chickens, but not beef or sheep? Is it OK for Aussies to torture their own animals, but not our trading partners?


What of egg production? Aussies love their super cheap eggs and believe all the spin and pretty pictures on the boxes. But the reality is far from the claims and images at the supermarket fridges - huge stinking sheds of tortured chooks leading miserable lives of imprisonment to provide those eggs. And what of the pigs raised on concrete floors in huge barns, only seeing the light of day for the first time when loaded for the long trip to the slaughterhouse. Pigs and chooks should be free to roam and forage. Where is the outrage and uproar about that?

Hypocrisy is inherent in the human condition. Never more so when it comes to live animals and their welfare and the demand for cheap meat at the supermarket. Before we criticise other religions and races for their handling of our animals, we need to carefully examine our consciences and own backyards. Let every person who feels outrage at the treatment of Australian animals overseas carefully examine their own conscience and where their meat comes from - how and where it is raised and slaughtered and turned into food.

Yes, Australians need to have a conversation about animal welfare. Let's start with our own backyard first.

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About the Author

Sophie Love has been involved in the advertising and media industries since the 1980's 'greed is good' heydays. British by birth, but Australian by choice, she is passionate about this beautiful sunburnt continent and re-connecting Australians to their literal roots - where their food comes from. She runs a farm, a family, and a marketing/design agency. In her free time (!) she likes to put pen to paper and share her thoughts about a wide variety of issues and modern day dilemmas. You can read more at

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