Sunday, June 9, 2013

Live cattle export ban: Have you really thought about all the consequences?

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or here on my blog, you'll know I'm having a hard time of late. My mental health is a little shaky to say the least. I haven't been posting as often, but I am still writing. I'm currently involved with a writing course which you'll hear about in a couple of months and I'm also keeping a detailed 'mood diary' for my psychiatrist.

I've been spending so much time over-analysing my moods that, quite frankly, I'm sick of myself. There are so many people out there in the world doing it a hell of a lot tougher than I am. I'm not going to take that away from my personal situation, because mine is a chemical one. I could have everything in the world going for me right now and still feel like shit. It's just my brain is playing tricks on me.

All that aside, I want to talk about something completely different to what I usually post about. This is a pretty emotive issue. There are a lot of opposing views out there but one side of the story is being heard much louder than the other side which I think is unfair.

I also want to say upfront, while my mood has been unstable, my ability to process rational thought and use critical thinking to write my arguments regarding this issue are still functioning. Any commenters that oppose my opinion and use my mental health issues as a means to ridicule me or this article will have their comments deleted immediately. If you don't agree with me, by all means tell me about your views, but keep my mental health condition and my opinion on this subject separate.

I have some pretty strong political views but I tend to stay away from writing about them on my blog because I don't want to be a target for trolls and I don't want to alienate any of my readers (ie lose one of the few of you). I've seen it happen to Woogsworld and Edenland (less in the form of lost readership, more in regards to vicious trolls).

Mrs Woog is pretty good at writing about the PM without giving away too much of who she'd actually vote for, but Eden on the other hand, lays her heart on the line and strongly aligns herself with the PM and her Government. That is her choice and I respect her for that because it takes huge balls to open yourself up to criticism on the level she received. And I'll keep reading her blog even though I don't agree with her politics.

Now, without any more beating around the bush (no pun intended), I want to talk about live animal exports. I know; it's a big, emotive subject!

I don't pretend to be an expert on this topic. I live in the CBD of Sydney and have grown up in the inner cities of Sydney and Melbourne and spent many years living in London. I'm a city chick through and through. But I have family from Far North Queensland who have been graziers there since the 1860s and I care about them.

I'm writing this post from my heart, from the information my FNQ family has given me and from what I've read around the interwebs.

All Aussies should care about our farmers that are doing it tough in Northern Australia suffering from both drought and the impact of the live animal export ban. Many of these families are still trying to rebuild after the destruction caused Cyclone Yasi. And now they can't sell their livestock to make the money they need to survive. Instead they spend their days rounding up dead or dying animals while the likes of Animals Australia and GetUp rake in the cash through donations from the misinformed city dwellers who want to punish them for trying to make an honest living and provide the beef that most of us enjoy.

While animal rights activists scream loudly about the disgusting treatment of a small number of our cattle exported live to foreign countries, what are they doing about the poor animals left here with nowhere to go?

Far North Queensland is suffering from a drought worse than that seen in 2007. Feed is scarce. With a huge glut in the beef cattle market what do you think happens to the animals not sold? They are left to die, that's what. A slow painful death out in the Australian outback unless the farmer can get to them in time to shoot them.

The graphic truth of cattle left to die in drought stricken Queensland. Image source.

No one likes to see what we've all seen happen to Aussie animals that have been exported live to places like Egypt, Indonesia and the Middle East and mistreated. The disgusting cruelty these mistreated animals have endured at the hands of these despicable human beings is to be abhorred. As a live animal exporting nation, I believe it is our government's responsibility to do all that it can to make the governments of the nations buying our animals guarantee that their abattoirs abide by the international regulations regarding to the humane slaughter of animals.

Of all the live animal exporting nations, Australia has the highest standards in animal transportation conditions. Animal hygiene is paramount and accredited export vets accompany each voyage to ensure animal health and safety.

