Death Of A Thousand Cuts: How Live Export Is Killing Australian Meat Work

Late last week the RSPCA expressed its fear that increasing live exports would not only mean an increase in animal cruelty, but also lead to a cut in local abattoir jobs.

As reported by the ABC, the RSPCA is worried that “job cuts had already been made in Queensland because of exports, and that could happen in Victoria too”.

We have some unfortunate news for the RSCPA. Those jobs cuts have already happened.

As a matter of fact, they’ve been happening for years. At a conservative estimate, the AMIEU believes that over 40,000 meatworking jobs have been lost nationwide since 1990.

The Australian meat processing industry is in the middle of a quiet but devastating crisis — and it’s one that the live export industry has helped to bring about.

Exporting cattle, exporting jobs

The live export lobby has powerful friends in Canberra, including ex-Labor leader Simon Crean who turned his back on the Australian working class to take up the chairman position (and the fat salary that comes with it) of the Australian Live Exporters Council (ALEC).

This council has deep pockets and great influence within the halls of power, and has very successfully managed to convince politicians from both sides of the divide that the scandal-plagued live export industry is a vital part of a functioning meat industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The simple fact is that cattle are either exported live to be processed elsewhere in Australia, or processed here. You can’t have it both ways.

Cattle that are sent offshore are cattle that don’t contribute to jobs for Australians, and that don’t contribute to the economy.

Cattle that are grown especially for live export take up pasture, feed and water that could be used to grow cattle for processing here in Australia.

Every single head of cattle that is sent offshore is another in the thousands of cuts slowly bleeding the meat industry dry.

Short-term profits or long-term futures?

We need to be perfectly clear about what the live export industry is: a quick and dirty money-spinning exercise that requires minimal investment and returns almost nothing back to the Australian community.

At a time when the Australian meat processing industry is hurting so badly, when so many local jobs are drying up, and when so many companies are paying so little tax, it’s absolutely vital that our nation’s leaders wake up to the simple, undeniable fact that local meat processing gives back to the Australian community and the Australian economy – and live exports do not.

Live export makes its profit by offering a higher price for cattle than local processors can afford to pay, uses a skeleton crew of exploited visa workers to send them overseas, then flogs them off at a massive mark-up to be butchered in inhumane conditions by untrained, underpaid overseas butchers.

It’s no surprise that live exporters can offer a good price for cattle: their running costs are so low because they are a parasitic industry that gives nothing back to the community or the economy.

Local processing means better results – for everyone

Live export supporters often suggest that “the costs of processing in Australia are just too high” and “live export is the only way to make money in a tight market”.

This, again, could not be further from the truth.

Two comprehensive studies undertaken by economic and strategic modelling firm ACIL Tasman show clearly the benefits of local processing – not only for meat processors, but for local farmers as well.

One study in 2009 (PDF) specifically around live export of sheep demonstrates that a sheep processed locally adds 20% more to the Australian economy than one which is sent overseas.

A further study in 2012 (PDF) proposes that building a new processing facility in north-Western Australia would actually increase earnings for farmers by 245% — and create more than 1300 local jobs at the same time.

Being comfortable with cruelty

Last year the Australian public witnessed yet another horrific animal cruelty scandal from the live export industry after appalling footage from Vietnam was aired on the ABC TV’s 7:30 Report.

This is nothing new for the industry. As the Department of Agriculture’s own website shows, the live export industry has been subject to an incredible 107 animal cruelty investigations in the last four years – that’s one every two weeks.

When the live export industry’s own staff veterinarians speak out and blow the whistle on this cruelty, they are immediately sacked.

The industry closes ranks to protect itself, sends lobbyists like Simon Crean off to Canberra to smooth over ruffled feathers with politicians who are worried about possible public outrage, and the cycle of cruelty continues.

Australia’s own deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is particularly comfortable with cruelty. He’s one of the live export industry’s most ardent supporters – so it must just be a total coincidence that one of the biggest live export suppliers regularly flies him (and his family) around Australia for free, right?

We welcome the RSPCA joining our call to put local jobs ahead of the greedy live export industry. We urge all politicians to wake up to the fact that the live export industry is irredeemably compromised by cruelty and self-interest. We congratulate the recent protest action by animal rights activists at the horrible situation currently unfolding on live sheep export ships in Port Adelaide.

For the good of all Australians, we must find a way to slowly and sustainably phase out live exports and return to local processing – to the local jobs and local communities who so desperately need it.

More information:

Grant Courtney
AMIEU Newcastle & Northern
(02) 4929 5496