Article Summary: Live exports refer to transporting live animals overseas for breeding, dairy production, or slaughter. In beef and sheep farming, live exports usually involve shipping young animals to countries like China, Indonesia, or the Middle East, where they're raised for meat production. While live exporting is tricky and topical, especially if you’re living (and farming) in Australia or New Zealand, both countries’ economies depend on the income these trades make. We look at the pros of this practice and why we consider live exports a good thing for the economy, the ag industry and the animals themselves.
The subject of live exporting is a tricky and topical one, especially if you’re living (and farming) in Australia or New Zealand. Both countries’ economies are dependent on the income these trades make, but there are concerns shared by the public around animal welfare, amongst other issues.
Most recently, the Australian government initiated the gradual phasing out of live sheep export, to the support of animal welfare groups, in March 2023. However, the National Farmers' Federation has yet to engage in discussions regarding the most efficient method for discontinuing the live export trade and remains resistant to the idea.
Despite these current affairs, we’re here to look at the other side of the coin; the benefits live exports bring to an economy, the ag industry, and the animals themselves. This article should leave you feeling more confident in the process and able to make your best judgement on whether to participate or support live exports.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Live exports refer to the practice of transporting live animals overseas for purposes such as breeding, dairy production, or slaughter. In beef and sheep farming, live exports usually involve shipping young animals to countries like China, Indonesia, or the Middle East, where they're raised for meat production.
Here’s why it’s a good thing for Aussies and Kiwis alike...
The pros of live export of animals
1. Live exports can be more profitable than selling locally, especially if demand for meat is high in other countries
One of the primary benefits of live exports is that they can offer farmers higher prices for livestock than they might receive by selling locally. This is particularly true in countries where there is a high demand for meat but a limited domestic supply. For example, in 2020, China's demand for beef was at an all-time high due to the African swine fever epidemic, which decimated the country's pig population. As a result, Chinese importers were willing to pay top dollar for live cattle from countries like Australia and New Zealand.
In fact, the data supports the idea that live exports can be more profitable than selling domestically. According to a 2018 report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), live cattle exports from Australia were worth an average of $1,224 per head, compared to $846 per head for cattle sold domestically. Similarly, live sheep exports were worth an average of $97 per head, compared to $88 per head for sheep sold domestically.
2. Live exports can create new markets for our livestock, which can benefit the agriculture industry as a whole
Another advantage of live exports is that they can help create new markets for our livestock, which can benefit the agriculture industry as a whole. You can increase demand for your products by tapping into overseas markets and reducing your reliance on domestic buyers. This can help to insulate the industry from local market fluctuations and make it more resilient in the face of economic challenges.
For example, New Zealand has been exporting live sheep to the Middle East for over 40 years and has built a strong trade relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. According to the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, the live sheep trade is worth around NZD $200 million per year to the New Zealand economy and supports thousands of jobs in the agriculture sector.
3. Live exports can help maintain healthy herd sizes and reduce overstocking, leading to better animal welfare and more sustainable farming practices
Live exports can benefit animal welfare and sustainable farming practices by helping farmers maintain healthy herd sizes and avoid overstocking. Overstocking, or oversupply of animals, can lead to a swathe of negative impacts, including soil degradation, erosion, and increased risk of disease outbreaks. By exporting animals to other countries, you can reduce herd sizes to more sustainable levels and create more space and resources for your remaining livestock.
By exporting young animals unsuitable for breeding or dairy production, you can avoid culling them at a young age. Instead, you can allow them to grow and thrive in a new environment. This can help to improve animal welfare outcomes and reduce waste at your farm and as a whole industry.
But here’s the thing…
While there are valid concerns about the ethics and animal welfare implications of live exports, it's important to acknowledge that this practice can also benefit you, the farmers, and the agriculture industry as a whole. By weighing the pros and cons and making informed decisions, you can determine whether or not live exports are the right choice for your operation.
That’s why we’ll look at the negatives associated with this process…
The cons of live export of animals
1. Live exports can be risky for the animals, as they may be subjected to cramped and stressful conditions during transport
One of the primary concerns about live exports is the potential harm they can cause to the animals being transported. Animals may be subjected to cramped and stressful conditions during transport, which can lead to illness, injury, and even death. Long transport times, rough handling, and inadequate food and water are key factors contributing to poor animal welfare outcomes.