The nations that buy our animals want them live for reasons we might not understand: for religious rituals or because of lack of refrigeration in poorer countries. Personally, I don't understand it but I'm an atheist and I have a fridge. Regardless, these countries want their meat live and if they don't get it from Australia, with all our strict regulations in place, then they are just going to get the animals from other countries that don't have those same rules and regulations and even more animals will be mistreated.

In the meantime, the ban on live exports means that hundreds of thousands of animals are dying slow and painful deaths here in Australia because they have nowhere to go, not enough rain and not enough feed.

The ban is hurting our farming communities that are already doing it so tough. The cattle industry in Northern Australia, most notably in the Northern Territory, accounts for an enormous number of jobs in regions where there is no alternative industry. In this article it is estimated that half of land in the Northern Territory and 20-30% of the pastoral leases in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia is owned by people from the indigenous community. The article also goes on to describe that "there is an entire transport, feeding, administration and shipping industry based on the trade" that has suffered enormously from the ban.

There was an article published on the front page of Saturday's Australian Newspaper that also tells of the slow demise of one of Australia's most successful indigenous pastoral operations, partly due to the live export ban.

But the mainstream media mostly continues to publish stories that are so biased against live exports. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald prompted my sister's mother in law to respond:

I'm hoping you might balance out your article on the 'live export artist' with the ensuing catastrophe caused by the cessation and disruption of live export. At present because of the resulting glut of cattle, compounded by drought, hundreds of thousands of cattle in northern Australia are facing a slow torturous death. Many are already dead. This is an animal and human welfare disaster of incredible proportions. Possibly the like of which we have never seen before. The vast majority of abattoirs do the right thing. In Indonesia there is oversight of abattoirs by Australian authorities but poor people will accept bribes to do the wrong thing. I know you are essentially a city based newspaper but you report on national issues and this is without doubt a national tragedy about which the majority of Australian are unaware. Government departments give out spin that they are offering this or that but it far too little and far too late. There is still a chance for some of these cattle to survive and be spared a long, lingering, horrific death.
   Sheena - retired grazier

So while everyone is enraged about the treatment of Aussie animals in abattoirs in other countries, by people who may or may not have been bribed by animal activists to make the situation look worse than what it is, who is doing anything to help the animals that are left here to die of starvation? Who is helping the farmers put meals on their tables at night? Who is helping to keep the indigenous community of Northern Australia working in their own businesses?

Where are the artists creating works that depict the pain and the heartache of the farmer who can't afford this month's debt repayments? Or of the cattle that can't get themselves up on their own four legs to walk to a water hole?

Why isn't the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age running those sorts of stories? And why isn't the ABC’s 4Corners program that launched the current publicity about cattle mistreatment in Indonesia now doing a program on the much greater devastation being suffered by cattle and cattle families as a result of the export ban and drought?

Have you really thought about all the consequences of the live cattle export ban?


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Yolanda said...

Brilliant article and here here to the 4 Corners comment. Now wouldn't that be truly honest investigative journalism - the unintended consequences of a high profile TV program.

Sheena OBrien said...

Thanks Vanessa. Hope it helps others who are unaware of the tragedy.

James said...

Hope this spreads the word of what's really going on!

Carly Findlay said...

Great post V.
Since the report I've tried to make more ethical choices when buying meat (and fruit/veg/dairy) - going to farmers markets, local grocers - but I still don't know if this is harming the industry.

Kim@ Spirited Mama said...

Hi Vanessa I hope u are finding the long weekend ok. My heart is with u. Incredible post. I hadn't thought much of this side of the argument because I thought the ban was only temporary. It really comes down to education, everything does doesn't it - no matter what side. It also comes down to the heart of humanity on both sides - if animals are suffering here then the farmers have the responsibility to stop it. In Indonesian abbortoirs, the workers have the responsibility to be humane in thei treatment of the animals, it's really a very sad situation all round because at the end of the day the animals are still hurting :-( xxx

Jodie Fisher said...

