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What happens to livestock that are exported for slaughter overseas?

Article ID: 516
Last updated: 08 Apr, 2018
Revision: 11
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The majority of food animals destined for slaughter overseas are first mustered on their property of origin, then loaded onto livestock trucks, transported to a feedlot or assembly depot, loaded once again onto trucks, transported to the wharf, and loaded onto the ship. Live export sea voyages may last up to 31 days and animals will experience a range of serious welfare problems and high mortality rates on a routine basis. You can read more about the standards on board these vessels here.

Once the vessel arrives in the importing country, they will be subjected to another series of loading, transport and handling events before they are finally slaughtered. The cumulative stress of these events is one of the key animal welfare problems associated with live exports.

When animals arrive in the importing country, they are no longer under the protection of Australian law. However, when livestock are exported for slaughter, the exporting company remains responsible for their welfare under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). The ESCAS was recommended by the 2011 Farmer Review following evidence of cruel animal handling and slaughter practices in Indonesia. The system requires that facilities handling Australian animals meet certain requirements and is designed to monitor the movement of livestock in importing countries so the animals can be traced from export to slaughter.

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 example, 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. The ESCAS also only covers animals destined for slaughter – it does not cover breeder or dairy animals. Furthermore, breaches of ESCAS occur frequently. Since 2012 there have been 149 reported breaches; it is not known how many go unreported.

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 transport sheep in car boots and on roof-racks in temperatures that may exceed 40°C. Sheep have been documented 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.

If you would like to take action on this issue, please visit our live export campaign pages.

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Also read
folder How is the live export trade regulated?
folder Why is the RSPCA opposed to the live export trade?
folder What are the standards of animal welfare onboard live export ships?

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What happens to breeding and dairy cattle exported overseas?       What is the RSPCA doing about transportation of farm animals?