Australia is working hard to set global benchmarks with livestock exports and the animal welfare obligations which come with being one of the world’s largest exporters of live cattle and sheep.
However it could all come crashing down if the sector takes its eye off the main game.
Australia saw this firsthand during the watershed events of 2011 when the then Federal Government moved to impose a live export ban to Indonesian beef-processing facilities, following disturbing animal treatment practices offshore which led to immediate calls for reform back on our shores.
It was a call underpinned by the prevailing view among Australians that our first and last priority with live export is - and always should be - the welfare of animals.
In his address to the Rural Press Club, Australian Livestock Exports Council Chairman, Simon Crean, said Australia’s livestock export industry relies as much on its social licence as it does on any economic drivers.
“We know that good animal welfare outcomes represent good business,” he told the event. “While our social licence to operate is at the core of ESCAS, it also represents a 21st century approach to ensuring our industry can meet the growing demand for live animals as a source of protein.”
Crean stressed the point Australia’s status as the world leader in livestock exporting – heading a field of more than 100 other livestock exporting countries, as recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health – means, if our exporters are taken out of the equation, “the global trade will continue but animal welfare standards will decline”.
We know from recent history anything short of this standard would seriously compromise the viability of an industry significantly important to Australia’s economic fortunes.
The introduction in 2011 of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) was a pivotal move, designed to ensure the trade remains a strong part of Australia’s agricultural industries. It aimed to recognise “the importance of the trade to regional and rural Australia as a source of income and employment”.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletterSubscribe
The system has proven effective in improving animal welfare standards by ensuring the integrity of the supply chain. Animal welfare remains at the forefront of the end-to-end process – from domestic production, to slaughter and ultimately sale into export markets.
As one beef producer told me, ESCAS is “one of the great success stories of Australian agriculture of the past few decades, at a time where policies and procedures are often reactionary.”
“It brings certainty when it comes to the continuation, viability and growth of the live export industry,” they said.
Equally important, perhaps, is the assertion ESCAS will underpin the success of Australia’s live export industry to grow market share and support “as the general public becomes aware of the difference between animal rights and animal welfare”.
If recent history has taught us anything, it’s rather than social and supply chain responsibility being an entry-level requirement for the local industry, it is very much a non-negotiable as far as community standards are concerned.
It is also fundamental to ensuring we capitalise on the compelling opportunity that comes with Asia’s growing appetite for high-quality Australian produce.
Animal welfare and the integrity of our supply chain calls for industry-wide coordination. Indeed, if we work to the adage we’re only as strong as our weakest link, it follows a united effort throughout the supply chain is the only path to sustained success for Australia’s live export industry.
James MacPherson is head of ANZ Regional Business Banking in Queensland.
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.