Well said Vanessa! There needs to be more local voices out there reminding / creating awareness of the plight of our farmers! Will be sharing this as far & wide as I can! I hope you are finding relief from your weekend time out! All the best!

Michael said...

Thank you Vanessa. Its great to read these things from a non rural based person. It gives heart to those out there that maybe some are listening. The ban and subsequent regulations that followed after its lifting have hurt all producers, while as you say, other countries are filling the void left by us. said...

Thanks Yo. This is an issue I've had in the back of my mind since that infamous 4corners doco and the govt's kneejerk reaction to it. Looking further into the ban and the consequences it continues to cause years later and I'm flabbergasted that this is not a front page story. V. said...

No worries Sheena! The project was a real eye opener for me. Like I said I'm a city girl through and through, as you know, but I care about rural Australia. Some of what I read doing the research for this piece really broke my heart and it shocks me the mainstream media aren't talking more about it. said...

Hey James. I'm just a little blog and this topic is not what I usually write about, but if I can open just a few people's eyes to the problems facing rural Australia right now then I've helped just a little bit. Thanks for reading. V. said...

Thanks Carly. You are such an awesome writer so I'll take that as a real compliment! V.

Jeanie said...

Coming from a Cattle family, I am all too aware of the implications on the live-export shenanigans going on.

There is a twitter/facebook community called "Ask an Aussie Farmer" ( /, and a hashtag - #supportliveex - which actually puts forward some very insightful comment on the repercussions and management of such issues. said...

Hey Kim. I'm feeling much better thanks. The farmers here are doing all that they can with what they can. But they are suffering from drought, a feed shortage and many are broke, living on massive overdrafts.

In Saturday's article in The Australian regarding the Delta Downs station it says "With 43,000 cattle stranded within its boundaries, 20,000 more than usual owing to a backlog of two years of unsold young calves, grass is running out and the bank overdraft mounting alarmingly". The farmers barely have the means to get to these animals to either help them live or put them out of their misery. Delta Downs' largest paddock is 30,000ha! Station owners can't afford to keep on the number of workers they previously had in order to do the work that needs to be done.

This government needs to do something NOW! This isn't just up to the farmers, it is up to the government and all Australians to stand up to likes of Animals Australia who don't want animals farmed at all.

You are right, animals are suffering, but so are people. I worry that a lot of these animal rights activist groups don't care about the people.

V. said...

Thanks for reading Michael. I think this ensuing catastrophe is an issue for all Australians to be aware of, whether from rural Australia or from the big cities. Let's just hope the next government does something to stem the damage already done. V.

Yvonne said...

thanks for caring about us!!

Sheena OBrien said...

Thanks Carly, There's a Facebook page called Ask an Aussie Farmer. They are volunteers willing to answer any questions you might have. said...

Wow, the more I hear about this tragedy the more my heart breaks. I did not know that about the shortage in ammunition.

Someone has asked on my facebook page "Is it the live export cattle ban or is it major corporates now controlling the market prices? dare I throw that one out there...?"

I can't really answer that question. As a farming family running a small business, do you have a response to this?

It doesn't sound right to me... said...

You're welcome. V. said...

Thank you Jodie. And yes, I am feeling so much better after having a weekend off from parenting. Can't wait to see my little man tomorrow though. Hope you've had a great long weekend. V. said...

Hey Jeanie. One of the admins from Ask an Aussie Farmer has been in contact. What a great initiative! I've sent out the link to my networks. I just think city people don't necessarily think about where their meat comes from. They just go to the supermarket and it's always there. V.

Mel said...

