ONCE again, the shipping industry and its suppliers are taking a beating. This time from animal rights campaigners over livestock transport, a business worth billions of dollars.
More than 1m live animals are transported every week, so it would be surprising if there were no abuses, but the mainstream industry insists the trade is carried out in the most caring way possible.
To shed more light on this, one of the issues that arouses most passion in the general public over the behaviour of shipping and related industries, Lloyd’s List enlisted more information on both sides of the row, in which the talking is blunt.
A reinvigorated rights lobby claims: “In the time it takes you to read this sentence, thousands of animals will begin cruel and unnecessary journeys round the globe.”
The Handle With Care group, a coalition of animal welfare groups, shot undercover video footage claiming to show what it fears may be typical ill-treatment of live cargoes. It argues that, as it is 125 years since the New Zealand ship Dunedin initiated the trade in frozen meat, these days “no animal should suffer the cruelty of long distance transport, just to be slaughtered at the journey’s end”.
Launching a well-publicised campaign, members of the group, some dressed in rather cute white Friesian cow costumes, took their battle bus to Trafalgar Square and other prime locations to spread their filmed evidence and collect signatures petitioning for a ban on the trade.
Just as implacable in defence of what is said to be a largely responsible trade are ship operators, airlines, insurers, livestock exporters and importers, government agencies, and many veterinarians.
The issue is an especially hot topic in Australia, the leading exporter of live animals, and the government of Kevin Rudd has promised to monitor the trade and work hard to improve animal welfare.
But what is the truth? If only, like Doctor Dolittle, we could talk to the animals, and then pigs and cattle, sheep, horses and chicks could join in our debate.
Claims of stress and exhaustion
LONG distance transport of animals is “beyond cruelty and beyond reason”, according to the Handle With Care animal welfare coalition of campaigners who have demanded action to curb the “cruel and unnecessary” shipment of millions of live animals around the world for slaughter, writes James Brewer.
The group includes the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and its campaign is particularly targeted at Brazil, Australia, the US, Spain, the UK and Italy.
Campaigners want stricter labelling to help consumers choose meat from animals slaughtered close to where they are reared, and pressure put on countries such as Australia that ship massive numbers of animals abroad each year.
Although strongly disputed by industry opponents, the coalition alleges that 8%-10% of animals die in the shipping process. They spend 16-18 days at sea, bruising and breaking bones, en route from Australia to Beirut, for example, to be killed at destination.
Animals are said to be subject to stress and exhaustion, rough handling, hunger and thirst, extreme temperatures and unsanitary conditions.
“We already have the technology to transport fresh chilled and frozen meat, and the science to prove the welfare benefits of local, humane slaughter,” argues the campaign. It has been claimed that transport of live animals saved on the cost of refrigeration, but a lot more meat equivalent could be packed into containers. The campaign points out that 85% of all Australian abattoirs now have a halal licence.
“Thousands of animals die en route from disease, heat exhaustion, hunger and stress. The others escape the intolerable conditions only to confront, immediately, the butcher’s knife.”
A secretly shot video released by the campaign “reveals the horror of five particularly gruesome journeys”. Australia, the world’s largest exporter of live animals, sends more than 4m live sheep every year to the Middle East.
Shipped in cramped, poorly lit dens, the journey takes 32 days. Three sheep are crammed per square metre in the ship’s hold, causing many of the animals to die of suffocation before arriving at their destination.
Those sheep that do arrive are fattened before being killed in accordance with Halal butchery laws.
“Animals are shipped from one side of the world to the other for slaughter so that producers can charge higher prices by fraudulently claiming the meat was locally sourced,” the campaign argues.
Human health is also said to be at risk because animals can help spread deadly diseases such as bird flu.
Handle With Care has identified four of what it describes as the worst routes:
- Sheep from Australia to the Middle East. “More than 30,000 die annually on the journey which can take three weeks.”
- Cattle from Brazil to Lebanon. “Cattle can spend three to four days without food and water on road transporters before arriving at the port for shipment. They are herded into overcrowded holds where 10% will die during the 18-day sea journey.
- Horses from Spain to Italy. Some 100,000 horses are transported every year to Italy where they are slaughtered for food. “Lorries are supposed to transport about 16-18 horses at a time in individual stalls but often 25-30 are packed in for distressing journeys.”
- Pigs from Canada to Hawaii. “Pigs reared in extremely low temperatures in Alberta are moved on overcrowded trucks to California before being shipped to Hawaii. Forced to endure extreme temperatures lying in their own waste, many die from stress during the seven-day journey. Those that survive are then slaughtered and their meat sold as ‘Island Produced Pork’.”
The coalition says campaigns in the 1990s led to a huge fall in the number of live animals sent for export from the UK. In 1995, 2m sheep and lambs and 500,000 calves were exported. By 2007 the numbers had tumbled to 80,000 sheep and lambs and 70,000 calves. The coalition is demanding a stricter enforcement of EU laws governing the live transport of animals and hopes existing laws will be strengthened when they come up for review in 2009.
Isolated incidents are not the norm
“THE trade is not cruel and industry condemns any cruelty, without reservation,” insists Lisa Schoppa, president-elect of the Animal Transportation Association, writes James Brewer.
The association was founded in 1976 in response to the concerns of industry leaders, government officials and humane association representatives. Its overriding aim is to encourage organisations to develop best practice for animal transport.
