Hasty live sheep policy will cruel all

Live export action looks mighty easy if you're not part of the industry


Agribusiness
Liberal member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, in the House of Representatives in Canberra where she introduced the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018 as a Private Members Bill in the past week.

Liberal member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, in the House of Representatives in Canberra where she introduced the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018 as a Private Members Bill in the past week.

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Synthetic farmers behind parliamentary desks love to tell real farmers how to do it

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In a speech in 1956, former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke about “synthetic farmers behind Washington desks” who love to tell real farmers what to do and how to do it.

“You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field,” he said.

In introducing her private member’s bill earlier this week, Liberal MP Sussan Ley said that “the arguments that people will get the sheep from somewhere else are untrue. The Middle East is moving towards chilled boxed lamb and mutton”.

Yet, the largest importer of Australian live sheep has already indicated his company is looking to find other secure sources of livestock as a result of Australia’s talk of banning the trade.

Osama Boodai, the chief executive officer of Al Mawashi in Kuwait, said the livestock trade was a matter of national food security in his country.

His company already imported large volumes of chilled and frozen Australian meat.

However, these have different markets and will never replace the livestock trade, he said.

“A clear example of this is what we have seen in Saudi Arabia, which ceased importing Australian sheep in 2012,” he said.

“They continue to source millions of livestock each year from other regions. Their demand, like ours, is specifically for live sheep.”

No-one can condone the poor treatment of animals under any circumstances.

However, we don’t ban things outright every time there is an unacceptable outcome, particularly when its someone else’s activity that directly affects then with no effect on us except to feed our personal sense of social justice.

On this issue, like others, speed is not the solution. It’s the problem. - Tim Burrow, Agribusiness Australia

Punishing those who have worked hard to meet and even improve standards, locally and internationally is both unfair and counter-productive.

The failure in this instance has been twofold: the exporter involved, who did not provide conditions that meet acceptable standards; and the regulators, who failed to police the rules.

Tim Burrow

Tim Burrow

Those responsible should be met with the full force of the law – including life-time bans and prison terms if that’s what the penalties include.

However, while rapid action is easier to sell in the 24/7 media cycle, a quick victory for those arguing for a ban on the trade would be a defeat for good policy.

On this issue, like others, speed is not the solution. It’s the problem.

The risks inherent in an immediate and outright ban on the trade are huge.

There is no transition plan on the table, from any side – customers, farmers, other agribusinesses, who rely on this trade for food and sales respectively.

What is the cost of that transition? Who will pay?

As we saw in 2011, such a course of action will be followed by years of bitter argument.

If we ban live exports, the growing international trade will simply move to suppliers in countries with no industry regulators, no animal welfare laws, no oversight, no biosecurity and no way to address any breaches or tragedies when they occur.

Australian agribusinesses (including farmers, exporters, and shippers) have invested huge amounts in improving animal welfare outcomes and we must continue to act as the lead agent for change.

Meanwhile, it is also interesting to note that this week, Australian Agricultural Company, has announced it will mothball its Livingstone beef abattoir near Darwin.

It just goes to show that, despite the assertions of “synthetic farmers”, meat processing in Australia is not for the faint hearted.

  • Tim Burrow is chief executive officer of Agribusiness Australia.

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The story Hasty live sheep policy will cruel all first appeared on Farm Online.

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