PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has defended the government’s decision to allow the export of 2200 Australian sheep to Singapore for slaughter during the Korban religious festival in coming weeks.
The RSPCA and Animals Australia have taken strong objection to the sheep exports on moral and ethical grounds.
The RSPCA have questioned whether the temporary processing facilities established for the Australian sheep meet criteria for the Australian government’s new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
ESCAS was established in response to animal welfare issues which underpinned the government’s snap ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia last June.
The month-long suspension sent the northern Australian beef industry into crisis, with Indonesia subsequently reducing cattle import quotas by 50 per cent.
But animal rights groups continue to agitate for the trade’s demise, despite dramatic improvements in animal welfare standards with ESCAS implemented in all Australia’s live export markets.
Ms Gillard responded to questions about the export of Australian sheep for the Korban religious festival, during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore, in Canberra last week.
“We of course are concerned about the welfare of animals that are exported from Australia and we have in recent times been working to strengthen the assurance about what happens with animals and the circumstances in which they are ultimately slaughtered,” she said.
“So we have worked through our proper processes.
“The Secretary of our Department of Agriculture made a determination and he is the proper authority to do so, that we could have animals go to Singapore.
“As for the longer-term arrangements, we have still got some work to do on that but we have been able to respond for this year's festival.”
Prime Minister Lee said he discussed the issue with Prime Minister Gillard and thanked her for the Australian government's co-operation.
He said they “went the extra mile” to help ensure the mosques were audited, cleared and qualified to enable 2200 animals to be exported live to Singapore for the slaughter ritual.
“I asked what the Australian thinking would be for the longer term,” he said.
“That's something which is obviously still evolving but the Prime Minister said the government does believe that Australia should continue to be exporting livestock, but of course there has to be suitable safeguards and the animal welfare will have to be looked into.
“So this is something we will work out in practical terms.”
Animals Australia said it was shocked to learn that the ritual slaughter in the Singaporean mosques could be approved under ESCAS.
Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said Australians have every reason “not to be confident” in the Australian government’s new regulatory system.
“The community is still recoiling from hearing that Australian sheep have been stabbed, clubbed and buried alive in Pakistan,” she said.
“Exporters managed to get Pakistan approved under ESCAS, despite risks that any reasonable person would have foreseen, and now inconceivably mosques in Singapore have been approved as a location to ritually slaughter Australian sheep.
“If cutting the throat of a fully conscious terrified sheep in a mosque meets ESCAS standards, then clearly these standards in no way provide a level of care that the Australian community would deem to be acceptable.
“I have witnessed this festival taking place in many countries over the past decade – the terror of the animals is palpable, as they inevitably witness as well as sense the mass slaughter taking place.”
Ms White said in Singapore, and other Islamic countries, Muslims can fulfil their Eid or Korban obligations by purchasing a voucher for an animal to be slaughtered in an abattoir in Australia or in other countries, with the meat distributed to the poor.
She said in recent years more and more Muslims have embraced the voucher system, which dramatically reduces the animal suffering that occurs during this festival.
“As a nation, we have no moral obligation whatsoever to facilitate religious or cultural customs that involve cruelty to animals; in fact we have an ethical duty not to and to encourage other options to be embraced,” she said.
RSPCA Australia said the Australian sheep being exported to Singapore for the annual Korban festival and slaughtered in temporary “pop up” facilities outside mosques was “a major cause for concern”, and asked for more detail on how these facilities could meet the ESCAS guidelines.
“It’s important to remember that even if these facilities do meet ESCAS all of the animals will suffer the terrifying fate of being fully conscious when slaughtered,” the RSPCA said.
By Colin Bettles, Stock and Land