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Genuine Animal Welfare Takes More Than Lame Stunts

3 April 2006

Despite the failure of protests over live animal exports to attract public support, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) knows animal welfare is a key social license trigger for the future of Australian agriculture, stretching well beyond the meagre numbers of recent rallies.

“The more people are exposed to some of the groups involved in ‘animal activism’, the more sceptical they are of their methods and motives,” NFF President Peter Corish said today. “The public is suffering chronic fatigue from inane PR stunts, preachy grandstanding and misinformation campaigns.

“While the appeal of these devices may be waning, the public and farmers are well aware that sound animal welfare practices are non-negotiable – nor should they be. In that light, we welcome a mature, ‘informed’ discussion.

“Like all Australians, farmers were disgusted by the cruelty inflicted upon the cattle in a recent 60 Minutes story. The NFF wholeheartedly endorses the Australian Government’s decision to suspend livestock exports to Egypt, particularly if the footage is shown to represent credible evidence of systemic barbarism.

“While we now know the cattle depicted were, in fact, not Australian, the NFF sees this as a moot point. There can be no condoning of such barbaric treatment of animals in our export markets, regardless of the origin of the animals, and Australian cattle certainly should not be sent to that fate.

“However, livestock exports – predominantly cattle and sheep, are not inherently cruel. In fact, our position is to make live exports as humane as possible, and, to that end, the on-board ship mortality rate for cattle is now less than 0.2% and for sheep less than 1%, both historical lows.”

The Keniry Inquiry, which followed the Cormo Express tragedy, was strongly supported by the NFF and resulted in robust national standards for live exports. The NFF has also been a key player in the development and implementation of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy – an agreed Government, industry and community blueprint for the future of animal welfare in Australia.

“The livestock industry has invested $1.5 million this financial year to raise the standards of animal welfare overseas to meet Australian community expectations,” Mr Corish added. “For example, Australian-style restraining boxes are becoming commonplace overseas owing to our ability to prove that non-stressed animals are more profitable in the marketplace.

“Calm animals produce better quality meat, significantly enhancing its market value. By demonstrating to overseas operations that keeping animals calm and adhering to sound animal welfare practices actually helps profitability, we are improving animal welfare standards – those improvements are real and growing.”

In addition to supplying equipment, our industry runs training workshops on animal welfare practices in our live export markets, employs veterinarians in those specific regions to oversee and ensure appropriate standards are adhered to, and dispatches experienced stock handlers to teach appropriate animal handling practices.

“This is clearly a long-term strategy,” Mr Corish said. “It has to be. The live animal export market is very specific, engaging with cultures that demand live animals be delivered to the marketplace. If we don’t sell live animals to them, they will buy them elsewhere – from other countries that don’t have our high standards or share our ideals.

“Australia is the only country actively improving animal welfare standards around the world. If we stop our trade the biggest loser will be global animal welfare. Only by engaging with these countries and raising their awareness of animal welfare can we influence and change their practices.

“However, for some groups campaigning to end live exports, the real agenda is to kill off farming. Many subscribe to the 1970s academic Peter Singer’s proposition opposing any human interaction with animals (as pets, guide dogs and alike, describing these as akin to ‘slavery’), let alone as livestock.

“Clearly, most people would view such a notion as ludicrous. Likewise, consistent with Singer, many of these groups advance vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. That’s their choice, of course, but they should at least be upfront about their true agenda so ordinary people can make informed decisions about their bona fides as ‘activists’.

“Most Australians, including farmers, do genuinely care about animal welfare standards and practices. So we have to demystify the murky misinformation many groups peddle and be far more transparent in the way modern farming has embraced animal welfare principles.

“We are committed to the highest animal welfare standards in the world, making them better and taking them to other countries. We’re not after free kicks, just a ‘fair go’. Farmers are doing everything possible to improve on our already high standards of animal welfare at home and to change practices overseas.

“For the record, livestock exports deliver up to $1 billion-a-year to the Australian economy and directly employ over 9,000 people, with thousands more jobs dependent on the trade. Farmers live and breathe genuine animal welfare every day… it’s in our interests to do so.”

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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