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Why is the RSPCA opposed to the live export trade?

The export of live sheep, cattle and goats for slaughter gives rise to serious welfare problems — these relate to the conditions animals experience during the journey itself, resulting in extensive suffering and high death rates, and to the treatment of animals once they reach the importing countries.

The RSPCA’s stated and longstanding policy is to oppose the export of live animals for slaughter. Instead, the RSPCA advocates the further development and adoption of a chilled and frozen meat-only trade. This would mean animals are slaughtered in Australia to Australian animal welfare standards, processed at Australian facilities and then their meat exported.

Farm animals exported from Australia face journeys of up to five weeks from the farm gate to their overseas destination. Prevailing weather conditions and requirements of the importing country can considerably increase the length of the journey. Voyages can subject animals to extreme changes in temperature and humidity, especially during the Middle Eastern summer. The main welfare concerns relate to:

  • transport, handling and holding prior to embarkation
  • stocking densities that prevent animals from comfortably lying down or accessing food and water
  • the conditions animals experience onboard ships, which often result in inanition (failure to eat), salmonellosis, heat stress, pneumonia, and high mortality rates
  • extreme changes in climatic conditions from the farm of origin to the importing country
  • inadequate contingency planning for when animals are rejected at the ports of importing countries
  • poor handling and inhumane slaughter practices in the importing countries.

The RSPCA has long maintained that livestock should be slaughtered as close as possible to the point of production to reduce the stress associated with their transport. The trade in live farm animals from Australia, which requires transporting millions of animals over thousands of kilometres on arduous journeys which can last several weeks, could not be further from this principle.

Apart from the general suffering resulting from long-distance transport there is a history of disasters at sea in which many thousands of animals have died. ‘Acceptable’ mortality rates are exceeded on a regular basis.

Once livestock reach their port of destination the animals 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 the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System protects Australian animals, the reality is that Australian Government regulation 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, stunning before slaughter is not a requirement for exported animals. 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 Australian Government regulation the animals are not permitted to be sold to individual buyers, however, ‘leakages’ from approved supply chains occur regularly. 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 slaughter methods.

Even when animals remain in approved supply chains they are still permitted to be slaughtered without prior stunning. 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. Unfortunately, for livestock transported outside of Australian jurisdiction, it is impossible to ensure their humane handling and slaughter. In addition to this, no amount of government regulation can address the significant welfare issues that are inherent to the transport process itself.

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 at their destination.

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

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Updated on May 29, 2020
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