Two Sides to Every Story: ATA Members Under Attack

08 Mar 2008 11:40 AM | Deleted user
By Cameron Hall, CEO, LiveCorp (Australia)

March 2008

Recently, the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) and the CIWV (Compassion in World Farming) launched a campaign called Handle with Care. Their campaign is focused on what they see as cruel treatment of animals being transported for slaughter.

The global trade of live animals moving to slaughter is “big business” according to this report, and they also state that this transportation is “…clear evidence of the welfare, food safety and meat quality problems it causes.” The WSPA and CIWF point out specific commodities and lane segments including Pigs transported from Canada to Hawaii; Cattle from Brazil to Lebanon; Horses from Spain to Italy; Sheep from Australia to the Middle East; Goats from Colombia to South America; as well as Chickens spreading Bird Flu in Thailand.

The report has quite a few flaws (in the opinion of most AATA members) and we asked the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Cameron Hall of LiveCorp in Australia (an AATA member) to help us address some of misleading statements of their report. LiveCorp is the industry services organisation for the Australian livestock export industry for shipments by sea and air to all markets that Australia services. The main tasks of LiveCorp relate to market and trade access, in-market technical advice, training and education, R&D, management of relationships with key stakeholders including government both in Australia and overseas and most importantly the continual improvement of animal welfare management across the chain before, during and after shipment. Mr. Hall is very knowledgeable and his company has worked diligently to improve the transport process, as well as investing heavily in training all groups involved in the movements. We posed the following questions to Mr. Hall.

1. Are the complaints of the campaign justified?

No. Everyone involved in the Australian livestock export industry cares deeply about animal welfare - from the farms where our animals are raised, to the ships they are transported on and the overseas countries where they are sold.

The fact is that animal rights extremists continue to ignore the facts about the livestock export industry, which are detailed below.

Many livestock exporters, haulers, forwarders, etc. are members of the Animal Transportation Association (AATA) and are dedicated to improving the welfare of animals in transport. Only unlicensed and unscrupulous companies are engaged in this type of abuse, but you cannot paint the entire industry with one broad stroke. It’s 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.

2. How widespread are such abuses?

The Australian livestock export industry does not tolerate any form of animal abuse.

The industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world, and is subject to strict regulatory requirements developed to ensure the wellbeing of Australian animals exported to overseas markets.

Australia is also recognised as having the world’s best standards for livestock export, with the industry committed to providing the highest standards of care for the animals we export overseas.

All livestock 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, 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, the industry employs trained and accredited stockmen to accompany all voyages, and AQIS-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 trucks driven by drivers that have been trained to ensure a smooth ride for our animals. 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 weren’t for Australian livestock, these families would have no access to affordable red meat protein.

Australia also invests heavily in improving standards of animal care in the countries we export to, in particular countries throughout the Middle East. This work is detailed below.

Additionally, countries such as the United States, Canada, Mexico and others work hard to instil good policy and good training / techniques to ensure animals are handled and transported humanely. There are many AATA members who are devoted to improving the welfare of the slaughter animals while in transport or at the farm.

3. What progress has been achieved in recent years?

The Australian livestock export industry recognises the importance of research and development in improving its standards and practices, and invests A$1.6 million each year in a comprehensive range of R&D projects which range from studies onboard livestock vessels to research on animal care once Australian animals arrive overseas.

Animal welfare is an over-arching consideration in the industry’s R&D program. In 2006-07, 41% of the R&D budget was spent on livestock management and welfare. In 2007/08 this is planned to increase to 52%.

R&D has been a major contributor to achieving improved export success rates, which now exceed 99% of all animals exported. Success rates have improved consistently over the past ten years due to industry’s high level of investment, as well as its commitment to continuous improvement. This commitment continues today, with industry striving to ensure its success rates increase each year.

Key outcomes delivered over the past five years as 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 we export to, particularly in the Middle East, and we are seeing real improvements from this work. A $1.75-2 million is invested into programs supporting the improvement of animal welfare in the livestock export process chain.

