Australia is the world leader in the export of live cattle, sheep and goats and the animal welfare performance of our exporters is a benchmark globally.
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 livestock for their food security and in some cases social harmony (Farmer, 2011).
The live export 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.
The importance of the live export industry to regional communities is amplified in northern and western Australia where livestock production has been transformed to meet the requirements of south-east Asian and Middle Eastern markets. For many producers in these areas the 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).
The live export industry is 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.
The following video was produced by the Australian Livestock Export Council (ALEC) and provides an overview of the Australian Livestock Export Industry and its animal welfare challenge.
Regulatory Framework / Industry regulation
The entire livestock export process (from farm to the point of slaughter) is regulated by the Australian Government under two main regulatory systems; the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS). Furthermore, all livestock carrying vessels must have an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) license and comply with the provisions of Marine Order 43 of the Navigation Act.
Under the regulatory framework Australian livestock exporters and supply chain participants must comply with a range of stringent requirements that include:
- Exporters must be licensed by the Australian Government
- Livestock must be selected, prepared and cared for in compliance with legislated animal welfare standards.
- Livestock must only be prepared in Australian Government approved quarantine premises, known as registered premises.
- Skilled personnel including industry accredited stockpersons and in some cases government approved veterinarians must accompany and care for the livestock on the voyage (via sea or air).
- Livestock export vessels must hold an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
- Exporters must maintain control, traceability and ensure animal welfare of livestock from discharge through to the point of slaughter in the overseas market.
- Exporters must report on the outcomes of each voyage, including mortalities, which are then reported on a six monthly basis to the Australian Parliament. If mortalities exceed legislated levels, a comprehensive investigation is undertaken and conditions may be placed on future shipments to mitigate risks.
- Exporters must also provide the Australian government with an end of processing (EOP) report (within 10 days of the slaughter of the last animal within a consignment for cattle and buffalo). An exporter must also submit an independent performance audit report (IPAR). Copies of the IPARs are available to the public and can be accessed here.
The livestock export process and regulatory framework are outlined in the diagram below
Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL)
The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) were developed as part of the Australian Government’s response to the Livestock Export Review (The Keniry Review) and can into effect on the 1st December 2004. The standards outline the basic animal health and welfare requirements for the livestock export industry from farm through to the discharge of animals in the country of destination. ASEL also incorporates stringent reporting requirements for exporters to ensure the Australian Government can monitor animal health and welfare throughout a voyage and respond to emergency situations if they arise.
During all voyages livestock are cared for by trained and accredited stock people and during long haul voyages a veterinarian accredited by the Australian Government is also present. LiveCorp is responsible for the training and accreditation of onboard stockpersons for the industry. A requirement of ASEL is that all livestock mortalities are reported at the end of a voyage and these statistics are tabled in parliament every six months.
Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS)
The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) framework was first implemented in July 2011 and as of January 2013 applies to Australian livestock exported for feeder and/or slaughter purposes. ESCAS was designed to improve the welfare of exported Australian livestock and has delivered significant and extensive changes within the industry.
The ESCAS framework requires Australian exporters to hold a current exporter licence and obtain a permit to export feeder and/or slaughter livestock and the exporter must demonstrate that throughout the entire supply chain in overseas markets, through to the point of slaughter:
- Animals will be handled and processed through specified supply chains in accordance with the internationally accepted requirements for animal welfare established by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE);
- They have control of the movement of animals within their supply chain;
- They can track or account for animals throughout the supply chain;
- They have conducted independent audits of the supply chain, both prior to shipment and throughout post-arrival management of the animals.
As part of ESCAS export supply chains are subject to independent performance audits to ensure compliance with the framework and animal welfare is optimised. Copies of the independent audit reports are publicly available on the Department of Agriculture website.
Since the implementation of ESCAS as of the 30th January 2013 to October 2014 over 6.3 million livestock have been exported. Failure to comply with ESCAS can result in the Australian Government revoking a licence to export, apply conditions to a licence, failing to approve future consignments and criminal sanctions.