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Jun 9, 2011

Live export industry's hypocrisy on animal activists

A 2009 report shows that the cattle industry regarded animal welfare as a marketing problem, that needed more funding for ads.

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While Meat and Livestock Australia is emerging as the focus of cattle industry anger over the mishandling of the live export issue, a key industry review two years ago dismissed concerns about live exports to Indonesia as the work of “animal activists” trying to “turn the community against” live cattle exports to Indonesia. The review also proposed to reduce the proportion of levy funds directed at animal welfare.

The Meat and Livestock Association is another example of the growing Australian phenomenon of hybrid industries. The MLA is a corporation funded by a levy on cattle sales to undertake marketing, expand demand for beef and coordinate industry issues. It also funds research on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the federal government.

The MLA thus isn’t a government body, but it holds its position by virtue of government regulation. In addition to half-and-half research funds, the cattle transaction levy — until 1991 it was a “slaughter levy” — is collected by the Department of Finance and passed on to the MLA, for a charge of $900,000 a year. A separate body, LiveCorp, which works closely with MLA, also charges a live export levy, and oversees the handling of cattle, sheep and goats onto, aboard and off ships, but apparently not the slaughtering of live exports overseas.

The MLA’s levy is where the “Beef Marketing Funding Committee” comes in.

In 2005, the Howard Government approved an increase in the levy from $3.50 per head to $5.00 for additional beef marketing, but only temporarily. After five years, a review was to be conducted and if industry did not support the continuation of the increase, it would revert to $3.50.

A committee was formed of industry heavyweights, chaired by Queensland cattle baron Peter Hughes (who complained recently that the 4 Corners report was biased). It reported in May 2009. By that time, as we now know, the industry had been aware of, and notionally seeking to address, the conditions of slaughter of live export cattle for nearly a decade.

The report recommended that the higher levy be retained, and provided an extended SWOT analysis of the cattle industry, including the live export industry, and its markets. Bear in mind, this was a report by the industry’s leaders — listed on page 4 of the report — and not by the MLA or Livecorp.

On live exports, the report notes that 75% of all live cattle exports go to Indonesia and plainly sees Indonesia as the key growth market for live exports, because Malaysia and the Philippines are contracting markets. The report lays out a strategy for expanding marketing in Indonesia to drive increased demand for Australian beef.

And amongst “Threats”, the report identifies “Continued campaigns by animal activists to stop the livestock export trade”, and its response is:

Despite 99 .9% of all cattle exported arriving fit and healthy at their destination in recent years, animal activists who oppose the export of livestock continue to carry out public relation campaigns designed to turn the community against the trade. The current industry strategy to improve community awareness and support for the Australian livestock export trade will need to be continued . The current strategy aims to use media and events such as Royal Shows to inform and demonstrate to the community the systems and practices in place to provide high levels of care for cattle exported.

The report also outlines an indicative budget for live exports markets: it proposes to keep funding for “improving welfare standards” at $186,000 pa, keep “community support” at $725,000 pa, but boost market development activities from over $900,000 to over $1m pa.

The view of the industry that animal welfare was a significantly lower priority than growing markets and was merely an issue being pushed by “animal activists” is confirmed by another, independent report on the levy increase, commissioned by the Committee and the MLA, by consultants Warwick Yates and Assoc and Econsearch (interestingly, the report concludes Indonesia only makes up half of live exports).

In much more detail than the Committee’s report, the consultants delve into the issue of community concern about the welfare of live exports and — declare victory. The report details how the industry significantly ramped up its funding for a “community concern program”, a marketing campaigned aimed at assuring people the cattle industry was humane.

Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, funding for the live export component of the community concern program more than doubled to $725,000, far more than the amounts being spend “improving welfare standards” in Indonesia.

All livestock industries are coming under increasing scrutiny by some sections of the community and media, particularly around issues of animal welfare and the environment. The beef industry can be proud of its record in these areas and also of the work currently being undertaken to improve both animal welfare and environment issues. It is important that the community is engaged and informed of the facts on these issues so that they can take pride in the work done by Australia’s beef industry.

