When one is in the business of importing and exporting goods, there can be many legislative and regulatory requirements expected of them. This is even more apt when the goods being exported are live.
‘Live export’ refers to the export of farm animals, usually cattle and sheep, to overseas markets. Australia is the largest exporter of livestock in the world, and the industry earns approximately $996.5 million per year, employing around 10,000 rural and regional Australians.
Over the last decade, the live export industry in Australia has been subject to much political and public scrutiny. Various incidents, documented by undercover animal activists demonstrate widespread animal abuse occurring in overseas abattoirs. There are also various animal welfare concerns expressed by veterinarians, due to the enormous distance animals are made to travel between Australia and exporting markets such as Indonesia and the Middle East. Further problems with live export are inherent in the industry itself, due to the co-regulatory nature of the legislative regime. While the Australian federal government does oversee the licensing of exporters, there is no way of regulating how animals are treated once they are in exporting countries.
When cattle and sheep are slaughtered in Australia, it is mandatory that they are stunned prior to having their throats cut. This effectively means that they are rendered unconscious and insensitive to pain. Some abattoirs can apply to be made exempt from the stunning requirement, when animals are killed for halal and kosher purposes. While Judaism does not approve of any form of pre-stunning to produce kosher meat, an animal that is immobilised before slaughter with a non-penetrative concussive stun has been approved as ‘halal’ by some Muslim authorities. Most halal slaughter in Australia uses this method. However, in overseas abattoirs where animals are shipped for live export, stunning is not a mandatory requirement and occurs rarely.
The issue of animal welfare has led many Australians to question the rationale of live export. Many Australians recently took to the streets in capital cities and protested for a ban on live export. Despite this, the Australian government continues to insist that ‘Australia leads the world in animal welfare practices’ (http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/welfare/export-trade). It remains to be seen whether the recent overhaul of the live export legislation will translate to any tangible welfare outcome for animals.