The Flip Side of Animal Export


Stop Live Animal Export Now
by Lisa Chalk


Save Our Cattle Export Industry
by Don Heatley, Cattle Producer

Please note: content in this opinion piece may be distressing for younger readers.

The live animal export trade is opposed by every animal protection group in the world because of the inherent cruelty and suffering involved. Cattle, sheep and goats are forced to endure the risks and stresses of lengthy sea journeys just to be slaughtered when they reach importing countries. Unlike in Australia, the vast majority of animals exported overseas are not stunned unconscious prior to slaughter – so they feel the pain of the throat cut and experience a prolonged death.

Image courtesy of Tom Jervis.

Over the past three decades, Australia’s live export industry has shipped over 100 million animals to countries where laws do not protect them from cruelty. In addition to this, millions of animals have died on ships before even reaching their destination.

There are risks inherent to the long distance transport of animals that can never be overcome.  Heat and weather episodes, mechanical breakdowns and trade disputes have all led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals over the history of the trade. However, sheep in their hundreds die on each and every ship that leaves Australia. They suffer from heat stress, illness and starvation from failing to eat the unfamiliar feed on board. Their deaths are factored into the economics of this trade; they are considered an acceptable part of daily business.

For those that survive the sea journey, their ordeal has really just begun. Animals Australia has been documenting the treatment of Australian animals in importing countries for the past decade. Evidence gathered has consistently revealed animals being handled, transported and slaughtered in the most appalling way. Animals Australia’s investigations have exposed terrible abuse of sheep, with animals routinely being dragged, thrown, trussed with rope and shoved into car boots and even tied to roof racks to be transported for home slaughter. Our first investigation in Egypt revealed that the routine method of disabling cattle prior to slaughter was to cut their leg tendons to bring them down for the throat cut. Australia’s live export industry admitted knowledge of these practices, yet trade was only stopped to Egypt after our investigation was made public.

Image courtesy of the RSPCA, QLD

Animals Australia’s 2011 investigation in Indonesia, which was featured on ABC’s Four Corners program, uncovered some of the worst abuses ever documented in the live export trade. Much of the cruelty against Australian cattle was being facilitated by Australian industry-designed and installed restraint boxes, which have now been banned after being condemned by world experts as being cruel and inhumane. Once again, Australia’s live export industry had proved its willingness to supply animals to a country where there have been proven instances of cruel treatment– with nearly five million cattle having been exported to Indonesia over the past decade.  

Amidst calls from Australians to end the live export trade, the Gillard Government took unprecedented action to regulate the industry; requiring animals to be traceable right up until the point of slaughter. While this new system of regulation is welcome, the very nature of this trade means animals exported live will always be at risk. Unfortunately, these changes still don’t require exported animals to be stunned unconscious before slaughter and the lack of animal cruelty laws in most importing countries means that animals will continue to be subjected to abuse.

Live export is defended on the basis of economics and job creation but both these arguments are flawed and easily disputed.

Australia exports halal-certified meat to every country we send live animals to, with our chilled and frozen meat exports worth some $5 billion more to the economy than live animal exports. Importing countries have shown an increasing willingness to take meat over live animals; indeed, in 2010, sheep meat exports to the Middle East were worth $113 million more than live sheep exports to that region.

Contrary to industry claims - live export is a job killer, not a job creator - with unions attributing the loss of some 40,000 jobs in our meat processing sector to unfair competition with the live trade for animals. The industry also insists that 13,000 rural jobs depend on live export but the majority of these jobs would still exist if all those animals were processed in Australia, in fact jobs would be created through increased domestic processing.

The industry’s key public relations defence is that by being in importing countries they can improve welfare, however, it is only since Animals Australia began exposing cruelty that this has been suggested. Certainly in Indonesia, where the level of Australian industry involvement had been greater than in any other country, the abuse of Australian animals was not only routine, but it was being facilitated by equipment installed by the Australian live export industry.

Ultimately, live export is cruel and unnecessary. Exporting animals over long distances – exposing them to all the risks of lengthy sea voyages - just to be slaughtered at the other end can never be ethically justified. Sending them to countries where there are no laws to protect them from cruelty is simply immoral. When we abandon them we abandon our ethical principles and mar Australia’s international reputation as a decent and caring nation.


My name is Don Heatley and I am the fifth generation of my family to produce beef cattle as food for Australian and international consumers. I would like to describe for you, a little more about my life.

Part of my business involves cattle being shipped to overseas countries, as a source of food and employment for millions of people who cannot afford to purchase expensive chilled beef, as we do in Australia.

The live export trade has been unfairly described by those who oppose it, as cruel and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the facts, as opposed to emotion, are available to prove it.

Australian cattlemen love their livestock and spend a life time safeguarding their welfare and if acts of cruelty do occur, we are as disappointed as the public and will develop systems to prevent it happening again.

Let me describe the system of live exporting from Australia to countries all over the world.

Cattle and sheep are raised on properties in the natural environment of the Australian bush, until they reach a weight which is suitable to an importing country. Cattle will not leave the property if they are unhealthy or do not meet the protocols of the importing country. At this point they are transported to a depot, where they are again checked for suitability to make the sea journey.

Once onboard ship, accredited stockmen offer a continuous ration of fresh feed and water. A veterinary surgeon travels on every ship to maintain 24 hour health management for all cattle. This system actually allows cattle to gain weight during the voyage, and on ship mortalities are actually lower than Australian paddock mortalities.

These stockmen and veterinarians walk many kilometres every day to clean cattle pens, to observe and to check on the well being of the cattle. There are special pens set aside on every ship which can be used by the veterinarian to treat an animal if it is hurt or unwell. As a result of all this constant attention, the cattle become very quiet and can be scratched and patted by their handlers as they move around the decks.

Ventilation to maintain correct body temperature is extremely important. It may interest you to learn that the volume of air being forced through the decks of a ship, changes more often than it does in a commercial airliner.

On arrival in foreign countries, the cattle are transported to feedlots to continue the process of additional weight gain. After approximately 40-90 days the cattle are moved to an abattoir for processing, with the final product then moving to the "wet market" for sale to consumers. The beef arrives fresh in the market place every day and is consumed on the same day because the majority of people cannot afford refrigeration to store the meat, as we would in Australia.

This supply chain creates employment for thousands of people who would otherwise struggle to find a job and supplies beef in a form that is highly desired by consumers.

It is important to understand that by using this simple supply chain, Australia delivers affordable, high quality red meat protein to the growing millions of people in developing countries around the world. At the same time, the live export trade creates approximately 13,000 jobs and generates $1 billion in export earnings for Australia. It is a winning partnership for all countries concerned and utilises cattle from the very remote regions of Australia where abattoirs do not exist.

Furthermore, if the live export trade was banned, a disastrously oversupplied local market would be the result. Unviable prices would create unacceptable economic hardship for all Australian sheep and cattle producers.