Animals Australia seeks to bring livestock transporters to justice
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:
MELBOURNE, SYDNEY–Ob-taining Australian Quarantine &
Inspection Service reports on five 2006 shipments of live sheep and
cattle to the Middle East through the national Freedom of Information
Act, Animals Australia on August 22 charged two shippers with
violating the Western Australia Animal Welfare Act.
Animals Australia executive director Glynis Oogjes warned
that live exports from Tasmania might “be a potential breach of the
Tasmanian Animal Welfare Act,” and asked the Australian Government
to prosecute live exporters for “numerous examples of breaches of the
Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock,” documented by the
“We provided the material to the Melbourne Age, and it is in
the paper,” Oogjes e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Full details of the
high mortality shipments are now available on the Animals Australia
website,” Oogjes added.
“The AQIS reports on the two worst incidents–the deaths of
1,683 sheep during a shipment from Tasmania to the Middle East in
February 2006, and 247 cattle enroute to the Middle East in October
2006–reveal non-compliance with live export standards,” Oogjes
Winning access to the AQIS reports required a struggle that
was in itself newsworthy, wrote Sydney Morning Herald
freedom-of-information editor Matthew Moore.
“It’s four years since the Common-wealth Government held an
inquiry following the outcry that erupted when Saudi Arabia left
50,000 sheep stranded on a ship, claiming they were infected with
scabby mouth,” Moore recalled. “The report prompted by that voyage,
called the Keniry Livestock Export Review, was one of several
inquiries designed to improve the care of animals in Australia’s
lucrative livestock export industry.
“If you search the copy of the Keniry Review on the
Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry website,” Moore
continued, “you will see the word ‘transparent’ comes up nine times.
Search for ‘transparency’ and you’ll find six more mentions, many of
them among the recommendations to the then Agriculture minister,
However, Moore wrote, instead of practicing transparency,
“AQIS originally estimated it would cost $2156 to provide the
documents that Animal Australia sought. Six months of negotiating
brought the price down and finally produced the seven-page report
that Animals Australia sought from the outset.”
An AQIS-accredited veterinarian described bulls becoming lame
after just four days at sea. “Prolonged recumbency and relative
difficulty arising on the abrasive flooring [of the ships’ decks] can
cause skin damage which becomes infected because of the wet
conditions,” the vet summarized. “Once infected, the cattle spend
an increased time recumbent. The cause of death is septicemia.”
Other causes of transport death included a ship with 71,309
sheep and 320 cattle running low on feed, and goats dying of heat
stress when a sailing was delayed by a credit dispute.
Halal is alternative
The most intensive coverage of Animals Australia’s attempted
prosecution of live transporters came from Lorna Edwards of the
Melbourne Age, who had just concluded a series of articles exploring
controversies over halal slaughter as practiced in Australia–the
alternative to live shipment, if Australia is to keep Middle Eastern
meat market share.
Australian animal advocates have argued for more than 30
years that the live export trade should be replaced by the export of
frozen carcasses–but establishing the frozen carcass trade, now
rapidly growing after a slow start, has required demonstrating to
skeptical Middle Eastern buyers that Australian slaughterhouses are
capable of killing animals by the halal method required by literal
interpretations of Islam.
Done with a knife, halal slaughter is similar to kosher
slaughter, required to ship frozen carcasses to Israel.
Traditionally, pre-stunning is not allowed in either halal or kosher
“The Australian standard for religious slaughter, which
varies from traditional practice, requires sheep to be stunned with
an electric charge immediately before their throats are cut for halal
meat, and immediately after for kosher meat,” Edwards explained on
August 3, 2007. “Some Middle Eastern markets will not accept meat
unless it is slaughtered using the traditional method.”
The issue arose when Royal SPCA president Hugh Wirth asked
the Victorian Department of Primary Industries to investigate the
practices of Midfield Meats in Warrnambool to see if the company’s
methods violate the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Australian
agriculture minister Peter McGauran announced a review of the ritual
slaughter regulations after learning that Midfield Meats and three
slaughterhouses in Victoria state, located at Kyneton, Carrum and
Geelong, have operated without pre-stunning for as long as 18 years,
through special agreements with inspectors.
The four companies together kill about 50,000 sheep per year,
less than 3% of the total Australian mutton trade.
Fletcher International Exports owner Roger Fletcher, whose firm
sells halal meat to 95 nations, told Edwards that slaughtering
without electrical stunning “is undesirable not only because of
animal cruelty issues, but because it slows productivity and creates
workplace health and safety concerns.”
The three Fletcher slaughterhouses kill up to 90,000 sheep
and lambs a week.