AUSTRALIA is the only country in the world that has made animal welfare a condition of livestock trade.
Since the suspension of the live cattle export trade with Indonesia in 2011, Australia's high rate of compliance with international animal welfare standards has covered millions of animals sent to hundreds of facilities in dozens of countries.
In the wake of last week's monumental Federal Court judgement that found the ban was illegal, and has thus paved the way for cattle suppliers who led the class action against the Commonwealth to receive hundreds of millions in compensation, attention has turned to just how much has been achieved in the way of animal welfare.
The Gillard Government implemented the ban after horrific footage of mistreatment of Australian-origin cattle in some Indonesian abattoirs was aired.
In 2011, producers stood alongside Australians of all walks of life in their shock and condemnation of the poor practices.
There was very little common knowledge of the live cattle trade industry throughout the Australian community at the time. It's value was severely underrated and the public outcry was for a total ban.
It's widely accepted that the ban devastated the northern cattle industry.
Now, Joe Ludwig, the agriculture minister at the time, has been found to have committed misfeasance, or misuse of public office, in issuing the ban.
It was only a matter of weeks after the ban was announced that a regulatory framework known as ESCAS - the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System - was developed.
It is based on four key pillars: animal welfare complying with high, World Organisation for Animal Health standards; exporters having control of the complete supply chain; exporters being able to trace or account for all livestock and independent auditing.
The first consignment was exported under ESCAS on 10 August 2011.
Animal rights activists say without the ban, changes in Indonesian slaughterhouses that now see the vast majority of exported Australian cattle stunned unconscious before slaughter would not have been implemented.
Animals Australia says despite the Federal Court ruling there are many Australians today who remain deeply grateful to Joe Ludwig for having the courage to make a decision that was in the interests of animals.
Former chief executive officer of the live exporters peak group Alison Penfold tweeted: "This is a significant decision and an important one for producers and truckies blindsided by the 2011 live-ex ban but let's not lose sight of the fact that it took this crisis to get the exporters to step up and make the animal welfare changes necessary to make the trade sustainable."
Other industry players dispute that.
The cattle industry had always, and would continue to, look for better animal welfare outcomes at every turn, according to Queensland cattle producer Don Heatley, who was chair of Meat & Livestock Australia at the time.
"This industry was well on that pathway at the time. The problem it faced, and continues to face, is that animal welfare issues in another country are not under our control. We move carefully with the good will of a fellow sovereign nation. We can't walk in and step all over their practices," he said.
Troy Setter, who at the time was chief operating officer of the Australian Agricultural Company and had worked with the North Australian Cattle Co, a subsidiary of Elders and one of the world's largest cattle exporters, said the introduction of ESCAS did speed up the pathway that Australia was on.
"What we saw in that footage was not acceptable to anyone and the industry supported the suspension of the facilities involved," he said.
"There were public calls, and also from some politicians, for a shutdown of the trade, consistent with the anti animal production agenda, but it was a shock to the industry when the total ban was made.
"There was no recognition of the supply chains that were already compliant (with international animal welfare standards) and the speed at which other facilities were able to move to stunning."
LiveCorp, the live-ex industry's research and development body, said since 2011 the industry has spent millions via direct investment by exporters, levy-funded research and in-market programs and grants to improve animal welfare standards in markets receiving Australian cattle, sheep and goats.
Australia was the only livestock exporting national which regulated animal welfare standards which apply in other countries, and makes them a condition of trade, according to LiveCorp.
This has lifted welfare outcomes for all animals, regardless of their origin, it says.
LiveCorp also says before 2011 the industry was directing resources toward assessing and improving practices, procedures and facilities where Australian livestock were involved.
A Federal Government review of ESCAS five years ago showed more than 99 per cent of livestock exported had experienced a positive welfare outcome.
Thousands of people had been trained in animal handling and husbandry skills in destination markets under ESCAS.
The story Australia's world-leading animal welfare - what role did the live-ex ban play? first appeared on Farm Online.