Australia has been an exporter of livestock for well over one hundred years, and the trade has continued to expand in importance and deliver economic benefits to rural communities and the national economy. The live exports industry is an important component of the Australian agricultural sector and contributes an average of $1 billion in export earnings annually to the Australian economy. The industry also employs approximately 13,000 people, mainly in regional and rural Australia and provides significant employment opportunities to indigenous people across northern Australia.
Australia is the major and in some cases the sole supplier of livestock to particular overseas markets. A number of countries do not have the resources to produce enough livestock to feed their population and as a result, they rely heavily on Australian live export for their food security and in some cases social harmony.
Livestock producers in Australia were amongst the nation’s first exporters, with live export shipments dating back to 1829. The opening of large cattle stations in the Northern Territory and Kimberley region during the 1880s was driven by the potential to export to Asian markets. The importance of the live export industry to regional communities is amplified in Northern and Western Australia where live export production has been transformed to meet the requirements of south-east Asian and Middle Eastern markets. For many producers in these areas, the live export industry is the only source of income, and they supply the majority of live animals for export (approximately 75% of sheep from Western Australia and 80% of cattle from Northern Australia).
From its earliest days, the industry intended to deliver well-conditioned livestock to foreign markets. From the early 1800s to today, losses of animals in transit mean reduced profits. The desire to improve conditions of transport and to understand the dynamics of successful shipments has underpinned ongoing industry research and guides investment in new ships and onboard infrastructure.
Live exports are underpinned by a detailed and rigorous regulatory framework. Together, producers and exporters invest significantly in research, development and extension (RD&E) to drive efficiencies and animal welfare improvements across the entire supply chain.
South-East Asia is one of Australia’s closest trading partners, being home to over 640 million people. South-East Asians generally do not have sufficient land and knowledge to have large scale breeding operations like Northern Australia. These countries also have large amounts of agricultural by-products (like pineapple husk for example) that they can feed to the livestock relatively inexpensively as humans do not consume them.
Australia has a long history of exporting live sheep to many countries around the world and for many reasons, which have evolved over time.
Today, many countries want sheep exported from Australia because:
Increasingly our efforts to help improve animal welfare is recognised as contributing to wider social and ethical change, better treatment of local sheep, improved worker safety and better meat quality. Australian live sheep supply is an integral part of the importing countries’ food security programs. There is a strong demand for sheep meat in Middle Eastern countries. Australian supply provides the opportunity to meet that demand. Without it, there would be a food deficit in these countries – the alternate supply is difficult and costly.
There is an Australian Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) on all long haul voyages with sheep to the middle east. These veterinarians will treat any sick animals and put them in hospital pens. If necessary, any sick sheep will be euthanised. If any sheep are found deceased in the pens they are moved to regular points for the AAV to inspect and perform a post mortem.
Post mortems are a normal part of disease investigation for a veterinarian. Knowing where the sheep was from on the deck and looking at its ear tag helps the veterinarian investigate the mortality and understand the cause of death and if there is any risk to other sheep.
Records of all sick and diseased sheep are entered into the daily report sent to the Australian Federal Government.
There is also an independent observer appointed by the Australian Federal Government on all voyages which provide another level of reporting to the federal authorities.
Yes, the involvement of vets is critical to ensuring the health and well-being of the cattle through all parts of the supply chain. Veterinarian Bryce Mooring explains his role in working with live export animals in WA.