Yep....beef export, not cattle export. Argentina's beef sector will have upgraded processing and cold chain infrastructure under a government initiative that will allow a 33 per cent increase in exports over the next three years to 1.2 million tonnes a year.
Has Australia been left lagging again whilst we cling onto the archaic live ex trade?
The livestock carrier Queen Hind capsized on November 24, 2019, with the loss of around 14,000 sheep. The Romanian government has been accused of silence regarding its investigation into the incident. The Guardian reports: “Romania’s prime minister Ludovic Orban vowed on television last year to end live exports in the “medium-term”. However, since the Queen Hind disaster more than 2 million live animals have been exported from Romania – mostly to north Africa and the Middle East.”
The Guardian contacted the vessel’s management company, MGM Marine Shipping, and reported that a company representative said: “Nothing has changed, I don’t want to talk any more about this vessel – I want to forget about it,” before hanging up.
It seems government and industry are much the same in Romania as they are here in Australia – falsely promising reform when incidents are in the public eye before returning to existing practices and shunning transparency.
A recent analysis by The Guardian indicates that livestock carriers are twice as likely to be lost as cargo vessels. Along with tragedies such as the loss of the Gulf Livestock 1, the safety risks associated with the trade were recently highlighted in Australia when the Barkly Pearl, wallowing heavily with a hole in the hull, limped into Geraldton with 2 tugs assisting in early November.
Now, another incident has occurred. The Nabolsi I is reported to have suffered engine failure en route from Algeria to France. No livestock are reported to be on board the vessel which is now under tow.
Thanks to Covid, no sheep were exported from Australia via sea for the month of October and only 616,843 sheep were exported by sea from Jan 1 to to the end of October, the lowest number on record for many years. In addition to the effect of the Northern summer moratorium, a record 1.5m head of lambs and adult sheep have been transferred to the Eastern States since January 1. Farm Weekly reports that "Due to the increased compliance on live sheep vessels and the unviable nature of the added costs, there are also fewer players operating in the trade on a regular basis." Looks like the price of adequate animal welfare is just too high. Shame.
Barkly Pearl wallowing heavily with a hole in the hull and limped into Geraldton with 2 tugs this afternoon. Fortunately no stock on board to destabilise her any further.....or we would be looking at another live ex disaster!
Industry moans, Govt backs down.....the story of live ex for over 30 years. Despite the recommendations of AVA and other groups, the new Australian Standards for Export of Livestock (ASEL), version 3.0 had only a slight increase in space allowance for cattle. Then on Nov 1, a few days before the implementation date of ASEL 3, DAWR has backed down on even those small improvements and reverted to ASEL 2.3 Why did we bother going through the review process at all one could ask?
Beef Central reports ALEC CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton saying cattle voyages have had excellent outcomes under existing ASEL 2.3 stocking densities and that amending the new ASEL regulations would not be to the detriment of animal welfare given the changes have already been delayed for 12 months and exporter performance has not declined in its absence.
Well the answer is - we wouldnt know the state of animal welfare on these voyages. Very few have vets, and both vets and stockpersons are employed by the exporter anyway. Independent observers were put on board and the Government then not only sanitised but covered up any reports of animal welfare concerns (see the FOI documents from a very routine but low mortality voyage - IO 197). Basically, despite this being hashed out over and over, LOW MORTALITY DOES NOT MEAN LOW SUFFERING. For the ultimate proof, just check IO55 (Shorthorn Express to China) where the animals were food deprived (food ran out) and water deprived (including when they were experiencing severe heat stress) , had pen overstocking, rough seas, an incompetent stockperson and animals killed by the bosun..... yet still had a low mortality voyage. COME ON GUYS....its 2020 and the public are not stupid. High mortality = problems. Low mortality does not equal no problems.
The Beef Central article estimates that the reduced stocking density could have had an economic impact of approximately $40 million to the cattle supply chains in northern Australia, with up to 130,000 less cattle being delivered to South East Asian markets. That's 130,000 less cattle facing stress, injuries, illness and death at the hands of the live export industry.
If you are an ordinary Aussie (or a partner of a stockperson missing after the sinking of a live export ship) coming into Oz from overseas, you have to isolate in a hotel for 2 weeks, but not, it seems, if one is off a live ex ship. The stockperson and the veterinarian from the Al Messilah were allowed to leave the ship to self isolate. The West Australian reported that the stockperson duly drove themself home in their own car to do just that. The vet however was allowed to go from the Port to the Airport and hop on a plane to Sydney....Federal rules apparently state that a 2 weeks ship's journey is fine if no Covid onboard.....(oops.. there was). Interestingly, the Editorial states that the WA rules differ in that that 72h of self-isolation off ships required regardless of the 14 day Federal rule....so clearly Federal trumps State in the case of live ex! Fortunately, both stock personnel have tested negative but some serious questions here.
See also: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-20/two-australians-allowed-to-disembark-covid-ship-fremantle/12785898
See also: https://thewest.com.au/news/coronavirus/coronavirus-two-australian-al-messilah-crew-members-allowed-to-leave-covid-ship-before-outbreak-known-ng-b881697901z
An article in Sheep Central reports on the need for Australia's wool industry to improve its non-mulesed wool rates, noting that consumers are not satisfied with the use of pain relief as an option.
“We’ve seen as recently as last week AWI’s country manager for China Jeff Ma state that the next generation of consumers in China are already asking questions about the provenance of products they buy be it wool or other,” said the president of the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors.
So what if this next generation of Chinese consumers expands their thinking to live ex? They may not be satisfied that partial measures such as lower stocking densities are adequate protection against the cruelty of live export, especially on long voyages through extremes of temperatures with rough seas on ships with no vets, looked after by stockpersons with no formal accreditation. Time to rethink?
Live export volumes to Indonesia are down 15 per cent but Australia's boxed beef exports to Indonesia are steady. And with the new space allowances (ie the marginal 7-15% increase above what cattle have had to endure for the last 40 years required to provide baseline animal welfare), this could decrease further. Add that to the fact that the Indonesian meat processing industry had diversified in response to emerging consumer requirements and price points - an example being mixing beef, chicken and buffalo to produce new processed products, it is clear that Australia should be boxing and/processing meat and doing the value adding here.
RSPCA WA has, responded to WA Farmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington comments that RSPCA should essentially confine itself to dogs and cat shelters stating that this is a simplistic, misinformed and short-sighted view. Mr Whittington seemingly didnt know or forgot that RSPCA WA inspectors conducted more than 6800 animal cruelty in the last financial year alone.
More importantly, the RSPCA points out that Mr Whittington should spend more time listening to the consumers of agriculture - the large majority of whom reside in cities.
Just as a consumer can trust that a restaurant is clean because health inspectors have the ability to inspect a premises unannounced, they should be able to trust that their food is produced under good animal welfare conditions because experienced, knowledgeable and professional animal welfare inspectors have been able to ensure minimum welfare standards are consistently being met.
The RSPCA WA concluded: "When the CEO of their own industry association holds such archaic and outdated views on animal welfare, what chance do they have of convincing their most influential critic, their customers, otherwise?"