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Live Export: Where are we now?

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If there’s one animal cause that’s been on everyone’s lips this past year, it’s live export. Since revelations of cruelty in Indonesian slaughterhouses came to light in 2011, an overwhelming number of voices have come together to speak out against the practice. It was heartening to see how impassioned the Australian public can be on issues of animal welfare. Their voices led to action in terms of policy, but that action hasn’t lead to real change for the animals. Recently the issue has been back in the spotlight (if it ever left) due to footage of the horrendous conditions of dairy cows sent to Qatar, and the barbaric slaughter (and live burial) of Australian sheep in Pakistan coming to light. Earlier this month thousands of people across the country rallied together, calling for the practice to banned in Australia. The response from both sides of the political fence, and industry alike, has been overwhelmingly: if we don’t do it, someone else will. 

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As this article put it, these countries demand live meat exports. If we don’t supply the animals, send them on treacherous, long, and often fatal journeys, and allow them to be slaughtered in any number of barbaric ways, someone else will. This way we also get to keep the $1 billion that the trade brings in each year. It’s the same logic used by people who suggest abstaining from animal products is pointless if absolutely everyone doesn’t give them up at the same time. In fact, the writer actually makes that connection, sarcastically commending vegetarians for their “best intentions”. Others suggest that continuing the practice will allow Australian industry to work with their trade partners to initiate best practice in slaughter and transport. It would apparently be cruel for us to stop sending animals into these conditions. You have to wonder what standard we’d be setting, when undercover footage of Australia’s own slaughterhouses and factory farms uncovers cruelty such as this.

Let’s be clear. Exporting live, frightened, and poorly looked-after animals overseas to horrendous conditions is not less cruel than abstaining from doing so, even if someone else will take over the post. It is not about ensuring best practice, it is about ensuring we continue to profit from the cruelty.

Where to from here?

The thousands of outraged Australians show little sign of relenting just because politicians don’t seem to be getting the message. Animals Australia’s longstanding campaign has been highly effective and has reached many eyes and ears. It’s not over, though a victory certainly isn’t guaranteed. If live export was banned in Australia? The baton would be passed and these export markets would either find other sources or adapt. This seems like a hollow victory for the animals involved, but you can’t endorse cruelty on the shallow basis that, “hey, it could be worse”. It could also be much better. It would also be what is right.

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Meanwhile, on the back of their unprecedented coverage and groundswell, Animals Australia are gearing up to launch an ambitious new campaign. They’ve seen how passionate and angry Australians can be over animal cruelty, and how much they want to see change. They’re asking us next to look at the cruelty in our own backyards, and on our own plates. To make the connection. Are we as a nation as willing to criticise our own standards? When it comes to the factories that produce our McNuggets, do we have as much anger? We’ll have to wait and see. 

Anna Angel

 Anna Angel is a Brisbane based journalist, writer, and vegan. She likes to daydream just as much as she likes to explore the big issues of life. Anna has been vegetarian for half her life, and vegan since 2007.

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