Article Summary: In March 2023, The Australian government initiated the process of gradually eliminating live sheep export, which animal welfare groups have praised. However, the National Farmers' Federation is resistant to ceasing the live export trade and has yet to discuss the most effective approach to phasing it out. Although the topic of live exporting is controversial, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, both countries rely on the revenue generated from these trades. This article discusses the panel consulting on the matter and the organisations and bodies weighing in on this political and public issue.
It’s everywhere in the news right now. Live export bans are gathering momentum.
Live exports refer to transporting live animals to foreign countries for various purposes such as breeding, dairy production, or slaughter. In the beef and sheep farming industry, young animals are commonly shipped to countries like China, Indonesia, or the Middle East to be raised for meat production. Although the topic of live exporting is controversial, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, both countries rely on the revenue generated from these trades.
In March 2023, The Australian government initiated the process of gradually eliminating live sheep export, which animal welfare groups have praised. However, the National Farmers' Federation is resistant to ceasing the live export trade and has yet to discuss the most effective approach to phasing it out.
Not only has the National Farmer’s Federation been vocal about their concerns, but individual state governments have, too. The WA government has been reported in the press to be considering legal avenues via class action in the case of the live sheep export ban, citing ‘an uncertain future’ for farmers and the state’s ag industry alike.
On the other side, the Australian Greens, concerned primarily with animal welfare, have urged Labor to keep their election promise to ban live sheep exports.
Live sheep exports worth an estimated $92 million to the Australian economy will be scaled down. As a farmer, we bet this is a concerning thought. Livelihoods and the future of the industry are at stake. Plus, this may lead to further bans of other livestock.
To better understand this issue, this article will look at the panel consulting on the subject currently and the organisations and bodies weighing in on this incredibly divisive, political and public issue.
What the Australian Greens are saying about the live export ban
The Australian Greens have been critical of the efforts by the live sheep export industry to pressure Labor into reneging on their election promise to ban the practice.
The Greens feel their plight is supported by “a clear majority of people”.
The party also claims sheep continue to die in large numbers on live export ships and suffer severe heat stress. They do not agree that transparency measures such as independent observers are enough to encourage better animal welfare outcomes. They believe that the government should ban live animal export entirely like New Zealand is doing and that it is “simply incompatible” with animal welfare.
The advisory panel appointed to lead the ban on live sheep exports
An independent panel will advise the Federal Government on how to end the live export of Australian sheep.
The Australian government has enlisted a former animal rights activist, a retired Labor MP, and a Western Australian farmer to provide guidance on terminating live sheep export while farmers challenge the prohibition. The federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has launched an independent committee that will spend six months conducting consultations and submitting a report on the means and timeline for discontinuing live sheep exports by sea. The panel, led by Phil Glyde, who formerly headed the Murray-Darling Basin, will feature Sue Middleton, a farmer from Western Australia, Heather Neil, a previous CEO of the RSPCA, and Warren Snowdon, a recently retired Northern Territory Labor MP.
As head of RSPCA Australia for 12 years, Neil worked hard to prohibit live sheep exports, while Snowden is a supporter of the live cattle trade. It is hoped that this will bring balance to the advisory.
Why is WA getting involved?
In 2021-22, Australia exported a significant value of $85 million worth of sheep from Western Australia. WA sheep producers account for most of the live export trade, with nearly all being sent from WA ports. Despite this, Senator Watt said live export only involved 12 per cent of WA-produced sheep. He has also said that either way, it’s up to sheep producers whether they will work with the government, who will seek other options and opportunities for this group, or “opt for a legal fight”.
Stakeholders in WA have hinted at class action akin to the successful case against the previous government’s live cattle ban in 2011.
In this 300-strong class action, the Federal Court ruled that the 2011 live cattle export ban was unlawful. This was after 18 months of deliberation.
What are the opportunities for sheep producers if live sheep exports are banned?
Senator Watt said the Federal Government had been working hard to open up new markets for boxed sheep meat, including in India, the UK and the European Union.
He says he is confident the government can devise a strategy to support the sheep industry.
He agrees that sheep farming “will be different as a result of this, but I still think the industry has a very bright future in WA and across the country."
It’s important to note that more onshore processing requires more labour and re-introducing since phased-out abattoirs. This will require millions to set up these production facilities and find enough workers in an already understaffed industry in remote locations.
So, what can farmers expect?
The consultation process is predicted to take six months, with submission due on September 30, 2023. We understand everyone involved in the farming industry will be watching with bated breath. And it’s not just sheep producers. Peak farming and industry groups, including the National Farmers' Federation, Cattle Australia and WoolProducers Australia, have warned that other livestock bans may follow, which is detrimental to Australia’s rural regions.
While there are reports that the live export ban on Australian sheep is a forgone conclusion, it is still up for debate and dialogue. We’ll continue to keep you updated.
At Pasture.io, we’re here to help support you and your well-being. Stay tuned for more updates, start a conversation below, or get in touch with our team to see how we can help set your farm up for success and a bright future.
Until we meet again, Happy Farming!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-03-09