Soul Trade – The case against Live Exports


Words || Satyajeet Marar

I’ve only ever cried once at the end of a movie…

No, it wasn’t Titanic – I was too angry at Kate Winslet for letting Leo slip into deathly arctic depths and 10 years of oscarlessness – that raft was clearly big enough for both of them. It was Marley & Me. I spouted salty waterfalls like a little bitch when the titular dog died…of old age.

There’s almost an instinct to feel extra sad about animal death or cruelty. Maybe it’s our tendency to view animals through an innocent lens – they have no real control over the fates we subject them to. It’s no wonder then that Australia has some of the highest animal welfare and humane slaughter standards in the world. Images of fattened cows grazing on wide, open pastures make us feel less guilty about digging our knives into ravishing sirloin strips dripping in garlic-butter baste.

That’s why the $1.8 billion/year livestock export industry presents a problem. A series of scandals since 2011, revealed cruel and inhumane treatment and slaughter of our sheep and cows in a number of countries and has sparked calls for live animal exports to be banned entirely. To its credit, the government responded with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme, which puts the onus on exporters to account for their client’s compliance with international welfare standards by demonstrating control and traceability through the supply chain. The program even involves industry-approved abattoirs with Aussie staff providing training and support to slaughterhouse technicians and animal handlers we export to.

But it hasn’t been enough. In recent years, shocking instances of cruelty have continued to emerge out of even industry-approved abattoirs in Egypt, Vietnam and other places…

Many exported animals are sold in marketplaces, subject to fully conscious slaughter by inexperienced locals acting for ‘cultural reasons’. Even the livestock industry’s own website acknowledges that animals become the legal responsibility of the importer once they reach their destination – facing penalties and standards only as effective as foreign laws and enforcement practices we have no real control over. If our laws are meant to protect sentient Aussie life, what use are they if circumvented simply by sending said life overseas to an uncertain and potentially grim end that would upset most Australians? Despite widespread and legal yet cruel practices like sledgehammer slaughter in Vietnam, the government remains opposed to ending live export to even specific countries that have no intention of treating our animals the way we would.

The other side to the coin is that the industry employs over 10,000 people in mostly rural or regional areas and accounts for 0.4% of Australia’s economy…

Our farmers remain some of the least subsidised in the developed world and, it has been argued, play an important role in ensuring food and nutrition needs overseas are met through live export. Drastic change could mean the end of the entire industry, potentially putting hundreds of farmers out of business and severely hurting thousands more.

But there are ways around these problems. Banning exports to specific countries rather than phasing the practice out entirely at once will allow the economy and exporters to adjust to the brunt of change whilst giving countries a chance to implement adequate welfare standards themselves. Money spent on soft-power education programs for workers can be spent assisting farmers in transitioning out of a live export-dependent business model. The government can play a role in negotiating treaties or agreements with customer nations, recognising international welfare standards at law rather than simply depending on exporters to largely self-regulate.

You don’t have to sit on a high horse, pretending that we don’t kill animals or that doner kebabs grow on trees, to see that animals have the right to a life as free of pain and suffering as possible.