THE extremes between the treatment of Australian animals compared to local animals in our live trade markets has become absurd, according to an experienced live export ship veterinarian.
Western Australia’s Dr Peter Arnold, who has made 20 voyages over the past 40 years, said Australian welfare standards were ‘light years ahead’ and what had emerged was a scenario of two types of animals.
Dr Arnold has thrown his support behind the push for international animal welfare laws for live trade.
He has also responded to scathing accounts by some veterinarians of poor animal treatment on board Australian live export ships and claims of being crucified for bringing that to light.
He said the vast majority of vets in the live export business would not accept cruelty, do speak up and are effective in facilitating any changes required.
Dr Arnold believes Australia has a moral responsibility to keep the trade going.
He said there were a number of compelling imperatives associated with live animal export industry, including social, ethical and economic, that benefitted both Australians and overseas communities.
“The consequences of banning the trade start with the depriving of our farmers of alternative markets and competition for their cattle and continue on to depriving our customers of protein, which is a very serious thing in some of the markets we supply,” he said.
“Australia can supply large numbers of very high quality cattle at a reasonable price and for some of the countries we sell to, that is a part of their food security.”
Claims by experienced live export vet Dr Lynn Simpson that she was removed from a government position due to pressure from the live export industry after presenting evidence of appalling conditions on ships have received strong media attention but Dr Arnold says the debate had not been balanced.
“Control of animals on ships must be in hands of vets rather than accounting people - that principle is not negotiable and that is what happens on all the voyages I’ve been on,” he said.
“It is my way or the highway. I am given full control of welfare of animals and that has always been acceptable to exporters.”
Dr Arnold said anthropomorphism – expressing human feelings in animals – had become paramount in Australian society and while it was certainly very emotive, in reality, it was wide of the mark.
“For example, when most people see animals dirty and contaminated by faeces, they find it abhorrent and are outraged when the reality is cattle seek it out, they like the smell of it and to sit in it,” he said.
“So seeing a picture of an animal sitting in faeces is not necessarily the same as seeing a picture of an animal neglected.”
Dr Arnold said 98 per cent of voyages take young, fit and healthy animals and load them at a suitable density of roughly two-thirds full which allowed enough room to sit in sternal recumbency.
The animals have ad lib access on at least two sides of the pen to water and high-fibre, low starch food, with fresh air supplied via ventilation systems which does not rely on the ship’s movement and has a fail-safe backup.
“Hard floor surfaces covered with deep litter, consisting of food litter mixed with animal manure and urine, while not suitable for humans, is very acceptable and sought-after by animals. It does not constitute a risk of faecal contamination,” Dr Arnold said.
“The vast majority of shipments meet these very basic animal husbandry needs.
“The use of accredited Australian stockmen and supervising vets ensure these principles are adhered to and such professionals are there to apply appropriate animal husbandry measures if an animal welfare risk occurs.”
Dr Arnold said the Australian Government had created laws and regulations to cover the ship design, animal standards and the licensing of exporters.
Daily reporting systems were in place to monitor the welfare of the animals at sea and animals were now even monitored after discharge all the way to their slaughter in approved abattoirs, he said.
“We can’t control a weather or shipping catastrophe but we can, and do, determine the standards the industry must adhere to in terms of best practice principles and strategies.
“In this setting, none of the animal welfare risks presented are unmanageable nor do they justify the closure of the industry.”
The story Live-ex vets ‘speak up and are effective’ on animal welfare first appeared on Queensland Country Life.