OFFSHORE concern about the potential for the proposed phasing out of live sheep exports by sea spreading to a cattle trade ban was highlighted at a Young Livestock Exporters Network LiveEX Linkup event in Geelong on the weekend.
Event panel members were asked what they thought of Meat & Livestock Australia Jason Strong’s recent statements that the negative voices in agriculture needed to stop, including speculation that the proposed live sheep trade phaseout might lead to a ban on cattle exports.
SAILS export manager and ALEC director Stephen Reynolds confirmed that the local cattle industry is worried that the proposed live sheep trade phaseout would lead to a future ban of live cattle exports.
“But, we’re not the be all and end all of this – it’s our customers elsewhere in the world that see what politicians in Australia and politicians in New Zealand can do … and they are somewhat bigger and more populous and have a greater reliance on Australian beef than anything here.
“To say it’s a local reaction isn’t true.”
Mr Reynolds said the live sheep trade was not what it was 10-12 years ago and he thought there was a “fair chance” that it will survive.
“Maybe I’m being a little bit optimistic, but commonsense can prevail most times.”
He said live sheep is a very sound trade with good animal welfare outcomes and customers.
“Hopefully, a bit of commonsense prevails, as much as we know politicians make some pretty crazy decisions.”
He said the decision to phase out the trade has been made by a political party to win votes at the time “and maybe they’re backed into a corner.”
“I’ve got the confidence that maybe commonsense will prevail based on the fact that it is a sound healthy good trade.”
A need to talk to Australia’s live export customers – O’Keefe
In-market livestock consultant Byron O’Keefe said Mr Strong had a valid point.
“But honestly, get out of Australia … he needs to go overseas, talk to your customers, with all due respect obviously.”
Humans of Agriculture operations manager Milly Nolan said almost every live sheep vessel that departs Fremantle in Western Australia will have “100 to 10,000 cattle” on it for Middle Eastern markets, and it was unviable for the ships to export the cattle without the sheep demand.
Earlier Mr O’Keefe said everyone in Australia’s overseas live export markets knows that there is a policy to ban live sheep exports by sea.
He referenced Mr Strong’s comments, and said everyone in the Middle East markets were worried if cattle exports would be next and the sheep phaseout process is making maintenance of long-term relationships hard.
“It is a challenging environment, if Australia puts its head in the sand and (says) we’ll motor on, we’ve got the best product in the world, you know, it’s OK, we will be the ones to lose, and the animals from other countries will also lose.
“There is a concern in markets that cattle will be next, unfortunately, so it is hard to say ‘it will be right’ because we haven’t got the best track record unfortunately.”
Mr O’Keefe refused to comment on whether the leakage of sheep outside ESCAS supply chains in Oman could have been avoided, except to wait for the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry investigation.
“Yes, there are reports, but it’s better to wait for the investigation and see what comes out.”
In response to an earlier question as to whether Australians could have confidence that animals exported live would be looked after, Mr O’Keefe said that animal welfare comes back to the individual and good personal relationships were fundamental to managing a good outcome.
“It’s so important that every individual takes pride in their work and treats that animal with respect.
“Animal welfare … don’t take this the wrong way, it doesn’t start with the animal, it starts with the individual, it starts with you,” he said.
“If we aren’t in the right mind frame to produce a positive experience, now that’s where we are going to have issues.”
Ms Nolan said not every Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System non-compliance incident can lead to a poor animal welfare outcome.
Asked how animal welfare incidents could be stopped, former LiveCorp director Lisa Dwyer said it was up to all people in agriculture and the trade “to have the courage to call it out.”
“Because if we ignore it, that type of behaviour continues and it undermines everything, every good thing that the vast majority of us do.”
Mr O’Keefe supported Ms Dwyer’s stance.
“If you walk past something and you don’t intervene you are basically doing it yourself aren’t you?
“If you walk past a dirty sheep trough and not clean it, you’re part of the problem,” he said.
“Don’t walk past it, don’t be afraid to say this isn’t right.
“If you want a good progressive industry start here, get good people around you.”
YLEN vice chairman Hugh Dawson said “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
“It takes leadership and that’s leadership in thought and action and we’ve heard first hand of the passion that exists in this industry.
“This is a story that you can walk away and share … and that’s what I think we need to bolster the industry in Australia.”
He said if people in the industry “stick their head in the sand it’s a lose-lose for us and animal welfare standards globally.”
ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said YLEN was launched about four years ago and the “real strength of the industry is actually what comes next”
“There are such really impressive people coming through the industry and there is real opportunity for you all to be part of that.”
MLA understands the international context of the live export debate
An MLA spokesperson said the discussion very much reflects what Mr Strong said recently about live cattle and sheep exports.
“One of Jason’s key messages was about the ongoing need for industry to be positive in its messaging – which seems to be a sentiment that came through strongly at the YLEN event.”
The spokesperson said MLA can’t talk about policy issues around live exports.
“The industry can have this discussion and the context of the discussion at the YLEN event in your story reflects that they are having this discussion in a way that it is looking at the bigger picture, articulating that it is a bigger issue than just live exports and that it’s about international trade, local food security, sovereign and international relations.
“MLA fully understands the international context of the live export debate,” the spokesperson said.
“We have a presence in all regions in which Australia exports live sheep and cattle, and we regularly discuss this and other points with our global customers.”