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Food animals destined for live export are mustered (often from extensive properties), loaded into trucks or trains and taken to a feedlot (a penned area) for up to a week until there are enough animals to fill a ship. They are then loaded into trucks, transported to the wharf, then loaded onto the ship. Live export voyages may last up to three weeks and animals often experience a range of welfare problems such as inanition (exhaustion from lack of nourishment), salmonellosis, heat stress and pneumonia, all causing high mortality rates on a routine basis.
Once livestock reach their port of destination, those animals that survive and are unloaded are outside the control of Australian law. The Australian Government cannot ensure that exported livestock are slaughtered humanely once they have left Australia. Despite claims by the government and industry that this system protects Australian animals, the reality is that ESCAS does not have legal effect in foreign jurisdictions and the standards it attempts to impose do not reflect the expectations of the Australian public. For instance, the ESCAS does not require animals to be stunned before slaughter. Extensive evidence gathered from importing countries has shown inhumane slaughter and handling practices that would be contrary to Australian laws and standards.
At their destination, exported animals may spend several months at a feedlot for fattening, or may be transported directly to a slaughtering facility. Under the ESCAS the animals are not permitted to be sold to individual buyers, however, ‘leakages’ from approved supply chains are common. Animals that are taken outside approved supply chains are exposed to even greater welfare risks. Evidence has shown that individual buyers in some countries will often transport sheep in car boots and on roof-racks in temperatures that may exceed 40°C. To prevent the sheep from moving their legs are tightly bound together with wire. Cattle have been documented travelling on the back of utility trucks with only a few ropes to prevent them falling off.
Sheep have been shown being herded into a slaughtering facility, and then dragged one by one to the slaughtering area where their throats are cut and they are left to bleed to death over a drain. In some importing countries, cattle have been shown to face even more horrific deaths. In slaughtering halls, they have had their tendons slashed and sometimes their eyes gouged in order to bring them down and, finally, they have their throats cut, often with blunt knives requiring multiple cuts, and are left to bleed to death. Cattle and sheep destined for ‘home slaughter’ are no better off and may face equally cruel slaughtering methods.
In Australia, the slaughter of livestock is strictly regulated. Animals intended for slaughter must first be rendered insensible (stunned), then killed before they can regain consciousness.
The adoption of a chilled and frozen meat-only trade would prevent the suffering inherent in long-distance sea transport and save millions of animals from the cruel fate awaiting them in foreign destinations.