OPINION: Another bloody business: live exports, dead sheep

OPINION: On NOV 7, 2012 | The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.
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The title of ABC’s Four Corners program ‘Another bloody business…’ really said it all. For the second year running viewers were shocked and appalled by vision of horrific treatment of Australian exported animals – this time sheep – and this time in Pakistan.

Many Australians are today outraged that the ALP, Coalition and rural lobby groups continue to defend an indefensible trade where the cost of ‘mistakes’ and ‘isolated incidents’ is not determined in dollars and cents, but in mass animal cruelty and suffering.

For years, Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia have spoken about the unacceptable risks involved in live animal export. The factors outside of our control once animals leave Australian shores are numerous. ‘Pakistan’ provided another chapter in an ongoing story few Australians will be proud to recount to our grandchildren.

As unravelled by Sarah Ferguson, some 21,000 Australian sheep found themselves pawns in political games and payback. Lies and deceit were common threads in both Bahrain and Pakistan and an animal welfare disaster was the inevitable result.

The failure of government measures to protect these animals was complete. The country-to-country MOUs were meant to prevent another Cormo Express type rejection from occurring – yet it did.

The new live export regulations were meant to prevent cruelty on the scale of Indonesia ever occurring again – but it has – and today many Australians remain shell-shocked and distressed by vision of Australian sheep being brutally slaughtered in Pakistan and thrown alive into pits.

Perhaps most heart-wrenching was the vision from the following morning of the barely alive animals lying amongst the dead.

The exporter, Wellard, cannot deny responsibility. It is a requirement that exporters have a legitimate contingency plan in case of rejection. Pakistan could never have been considered to be a valid contingency when they did not have regulatory approval to take Australian sheep when the shipment left Australia.

Wellard’s CEO stated that they discussed slaughtering 22,000 sheep ‘humanely’ at sea. It would seem that his view on what is ‘humane’ is as flawed as his view on what represents a ‘contingency plan’.

Wellard has stated that they did all they could do to protect the sheep in Pakistan. This is not true. Had the welfare of these sheep been their only objective, they would have been completely transparent with Pakistani authorities about the history of the shipment and the previous rejection by Bahrain. Their failure to do so led to outrage, offence and eventual carnage.

No matter how dreadful the images of animal abuse, the blame should not rest at the door of the Pakistanis alone. If a consignment of ‘goods’ that had been rejected by another country as diseased was fast-tracked into Australia on the quiet, facilitated by another country’s government, there would be repercussions, and there were in Pakistan… and sadly their wrath was inflicted on those completely innocent of any wrong doing.

Asked by Sarah Ferguson: “You accept there could be a similar incident in the future if we continue to trade with Pakistan?”, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Phillip Glyde responded: “We could have a similar incident in any of our markets.”.

This simple statement of truth should be enough to end political support of the live trade.

There are many Australian sheep producers who run profitable businesses who do not export live animals. Of the 32 million sheep raised for slaughter last year, less than 3 million went to the live export market. The sheepmeat trade to the Middle East is already worth $72 million more than live export – the value of sheep processed domestically is worth 10 times that of live export.

Regardless of any profits on offer – right and wrong in any civilised society has never been determined by what is profitable - knowingly placing animals at such risk and transporting them halfway around the world only to be slaughtered in countries where there are no laws to protect them from cruelty is wrong, and no amount of profit, no amount of justification or excuses, will ever make it right.
The 21,000 sheep who endured such dreadful deaths in Pakistan were born into Australian care and protection. They, and the millions of other animals placed at terrible risk each year by this trade, deserve better from us.

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