The report goes through in great detail all aspects of the “community concern program”, from advertising to the use of Royal Shows to media management. Using an array of metrics, the consultants conclude:

The Community Concern Program has been successful as a proactive tool to counter and moderate public opinion previously shaped by those opposed to the live export industry, and to underpin the community’s trust in the beef industry. This program is an essential adjunct to the Live Export Program and should continue to counter animal rights activist rhetoric with facts about the live export industry. As focus intensifies on the management of natural resources and concerns for animal welfare grow, it will be increasingly important to not only address these issues but also to continue to tell the broader story of integrity behind the beef industry.

In short, concerns about animal welfare in the live export trade were regarded by the industry as a simple marketing problem — “animal rights activist rhetoric” that needed to be countered by advertising, soft-soap media stories and Royal Shows.

Attempts by some in the industry to shift the blame onto the MLA might be partly justified, but the evidence shows the entire industry was responsible for an attitude that regarded the solution to animal welfare concerns as more money for PR consultants.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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72 thoughts on “Live export industry’s hypocrisy on animal activists

  1. captious

    On the issue of MLA and LiveCorp, their roles in this need to be much more in the public’s face than they currently are. Agree also with others above it shold be MLA & LiveCorp who are responsible for compensating losses by ranchers.

    @ quizzical
    Agree but as Peter E hinted with the ‘colonial mentality’ this is us imposing our beliefs on the indonesians who are a different culture with different values

    It’s stuff all to do with “colonial” attitudes and everything to do with treating animals humanely. It’s completely irrelevant whether it’s Indonesians, Saudis, Kiwis or the English treating live animals this way, it’s abhorrent, period.

    For the vegetarians have a think about how many Viets suffer cancer through working with cashews – the shells – (and the 1.5M indons per annum that die through liver cancer caused through aflotoxin from peanuts)

    So only vegetarians eat cashew nuts? Even if this absurd point were true wtf has it to do with the humane treatment of live cattle?

    But I cease rambling and come back to my basic point – the same number of cattle will just receive the same horrible fate – it’s just that they will be sourced away from our economy

    Then it’s about time the 4 Corners film (or an equivalent) was shown in all other countries that send live cattle to Indonesia for slaughter, and all the info on the complicity of governments and industry bodies. It can’t be that hard, and after all I thought one of the biggest selling points of the internetz (particularly youtube, facebook, myspace etc) was its ability to spread information rapidly across the globe.

  2. Frank Birchall

    You raise some good points about double standards, hypocrisy and animal rights in general. All of these should be debated and, where possible, people can decide for themselves what to do. However, I make the following responses to your points:
    1. Indonesians have different cultures with different values: whether or not they are so different as to generally accept cruel and barbaric treatment of cattle is doubtful. In any event, this ‘principle’ cannot be sufficient justification otherwise we would turn a blind eye to Indonesian treatment of East Timorese, the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda and Serb murder of Muslim men and boys in Bosnia; as well as Japanese whale hunting and dolphin killing. Four hundred years ago we burnt people at the stake; that was acceptable then, we are more enlightened now.
    2. Rabbits, foxes, yabbies etc: the fact that you did what you say doesn’t make it right. In any case, none of those creatures should be killed cruelly and callously.
    3. Same number of cattle will receive the same horrible fate etc: that’s an argument for never doing anything unless someone else does it first and if everyone takes that view, nothing will ever be done. In other words, if a ‘horrible fate’ is to be inflicted on cattle, they might as well be ours as there’s a buck in it for us. Treatment of those beasts was so appalling and so violated our basic sense of kindness to animals that the only possible reaction was stop it and stop it now. The point is that if we permitted this behaviour to continue, we become complicit in it. By using the power we had, we sent a message to the world that we would not become complicit.

  3. TheTruthHurts

    [Seriously, “no knowledge”… had you seen the 4 corners program or any of the follow-up you would have seen senior cattle industry figures explaining how they’d been spending hundred of thousands of dollars trying (unsuccessfully) to fix up cruelty in the Indonesian slaughtering business. The gear being “used” in the salughterhouses was from Meat and Livestock Australia. This has been going on for 18 years.]

    Learn to read.

    I said cattlemen. It’s the MLA’s job to take care of the cattle in Indonesia. The MLA doesn’t produce beef, they provide an export business for beef producers.