In 2018, a shipment of live sheep from Australia to the Middle East resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 animals due to heat stress and overcrowding. This incident sparked widespread outrage and called for tighter regulations around live exports.
2. Live exports can be controversial from an ethical standpoint, as some people argue that it's cruel to transport animals long distances for slaughter
Another concern about live exports is the ethical implications of transporting animals long distances for slaughter. Some argue that this practice is inherently cruel and goes against basic animal welfare principles. They point out that animals may experience stress, fear, and pain during transport and may be separated from their social groups and familiar environments.
It’s been argued that transporting animals long distances for slaughter is unnecessary, as many countries have their own domestic meat industries that can meet demand without relying on imports. They argue that importing live animals for slaughter is primarily motivated by profit rather than animal welfare or consumer demand.
3. Live exports can be unpredictable in terms of market demand, which means farmers may end up with unsold animals and financial losses
Finally, live exports can be unpredictable in terms of market demand, which means you may end up with unsold animals and financial losses. Export markets can be subject to a range of factors outside your control, such as changes in consumer preferences, economic conditions, and political instability. If demand for live exports falls, you may be left with large numbers of animals that you can't sell domestically or internationally, leading to financial hardship.
For example, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a sharp drop in demand for live exports from Australia, as many countries closed their borders and implemented restrictions on trade.
This left many farmers with large numbers of animals that they were unable to sell, leading to financial losses and significant stress.
While there are advantages to live exports, it's important to acknowledge this practice's potential risks and challenges.
What’s happening around the live export market in Australia right now
The issue of banning live exports has been a contentious issue in Australia for many years, with animal welfare groups and some politicians calling for an end to the practice due to concerns about animal welfare. The issue came to a head in 2011 when footage emerged of Australian cattle being mistreated in Indonesian abattoirs. The incident sparked widespread public outrage and led to a temporary ban on live exports to Indonesia.
Since then, the Australian government has introduced a range of measures designed to improve the welfare of animals being exported for slaughter, including new regulations around transport conditions and animal handling. However, calls for a complete ban on live exports have continued. Many animal welfare groups argue that the risks of harm to animals during transport and slaughter are too high to justify the practice.
In March 2023, government consultation began on the phasing out of live sheep exports. This is at odds with the National Farmer’s Federation’s warning that eradicating ‘an entire industry’ will have catastrophic effects on the economy and farmers’ livelihoods.
If live exports were to be banned in Australia, it would have significant implications for farmers and the industry as a whole. Here are some of the key considerations:
1. Economic Impact
Live exports are a significant source of income for many farmers, particularly those in northern Australia who rely on trade to access international markets. Did you know that in 2019, Australia exported over 1 million heads of cattle and 2 million sheep for live export? This brought in a total value of over $1 billion, a significant income! If live exports were banned, farmers would need to find alternative markets for their livestock, which could be challenging and lead to financial losses.
2. Animal Welfare
This is a key concern for those advocating for a ban on live exports. If live exports were banned, animals would no longer be subjected to the potential harm and stress of long-distance transport and slaughter. Instead, animals would be processed domestically, which could lead to better welfare outcomes and improved standards of care.
3. Industry Adaptation
If live exports were banned, the ag industry would need to adapt to a new reality in which international markets were no longer accessible. This could involve developing new domestic markets, investing in processing facilities to support a domestic meat industry, or transitioning to alternative forms of agriculture altogether. Such a transition could be costly and would require significant planning and support from the government and industry.
Live exports can offer farmers new opportunities to sell their livestock and improve their bottom line. On the other hand, it raises valid concerns about animal welfare and ethical considerations. Plus, the fact that live exports can be unpredictable and subject to market fluctuations means it's not always a surefire way to make a profit.
While a complex and controversial issue, live exports are a reality and the highest revenue stream for the agriculture industry as a whole. As farmers, we must weigh the pros and cons and make informed decisions about whether or not to participate in this practice. We must also keep updated on the latest developments and make decisions based on what's best for our businesses and animals.
Until we meet again, Happy Farming!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-03-07