By Alastair Lucas, The Australian
IN two recent editorials, The Australian has made strident calls for the meat industry to be given a self-governing regime to ensure the welfare of live animal exports.
These calls are not well based in fact. But, most important, as a humane society we need to ask: what level of animal cruelty are we prepared to accept to protect an industry?
This industry, incidentally, is much smaller than suggested by The Australian. For example, it employs only one-tenth of the 100,000 the newspaper claims and its exports are about $600 million a year, a fraction of the packaged meat industry.
The footage of animal slaughter in Jordan, shot by Animals Australia, and shown on ABC1’s Lateline, may not have been verified. But is it not possible that live animals exported by Australia are, in fact, being treated cruelly on a large scale and that the ABC’s footage portrays reality?
We can’t presently answer that question with certainty, but the evidence is disturbing. Rather than dismissing the evidence as a left-wing agenda, would not a more reasoned response be a call for a proper inquiry into whether the ABC is indeed showing its audiences unrepresentative, sensational footage?
Most Australians agree we need to consider cruelty, not just economics. Killing a large animal by slitting its throat while conscious is cruel.
Animals feel pain, just as humans feel pain. Most humans would identify that such an act is likely to be extremely painful.
That is why animals killed in Australia have to be stunned before slaughter. This includes animals killed for halal purposes, which are stunned electrically first.
In other words, Australia recognises the cruelty of conscious slaughter in its own slaughtering standards. So why should it permit Australian animals to be exported to countries where they may be subjected to conscious slaughter?
The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System does not stipulate stunning; on the contrary, it specifically permits the slitting of throats of fully conscious animals. Not everyone will get comfort that the rules require little more than that animals be killed with a single cut with a “freshly sharpened knife” – hardly an adequate protection, let alone a satisfactory abattoir standard.
It’s not enough for The Australian to simply argue that we must tolerate “slaughtering animals in this way” (as seen in the Jordan footage) to meet the cultural and religious preferences of buyer countries.
Australia itself disproves this by being a major exporter of halal meat slaughtered humanely in Australia with pre-stunning – which obviously preserves much greater value-add and employment in this country.
Rather than brand people who care for animal welfare as left-wing activists (this writer is not), The Australian would be more prudent in calling for sensible debate guided by evidence.
The ABC footage may or may not be indicative of systematic cruelty – we need to be better informed. More fundamentally, the question needs to be addressed: if cruelty were shown to be widespread, are Australians prepared to accept cruelty to Australian-sourced animals to maintain this industry? This is a vital question.
Australia’s humane, locally slaughtered halal industry is the future. As The Australian rightly states, countries to our north need our meat. It would be better if the newspaper called for policy settings that encouraged the domestic halal industry.
Growth of this industry across time will boost the Australian economy, employ more Australians – and may just improve the welfare of animals for which we have a duty to protect.
Alastair Lucas is a Melbourne-based writer, company director and chairman of the Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health.