    I know you guys have trouble understanding this. A lot of these cattle farmers had no idea this was happening, and even if they did could do nothing about it.

    Now you say the MLA knew about it for 18 Years and this may well be true, but how long did the Labor Government know about it? What did they do about changing the practice?

    Until the 4 Corners program as far as the Fed Government was concerned it was a non-issue and the MLA considered it a non-issue therefore as well. 4 Corners made it publically known what was going on, and suddenly after 18 Years the government shuts down the industry? Really?

    Of course now it’s public knowledge and the MLA was forced to act… they should. But giving them 2 days to do so is an absolute bloody joke. This government doesn’t fix it’s stuff-ups that are made public knowledge in 2 days, so why should the MLA be expected to?

    And what happened to the leftie buzz-words of “regional solution”? Seems the Indo’s are pretty pieved off with Labors unilateral action, well done.

    As stated a time limit should have been set to fix the problem or THEN face consequences. No cattlemen put out of business. MLA forced to act. Indo-Australian relations not sent back 20 Years.

    But what this really comes down to is whats happening inside the Labor Party. The lefties inside Labor(and their Greenies mates) weren’t too happy bout the Malaysian Caning solution and are rebelling and this measure in my opinion was about doing a trade off…. we’ll stop the cattle canings so long as we get you onside to send boatpeople off for canings in Malaysia. This was not a thought out policy, it was a political fix.

  4. Peter Ormonde

    Hurts…. MLA is a producer owned company. Have a look at their website… here:
    http://www.mla.com.au… get a few facts into your opinions… see how they hold up.

    Yes it’s all Gillard’s fault of course… under Howard these cows were ticckled to death with feathers …. but really deep down you and I both know its really just another tentacle of the great UN conspiracy to enslave the world, don’t we?

    Trouble is with you fellas you only go so far. Why do you hide the Real Truth from the people… that it is the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures with its Bonapartist schemes for metrification of the entire world that is at the root of ALL our problems…. the UN is just a front …

    Haven’t you seen how far away the shops have got since we went to these accursed kilometers… how all this global warming started when we were forced into centigrade by Tim Bailey and his ilk… how little rain falls in their filthy millimeters… how much cheaper petrol was when in came in God’s gallons and we paid in Proper Pounds … how big our waistlines are in these accursed centimetres and how small our other bits… Open your eyes, the plotters are everywhere…The Truth is out there … and further out there than even you realise.

    I feel much better now.

    Now tell me the truth, you’re Andrew Bolt’s research assistant aren’t you?

  5. Peter Ormonde


    A bit of employment yes… but not as much as they should…

    The whole idea behind the live export trade was to bypass Australian slaughtering standards, unions, wages, food standards and all this animal rights fuss I’m afraid. All of it adds up to increased costs. So MLA figured they could spend $5 a head exported to spin the issue and “justify” the deal. It was dressed up as catering for Halal requirements in muslim countries but that is not the only or even necessarily the best way to do it.

    A few of the graziers here send loads of their cattle to a certified halal abattoir in Ningan which gets certified by religious authorities here and sends meat all over the middle east. It’s not cheap, but the works still makes a decent quid and sells everything they process. People will pay top dollar for clean, Aussie beef, especially if it has a sticker on it saying its licensed halal. Can’t guarantee that from the Indonesian stuff actually, despite what they say.

    It’s a bit like the difference between selling boatloads of bauxite versus selling aluminium ingots. Economically, socially – and apparently morally – there are real benefits to adding the value here rather than let some dodgy sadists in the back alleys of Sumatra get the dough.

    But any way you look at it this is a disaster and has done massive damage to our Aussie brand. It will be more damaging in the US and Europe where it will really hurt given the size of the market. It will also cheer the Japanese whale scientists enormously. Serious damage and not just to the beef industry,let alone the live export trade… to the whole country.

  6. Quizzical

    Peter O
    I admire your honesty and grasp of the issue – I was hinting at the underlying economic rationale in my comments to your points (1) and (3). I well remember a container that was misdirected from offshore to Melb instead of Hobart – it was cheaper to send another direct HB from offshore than re-handle the container through ML – and that’s just the wharf unions.