Vanessa, I have many Thank you's for you. Firstly thank you for hearing us as farmers we are trying so hard to get our stories out there to be heard without being labelled as "Whinging Farmers." Thank you for telling our story if only one person read it and thought differently about the cattle crisis or the impact of the Live Ex ban it has been worth it. Last but not least thank you for your openness and honesty regarding your mental health. Through frank & open discussion in forums such as this we can all help to destigmatize mental illness. It is one of the biggest concerns for me about this whole cattle crisis aside from the animal welfare of course, the mental health of the farmers and graziers caught up in it. They can be a proud and stubborn lot, farmers. I hope that they are not in this instance and seek the help they need.

Wishing you all the best :)

Robyn said...

Vanessa, thank you so much for so many reasons.
1) staying connected to your rural family, so through your connections and awareness you can spread the word from the bush further in through the urban areas.
2) for researching, talking, asking questions.
3) for taking the time and energy to write and spread the real word, not the media driven hype.
4) your sincerity is appreciated.
And last but not least,
5) for recognising your mental health state, for sharing your story, which shows through to your empathy for the farmers/graziers.

I wish you good health and thanks.

Helen said...

Thank god my family aren't the only ones saying this!! Live exports are of course not ideal but there is far more harm than good done when an industry is disrupted like this. Everyone seems to forget that farmers actually require the business of live exports to survive - environmentalism is fine but sacrificing entire family livelihoods is unnacceptable.

Mark Letter said...

A well written piece. The bridge between the city and country is slowly breaking and you are a sure force behind it. Thank you and take care.

Eloise said...

Farmers breed more cattle = excess cattle. Seems like they have made their bed, now they must lay in it.

Jane said...

Very well written and you are spot on. I've wondered the same thing, why no one is really addressing the issue, and I saw the piece in The Australian on the weekend thinking, well, that
will their attention because it's about indigenous farmers.

You ask: Why isn't the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age running those sorts of stories? And why isn't the ABC’s 4Corners program that launched the current publicity about cattle mistreatment in Indonesia now doing a program on the much greater devastation being suffered by cattle and cattle families as a result of the export ban and drought?

The answer is that, once again, they are covering the ALP's bum. They know the Ludwig ban was wrong but can't admit error, or point the finger at yet another misguided, kneejerk policy by the
Gillard Government that's done some serious damage, not only to our farmers but also to our relationship with Indonesia. I think someone could investigate the latter aspect further, because not only did the ban hand Australian farmers some real problems and virtually undermine the industry for years, but the Indonesians too were badly hurt when all of sudden there was
little beef for sale on the market - something that could have led to food riots.

It will be years before the market picks up again, although I did see something recently that gave me renewed hope - Indonesia is running short of cattle stocks, needs some almost immediately, and Australia is the closest and most reliable supplier. Also, I suspect the Indonesians will be a lot more welcoming of approaches by a different Government, having learnt to mistrust the current
one. (It might also be more amenable when it comes to the boat people problem as well.)

Another issue that never gets mentioned is that only a few abattoirs were involved (although I just noticed that Sheena mentioned it in her letter). The vast majority meet Australian requirements but instead, the ABC snuck a few covert reporters into the few where these practices were going on, tipped off by so-called animal activists who are actually running another agenda. Boo, sucks to the ABC for going along with it but then it's something we've come to expect from an organisation that's lost its way.

Your point about the "disgusting cruelty these mistreated animals have endured at the hands of these despicable human beings is to be abhorred", is a good one but also I have to wonder why the West constantly feels obliged to impose its own values on other cultures, where animals are
viewed as, well, animals, and not subject to $10,000 operations to save a paw, or their life ( even if they've already had a pretty good one and at 17 years old, for example, won't have many more years left). Can you imagine what some would think in a country where children can't and won't
receive similar treatment, and how this could be viewed?

Unfortunately, V, the farmers, we, and the country as a whole are being held hostage by a minority which has the ear of a badly debased and largely city-based media which basically write for their cohorts or, occasionally, city dwellers.

Good on you for raising an issue that needs to be raised. Let's hope it gets picked up. Is it something you can submit elsewhere? It certainly would be worth it. Maybe News Limited could be interested?

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