Australia Live Export Laws

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Brief Summary of Live Export Laws in Australia
Jordan Sosnowski (2013)

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’ ( ). It remains to be seen whether the recent overhaul of the live export legislation will translate to any tangible welfare outcome for animals.



Overview of Australia Live Export Laws
Jordan Sosnowski (2013)

When one thinks of the Australian outback, the image of wide open and green pastures comes to mind, with cattle roaming freely and an Aussie farmer sitting on his porch with a cup of tea, his canine companion asleep at his feet. The farmer's sheep and cattle are eventually mustered, packed onto trucks or trains and taken to a sea port. They are then ushered on to boats and cramped living quarters, where they will spend up to 35 days. Once arriving in Asia or the Middle East, they will spend 48 hours without food or water to meet weight and trade requirements. Finally, they are taken to the abattoir and slaughtered, often while still fully conscious. While Australia promotes the use of stunning prior to slaughter, a humane death is far from guaranteed in export countries. Once the animals are on foreign soil, there is little that can be done by the Australian Government to ensure animals are treated humanely.

Australians care deeply about the welfare of animals. A recent survey showed that 74% would vote for a political candidate if they promised to end the live export trade (See Voiceless report). While Aussie farmers also care about the treatment of their livestock, it is however, not likely that they would be inclined to vote this way, as the live export trade generates approximately $996.5 million for the Australian economy (see the National Farmers' Federation website). While Australian farmers condemn the cruel treatment of Australian sheep and cattle, they continue to support the live export trade.

On 30 May 2011, the live export trade in Australia was suspended for three months after the release of shocking reports of animal abuse in Indonesian abattoirs. A new regime, the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme ('ESCAS') was then introduced in order to combat the regulatory problems with the live export trade.

Animal activist and welfare organisations in Australia have called for an outright ban of the live export trade. Supporters of the ban claim that live export could be phased out and replaced by the frozen or chilled meat industry.  This would primarily ensure that animals were killed within Australia and therefore subject to Australian animal welfare laws.  In contrast, Australian farmers claim that the Middle East and Asian markets prefer freshly slaughtered meat and therefore the meat processing industry would not sufficiently replace the financial gain currently obtained from the live export trade.

The legislation governing the live export regime is complex, spanning Commonwealth and state legislation, as well as Industry Codes of Practice and Memorandums of Understanding between export countries and Australia. The regime has become more stringent after a 2003 government-commissioned report ('the Keniry Report') suggested that there were widespread and systemic problems within the industry. Before then, live export was predominantly governed by a self-regulatory scheme - that is, industry bodies such as Livecorp and Meat & Livestock Australia regulated and assessed compliance with the scheme.

In the ten years since the Keniry report, there have been significant changes made to the live export regime. Despite this, in May 2013, the trade to Egypt was suspended after footage was obtained showing serious malpractice and cruel treatment towards Australian cattle in Egyptian abattoirs. This was the second time live export to Egypt had been halted, for in 2006 it was banned for four years when footage emerged of cattle having their tendons slashed before being slaughtered. It is unlikely that the ban on live export to Egypt will be lifted until the ESCAS system can be put in place.

While the legislative regime governing live export has been improved in the last few years, it is still in much need of reform if the Australian Government wants to take the issue of animal welfare seriously.

Related articles

New! Voiceless Animal Law Toolkit Second Edition (2015)

“Live Animals”: Towards Protection for Pets and Livestock in Contracts for Carriage , Erin Sheley, 3 J. Animal L. 59 (2007).


Related cases

Department of Local Government and Regional Development v Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd ., Western Australia Magistrates Court, 8 February 2008, Magistrate C.P. Crawford.

Animals Australia and Compassion in World Farming conducted an investigation of the voyage of a vessel, the Al Kuwait, from Fremantle, Western Australia to Kuwait. Evidence was obtained showing that a number of sheep were blinded, suffered from broken bones and had other injuries. Proceedings were instituted against the exporter for cruelty to the sheep.

Rural Export & Trading (WA) Pty Ltd v Hahnheuser , Commonwealth of Australia, (2009) 177 FCR 398.

The respondent placed ham in food to be fed to sheep prior to live export. This action resulted in delay of live export and constituted a breach of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) without falling under the defence of 'environmental protection'. The second applicant was entitled to damages from the respondent falling under the following heads: purchasing sheep; transport; killing fees; processing fees; freezer storage fees; cost of resale; and travel expenses.

Related laws

Australia Export Control Act 1982

Australia Meat & Live-stock Act 1997

Related Links

Links in the Web Center:

Kangaroo Culling in Australia Topic Area

Australian Animal Protection Law Journal Page (Vols. 1 -3)

External Links:

Australia Department of Agriculture, Fishiers and Forestry (DAFF) page on live export:

The Keniry Report: a review commissioned by the Australian government to examine the regulatory framework of the live export system, available at .

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