    Some will pay top dollar for our beef but remember in the third world some are only able to purchase the cheapest if at all. Even in Oz some people will buy cheaper offshore product rather than local – not because of any ethos, rather just the price (and they don’t give a rats or perhaps don’t comprehend – the different standards of even hygiene).

    Yes it has been and will be a disaster but if I were to apportion the blame I would still make MLA the minority party – in my opinion. As you well point out, MLA did the spin for economic benefit and it worked until the media horrified the recipients of the economic benefit – Australia. We are a nation that has put animal rights ahead of economic benefit and good on us – but the MLA was not the messenger. As I think I said in my initial comment, this is a bit like the AWB scandal all over again – fancy paying bribes for economic benefit 🙂

    I must away, I mainly visit here to see what new excellence Ben Sandilands has posted and am diverted today to the funeral of a fellow pilot – killed in a road accident! Good luck with the outcome of this media expose.

  7. Tomboy


    Firstly, I am a boy (well, I was last time I looked!). Secondly, totally agree with you – it’s the economic value-add we’re talking about. Wouldn’t it be better if our beef was the “meal of choice” rather than necessity? Moreover, we don’t want the food from our nation to be branded inferior. And the hygiene standards – how do we know FMD or other diseases aren’t being harboured by the Indonesians? We could be unknowingly distributing disease through this trade – the last thing we want is our brand to be associated with the Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome.


    Unfortunately, “Big Corporate” in many areas does not have a good reputation (despite the spin of their various corporate communications departments). Further, these guys are not representing the true interests of rural Australia – they’re more likely to be the “latte-sipping” big city types from the “Big-end of Town” (of course I may be wrong – the ones responsible for beef export may really be located in a remote location with access to only billy tea rather than latte). Interesting too that you mention “organic vegies”… what about organic beef?

    As far as the Four Corners program altering our intake of food, haven’t butchers been complaining of a 10-15% diminution of sales since that episode was aired?

    Indonesia – well, if that country needs to be dragged into the 1950s, so be it. If they can’t respect the food that they eat, then I wonder if they’d be better-off hunting for their meals.

  8. puddleduck

    As usual, animals suffer for commerce. What the industry is saying (or rather, doing, because it speaks with forked tongue) is that treating animals humanely costs money, and they aren’t willing to spend it because people aren’t willing to pay it. We simply do not pay the true cost of meat.

    If you didn’t see the program, you can watch it online

    If you can’t stomach the pictures, here’s the transcript
    and if you can’t stomach the pictures, you should stop eating meat.

    If you still want livestock to be exported overseas after seeing this, perhaps we need the animal equivalent of SBS “Go back to where you came from” program – try taking a trip on an animal export ship, hanging out in a feedlot and then having your throat slit in Indonesia. Send a postcard before you’re tortured.

    Oh, and if you think animal slaughter in Australia is humane, go spend some time in a slaughterhouse.

    One of the many things that appalled me about this matter was the vet, Professor Ivan Caple, former Dean of Vet Science, and Leader of the Commonwealth’s Animal Welfare Review Panel, who didn’t know if slapping cattle (and, it seems, the use of the restraining box) hurts cattle. Umm, he’s a vet? Really? I reckon if I slapped him it would hurt. Read what he has to say and see if you think he should have anythign to do with animal welfare in thsi country or anywhere else:

    Here’s his comments from the transcript:

    SARAH FERGUSON: Last year Meat and Livestock Australia commissioned a review of conditions for Australian cattle in Indonesia – including feedlots and abattoirs.

    It was led by Professor Ivan Caple.

    PROFESSOR IVAN CAPLE, : The reactions of the cattle told me that they weren’t being abused – and cattle don’t lie.

    SARAH FERGUSON: Professor Caple’s report had a positive message.

    EXCERPT FROM REPORT (voiceover) Australian cattle in Indonesia were typically comfortable… (and) generally found to be coping well with the conditions.”

    IVAN CAPLE: The welfare generally in Indonesia, our team was unanimous in saying generally the welfare conditions for Australian cattle in Indonesia is good.

    SARAH FERGUSON: The expert team also visited Gondrong.

    IVAN CAPLE: They were to the most proficient we saw using the control box. It was quite unbelievable how proficient they were.

    SARAH FERGUSON: Were there any head slaps in Gondrong?