The Australian animal welfare specialists employed by industry in the Middle East region provide practical training to veterinarians, stockmen, feedlot operators on how to work with Australian animals. These representatives travel to each importing country in the Middle East to work with people on the ground.

Industry also 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.

This investment and training is delivering real improvements including:

- An improved understanding among stockmen, feedlot operators and others throughout the supply chain of how to work with Australian sheep, which are not domesticated like local Middle Eastern sheep and therefore need to be handled differently.

- Improvements in the way animals are being handled while being unloaded from ships, leading to shorter unloading times so that sheep are in feedlots with feed and water much quicker than previously. This improved rate is a direct consequence of teaching local stockmen techniques to work with the animal’s natural behaviour, providing a more efficient and less stressful process for the animals.

- Improvements in feedlot management including access to cool water, feed, and shaded pens. For example, in Doha industry facilitated the implementation of water chilling facilities to ensure sheep had constant access to cool water. Industry also advised and assisted in changing the feedlot’s infrastructure to replace solid walls with rails, increasing airflow through the feedlot.

While these improvements are very positive, industry acknowledges that there is still more to be done to improve animal handling practices and is committed to continuing its involvement in the region to make long term improvements.

4. Does it make economic or ethical sense to end the trade in live animals?

Absolutely not. A cessation of the trade would have disastrous effects both ethically and economically.

Australia is the only country that invests in improving animal welfare standards in the countries we export to, and our training activities in the Middle East are playing an important part in improving global animal welfare standards.

As a developed nation we have a duty of care to help less developed nations improve their awareness and commitment to the importance of animal welfare. Walking away from the trade now undefined as activists are demanding undefined would mean turning our backs on this responsibility.

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, as explained in the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) report on live animal exports released in Australian 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, the trade would not be replaced by the chilled trade. Instead, livestock would be sourced from other countries undefined such as Sudan, Somalia and Iran undefined 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.

The Australian livestock export industry is an integral part of the national cattle and sheep industries, contributing A$1.8 billion to the Australian economy each year and employing 13,000 Australians.

An independent report completed by Hassall and Associates in 2006 titled “The Live Export Industry: Value, Outlook and Contribution to the economy” found that a closure of the livestock export trade in cattle and sheep would cause an ongoing reduction in the GVP (Gross Value of Production) of Australia’s sheep and beef cattle industries in the order of $550 million per annum. This loss is a 6% reduction in the gross value of the entire cattle and sheep meat industries (ABS 2005).

Further, many regions that benefit from the livestock export trade do not have ready access to alternative markets for livestock, and any reduction in the trade would impact directly on farm income.

A further independent report commissioned by Meat & Livestock Australia and LiveCorp and released in August 2007 undefined Assessing the Value of the Livestock Export Industry to Regional Australia undefined examined the five regions most reliant on the industry undefined the Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and the northern and southern regions of Western Australia.

The Report found that during 2006 the industry contributed $0.83 billion to regional economies and generated employment for over 11,000 Australians in these areas, underpinning the economic activity and social wellbeing of large slices of rural and remote Australia.

Employment figures include farming families, indigenous landowners, exporters, stockmen, road transport providers, dockside workers and other service providers such as veterinarians and fodder suppliers. A closure of the trade would have a devastating effect on everyone involved in the trade.

Conclusion by AATA President, Lisa Schoppa:

It’s important to note that many of these animal rights’ campaigns are based on isolated incidents that are over dramatized and sensationalized to feed on the sensitivity of the public. Many of these campaigns are not about improving animal welfare but about raising funds and awareness of the groups involved. 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 AATA has great respect for the organizations involved in this campaign, we would call on them to address the evidence factually and not through the use of sensationalized videos that serve to scare the general public and not educate. We urge the WSPA and CIWF to join us and work with us throughout the world to effect real change in policy and in how animals are transported and handled, and to hold our AATA members as models of how to transport animals, regardless of the mode of transport.

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