A year later, is it still ‘A Bloody Business?’

4 June 2012

Written by: Steinar Ellingsen

A year ago, Four Corners’ expose of the live export industry, ‘A Bloody Business,’ horrified Australians, sparking public outrage, and prompting thousands to take to the street to demand an end to the trade. The program was to prove the catalyst for a major shakeup of the industry, when, just six days after the Four Corners program went to air, the Australian Government issued a six month ban on live export to Indonesia.

Now, a year on from the airing of the program that drastically altered public perception regarding Australia’s treatment of its livestock, what has changed?

Australia is currently the largest exporter of sheep and cattle in the world. According to animal welfare organisation, Animals Australia, to date the live trade industry has sent over 160 million animals to slaughter in over a dozen countries where no laws exist to protect them from cruelty. Millions of these animals have not even reached their destination; dying as a result of horrendous conditions onboard these ships.

The Government responded to the allegations of cruelty with the implementation of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), a system that aims to improve industry standards and increase accountability. Exporters are required to comply with the requirements of the ESCAS; following the movement and welfare of every Australian animal from paddock, to boat, to abattoir, ensuring welfare standards are met and maintained.

However, the RSPCA has criticised the ESCAS for ‘clearly failing to protect animals,’ after the ABC’s Lateline revealed cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs to be ongoing, and two Australian companies were found guilty of 37 breaches of the system.

Animals Australia Campaign Director, Lyn White, similarly echoed the sentiments of the RSPCA.  ‘[This reveals] a fatally flawed system that is reliant on irregular third party audits that are paid for by the exporter – this is not an auditing system that can be deemed independent and therefore relied upon,’ Ms. White said.

However, conditions for exported livestock have undoubtedly improved. Animals Australia reports that prior to the Four Corner’s report, and ensuing investigations and campaigns, 95% of Australian animals exported to Indonesia were slaughtered while fully conscious. Today, the majority of exported livestock is stunned prior to slaughter, although the practice has not been made mandatory.  Mark 1 restraint boxes, described by cattle industry advisor Temple Grandin, as ‘[violating] every humane standard there is all around the world,’ have also since been banned.

For animal welfare organisations such as Animals Australia, the campaign will not be considered a success until the live trade industry is completely shut down. Their ultimate goal is to see the export of live Australian animals banned; following the example of nations such as New Zealand, which banned the live export of animals for slaughter in 2003 (although live animals may still be internationally exported for use in breeding programs).

Video’s caption: Animals Australia – 365 days of action in five minutes

Yet while animal welfare groups tirelessly continue their campaign to abolish the industry, many of Australia’s already embattled farmers now find themselves facing bankruptcy, as what was once a lucrative industry struggles to recover from a public relations disaster that has left its public image in ruins.

Last week, Queensland grazier John James related the hardships experienced by these farmers to the ABC, ‘there were people that had thousands of [cattle] mustered and couldn’t even sell them. People do understand that something has to change, but it’s a matter of getting the right people to do it the right way.’

The government is now negotiating with cattle producers, and may face a class action lawsuit demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation, for profits lost as a result of its handling of the export crisis.

So it is, that a year on, we must continue to grapple with the same questions of ethics versus livelihood. Can we as a civilised, first world nation justify our continued participation in the live trade industry? While the situation facing many of our farmers is undoubtable dire, we must be cautious to never accept the inhumane treatment of animals as a means to achieving financial prosperity. Rather we must strive towards supporting a sustainable future for our farmers, while providing a more humane and compassionate welfare system for Australian animals.

Alyce Hogg is studying a Bachelor of Journalism with Honours. You can follow her on Twitter, @alycehogg.