    IVAN CAPLE: There were some, yeah. There were some.

    SARAH FERGUSON: How does that square with efficient?

    IVAN CAPLE: Ah well it doesn’t really slow the process all that, that much because the slaughtermen can usually restrain the animal quite quickly to prevent the slapping.

    SARAH FERGUSON: Doesn’t it hurt though?

    IVAN CAPLE: Ah I don’t know.

    SARAH FERGUSON: The report did say there were instances of poor animal welfare in the abattoirs.

    IVAN CAPLE: A couple of the handlers were a little bit exuberant with the use of a goad and a very long pointy stick. Sometimes a finger was in an eye socket. That’s not required. All of those issues can be picked up by a trainer.”

    Like the McCartneys said, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, more people would be vegetarian. No dairy either – read about bobby calves if you think milk is humanety produced.

    Animals Australia, and in particular, Lyn White, and the RSPCA, and Sarah Ferguson of the ABC, should be congratulated for going where none of us dare go – into places where animals are tortured and cruelly slaughtered because human animals want to eat meat.

    And as for the farmers – slave traders had to find something else to do. Just because an industry has been running for years doesn’t mean it has to keep running.

  9. Flower

    Let’s cut to the chase and acknowledge that Australia’s livestock industry is a barbarous and brutal regime that has captured successive and heartless governments since colonisation.

    1. Around 900,000 bobby calves in Australia are ripped from their mothers at birth and sent to slaughter around 5 days old

    2. More than 7 million farm and wild animals are used in cruel and unnecessary testing in Australia every year (including whales, dolphins and porpoises.) Britain’s citizens were outraged to learn that the entire UK tested around 3 million animals.

    WA’s Local Government Minister John Castrilli said last year that his government would no longer collate State figures because that would be “resource-intensive.” The suffering of millions of Australian animals is set to continue unabated behind closed doors.

    3. The work of the WA Govt Animal Welfare Unit was sabotaged by cuts in funding by the Liberal government. A unit of six inspectors that routinely inspected saleyards, live export loadings and transporters now has only one inspector in the largest state in the nation with the largest number of live exports.

    WA’s live export industry was already mired by serious animal cruelty issues and poor regulations prior to the Indonesian abominations. Animals and their welfare mean nothing to Premier Barnett and his sidekick, Agriculture Minister, Terry Redman who slammed the Gillard government’s decision to suspend live exports to Indonesia as “lazy.”

    4. Last year, the media received footage showing electric prods being used illegally on the Fremantle wharf, with the painful devices being shoved into the faces of sheep and cattle during the loading of live exports. Animals appeared terrified and struggled to escape. One sheep, with its back legs stuck outside a truck, was unable to move as a prod was repeatedly stuck in its face. A cow reared up above the mob, only to have the prod reapplied to its face, despite it being illegal to use prods on the face or genitals. Live exports come under federal regulations but never a fed in sight.

    MLA and Livecorp Australia should be struck off the register immediately considering their sordid history. MLA, Livecorp et al have relished exporting Australian livestock to the Festivals of Sacrifice where the streets of the Islamic nations run red with the blood of our terrified animals and excited children witness the slaughter with gusto. These are the festivals when all the children (the future generation of sadists) have a real fun time as they get gifts, clothes and perks from their dear relatives.

    “Lazy” says ignoramus, Terry Redman?

    Millions of Australian livestock (dead and alive) have been dumped overboard (stuff the one billion malnourished humans – some so hungry they must resort to eating mud pies.)

    We are assured that the atrocities perpetrated on Australian animals by Muslims are not part of Islam – the “peaceful” religion. Therefore one must conclude that the citizens of Muslim countries are the apostles of tyranny – an “exclusive brethren” with a meanness of spirit, self adoration and a diabolical contempt of other creatures. The despair and misery of these animals is the same in all languages except in this rats’ nest of inhumanity which has greatly impeded Australia’s moral progress.

    The nation’s greedy billionaire cattle barons, the heinous MLA and Livecorp, protesting growers and successive governments are complicit in making blood money out of a mixed grill of misery.


    “Make a lie big, make it simple, keep saying it and eventually they’ll believe it.” (Adolph Hitler)

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