A pamphlet aimed at dispelling ‘myths’ declares: “It is certainly not in the interests of exporters for animals to be mistreated or to die in transit.
“Exporters are paid on total live weight or total number of animals discharged from a vessel at port of destination. It is in the exporters’ interest to ensure that all stock paid for prior to embarkation in Australia are in the same, if not better, condition when delivered. Animals onboard ship are well cared for. The animal housing section of livestock ships must conform to very detailed specifications laid down in Marine Orders undefined Part 43, the controlling order of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.”
Any voyage with “higher than acceptable” mortalities is fully investigated by the authorities.
According to Livecorp, the industry body owned and funded through contributions by livestock exporters, complaints from Handle With Care are completely unjustified.
“It is important to note that many of these animal rights campaigns are based on isolated incidents that are over-dramatised and sensationalised to feed on the sensitivity of the public,” Livecorp says.
“Many of these campaigns are not about improving animal welfare but about raising funds. The public needs to be more discerning about the facts and understand the whole issue. The benefits, both ethically and economically, to the general public are of great value.
“While the ATA has great respect for the organisations involved in this campaign, we would call on them to address the evidence factually and not through the use of sensationalised videos that serve to scare the general public and not educate.
“We urge our partners to join us and work with us throughout the world to effect real change in policy and in how animals are transported and handled.”
A healthy animal travelling in a safe and comfortable environment with adequate food and water supplies also poses a significantly lower risk to underwriters providing cover against the event of death in transit.
For this reason, when underwriting a transport risk, insurers will take great care in ensuring that reputable shippers are used, high animal welfare standards are adhered to and that, among other aspects, suitable and appropriate equipment is available, correct licensing has been obtained and handlers with adequate expertise and experience in transporting the type of animal or animals being insured are involved.
“As a company, we have a vested interest in the transportation of animals to high standards of animal welfare, not only as our personal preference, but also as the best risk management tool,” explains Crowe Livestock Underwriting’s assistant underwriter, Suzy Stennett, who has recently been elected onto the board of directors at ATA.
“Only unlicensed and unscrupulous companies are engaged in this type of abuse, but you cannot paint the entire industry with one broad stroke. It is important to know that there are a great many of us working to ensure proper policies are in place to prevent these unscrupulous companies from continuing to wreak havoc on this industry.”
The industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world, argues Livecorp, and it is subject to strict regulatory requirements developed to ensure the well-being of Australian animals exported to overseas markets.
Australia has the world’s best standards for livestock export, and the industry insists it is committed to providing the highest standards of care for animals exported overseas.
According to LiveCorp, all vessels transporting livestock from Australia are clean, modern and operate under the highest standards in the world. Australian animals are well cared for onboard these vessels, having enough room to move around and lie down, and access the constantly available food and water. Each vessel also has ‘hospital pens to provide extra care for any animals that need it. In addition, theindustry employs trained and accredited stockmen to accompany all voyages, and Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service-accredited veterinarians to accompany all voyages to the Middle East.
Once Australian animals arrive at their destination they are held in feedlots where they have constant access to cool fresh water, nutritious feed and shade. They are cared for by stockmen trained by the Australian livestock export industry on how to best care for Australian animals.
Most of these animals are then transported to processing facilities on quality trucks, driven by drivers who have been trained to ensure a smooth ride for. Other animals are transported to local markets where they are sold to communities and families that do not have access to refrigeration to store chilled meat.
If it were not for Australian livestock, these families would have no access to affordable red meat protein.
The Australian livestock export industry highlights the importance of research and development in improving its standards and practices, and invests A$1.4m ($129,000) each year in a range of R&D projects.
In 2006-2007, 41% of the R&D budget was spent on livestock management and welfare. In 2007-2008 this is planned to increase to 52%.
Key outcomes delivered over the past five yearsas a result of R&D also include minimising the risk of heat stress onboard ships, minimising the risks of disease during livestock export and developing a best practice guide for veterinary drugs during livestock export.
Industry also invests both money and human resources into improving animal welfare outcomes in the countries it exports to, particularly in the Middle East.
Industry funds and implements upgrades to infrastructure, such as feedlots, abattoirs and port facilities in the Middle East and Asia, and establishes joint initiatives with local governments in these regions to improve animal welfare. In addition, industry also provides regular inspection and assessment of facilities including ships, ports, trucks, abattoirs and feedlots, as well as assisting with the unloading of Australian animals from vessels.
Claims made by activists that Australia should walk away from the trade and replace it with the chilled meat trade are short-sighted and unrealistic, according to a report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics on live animal exports released in Australia on 27 February 2008.
According to the report “any restrictions on this trade from Australia are expected to have an adverse impact on the industry as the importing countries would source livestock from competing markets rather than substantially altering their demand for beef, veal or sheep meat”.
As the report confirmed, if Australia stopped supplying livestock to the Middle East it would not be replaced by the chilled trade. Instead, livestock would be sourced from other countries - such as Sudan, Somalia and Iran - that do not share Australia’s commitment to animal welfare, and global standards would suffer. “We are part of the animal welfare solution. If we are not involved in the trade, we are simply powerless bystanders.”
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This article appeared in Lloyd's List on March 28 2007. For more information visit www.lloydslist.com