Frequently Asked Questions

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the live animal export trade.

Unfortunately, a handful of exporters benefit from distracting you from the truth.


The facts

  • Live animal export is cruel 

  • Exporters have a long history of animal welfare breaches which are ongoing

  • The live animal export trade is an industry in decline, with annual exports dropping by an average of 16% between 2017 and 2021

  • Producers want a more reliable trade that isn’t impacted by stoppages 

  • More people from rural areas, than from anywhere else, are concerned over the inadequacy of current standards

  • The majority of Australians are in favour of transitioning away from live animal export to a progressive and ethical alternative

  • Other countries are ending live animal export, we can too

The only vested interest we, and all of the other animal welfare organisations across Australia have, is ensuring that animals don’t suffer unnecessarily. 

What does live animal export involve?

Live export of animals by sea for slaughter and breeding involves confining animals, often in cramped, filthy conditions, for days or even weeks at a time, on board noisy, constantly moving vessels.

Sheep, cattle and buffalo are exported by sea and air, and camels, goats, horses, greyhounds, alpacas and crustaceans are exported by air only. Animals can be on board marine vessels for up to 5 weeks, even longer if something goes wrong (and it does), though voyages to SouthEast Asia are typically 5 to 7 days duration; the Middle East, two to three weeks, and Russia and China, one month. During that time, they are often subjected to extremes of temperature and high levels of ammonia from urea. With ships at full capacity, they will be kept in cramped conditions where they can do little more than stand or lie down. Depending on weight, sheep are allocated as little as 0.271 square metres each (Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock 3.1.)

All transport is stressful for sheep and cattle; transporting them from origin to holding yards, to ships, to sale yards, to slaughterhouses just exacerbates the stress. The long-distance transportation of animals such as those sent from Fremantle to the Middle East, or from southern Australia to China or Russia, contradicts the universally accepted principle that animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to the point of production.

But doesn't live exports employ people?

The live export industry likes to say that it employs around 13,000 people, but we know that the majority of these people would still be required in a chilled meat-only trade – people such as sheep and cattle producers, stock-hands, stock transport drivers, shearers, vets, truckies etc. These people are also employed within the domestic and export meat processing sector and are not employed exclusively within the live export industry.

Live export also exports jobs. Jobs in slaughterhouses and downstream processing are exported overseas with every live animal. The AMIEU conservatively estimates jobs lost due to live exports, in the meat-works industry alone, at 40,000 since 1990.

But aren’t the mortalities on board ships only a tiny fraction?

Although the actual mortality rate is averaged across all voyages in a single year – less than 1% for sheep and less than 0.2% for cattle, the “acceptable” loss (by sea) is 1% for sheep and 0.5% for cattle. This means that the industry would have “accepted” the deaths of 5,411 cattle and 7,756 sheep in 2020 for no other reason other than they got on a ship, and it would not have instigated an enquiry into those deaths – these are the expendables in an industry that knows it places animals in compromising situations both on board and in importing countries. 

The live export industry measures animal welfare by counting how many animals have fallen down dead; the death statistics tell us nothing about the other animals who have endured the same extremely hot, cramped, ammonia-filled conditions on rolling, pitching ships with 24/7 fluorescent lighting and engine noise from both ships’ engines and extraction fans – the ones who make it to the destination countries alive enough to slaughter.

Are livestock ships suitable for humanely transporting animals?

Some vessels, such as the Al Messilah (built 1980) and the Maysora (built 1989) are old converted car carriers or cargo ships. More modern, purpose-built ships such as the seven Dutch-owned G series ships are certainly better for the animals, but even they can’t defeat rough seas and extremes in temperatures. Hard, slippery metal floors, 24/7 fluorescent lighting, constant noise from ships’ engines and ventilation/extractor systems (which can be heard from a kilometre away when in port), plus rough seas, and pellets for food, hardly make for humane transport for animals used to solid ground and pastures.

Is the live export industry regulated by government?

Live exporters are obliged to comply with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), administered by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS); the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), administered by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE); and Marine Order 43, administered by Australia Marine Safety Authority (AMSA).

ASEL only governs the condition of animals fit for loading and onboard requirements (feed, water, space, etc.) and does not cover animal cruelty.

ESCAS requires animals are treated in accordance with World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recommendations, which are legally unenforceable and allow fully conscious slaughter. Almost a decade since its implementation, importer and exporter breaches are still being reported and many export companies are repeat offenders.

In Western Australia, the court has ruled that live exporters are also bound by the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002, and there are currently animal cruelty charges against a former Director of a WA-based live export company. The outcome of that court case, in 2022, will be a defining moment for live sheep exports out of WA.

Monitoring of animal cruelty at the port is often left to animal welfare groups or concerned individuals – Stop Live Exports, Animals Angels and Vets Against Live Exports (VALE) used to monitor the loading of ships at Fremantle until the Port Authority made it a no-go zone, which effectively left no one to observe whether regulations and standards were being followed. They relented after several years but made access so far-removed from the loading that it is virtually impossible to see anything.

The federal government required Independent Observers (IOs) to start accompanying shipments out of Australia, and that commenced on 1 April 2018. As of 2019, they changed the rules to state “only on riskier long-haul voyages”, then changed their mind again, stating Covid-19 had made it too risky. Consequently, there have been no independent observers on any voyage since June 2020, despite the previous concerning IO observations on nearly every voyage; in the past two years and hundreds of shipments out of Australia, only two have had IOs on board.

How are animals treated once they reach the Middle East?

All animals ending up in the Middle East will have their throats cut whilst fully conscious, except in Jordan where the Royal Family has mandated pre-stunning in all government-run slaughter facilities. The best they can hope for is a sharp knife and competent slaughterman, but if they end up being leaked from the supply chain and sold privately for home or street slaughter, they won’t even get that.

Don't Middle Eastern consumers demand live animals due to lack of refrigeration?

This is an unfortunate commonly used marketing ploy used by live exporters that is not only incorrect but culturally insensitive. Even the Australian government acknowledges that the live trade to the Middle East is not driven by a lack of available refrigeration, yet this is a myth perpetuated by politicians and industry alike.

A review undertaken in 2011 by Market Vision Research & Consulting Services, a company based in Dubai, noted that in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain there was near-universal household ownership of refrigerators, at 99.5%.  Freezers also have a high penetration (73%), among households. This figure would have only grown along with the wealth in these countries.

When WSPA’s Campaign Manager, Jessica Borg visited the Middle East over a decade ago, she said that “The idea that everyone in the Middle East goes to a wet market and lacks proper refrigeration is simply misguided. They even have air-conditioned bus stops over here. Living in the Middle East without access to refrigeration is just not possible.”

Australia mainly exports to the Gulf region of the Middle East, which is rich in resources – Dubai even has an indoor snow skiing slope! There are only two religious ceremonies per year where live animals are required en mass. For everyday meat products, consumers in the Middle East generally buy products from a supermarket.

Won't Australia’s presence and influence in the countries we export live animals to in the Middle East help improve animal welfare standards?

Australia has been exporting live animals to the Middle East for over 40 years. Footage taken at Middle Eastern slaughterhouses as recently as 2021 indicates that animal welfare standards are still negligible or non-existent and unmonitored.

The live export industry’s claim that they might try to improve animal welfare by exporting animals to the Middle East has only emerged in the last few years since animal welfare groups have exposed the handling and slaughter practices in this region.

Australia has no real control over handling and slaughter practices in the Middle East. however, Australia can choose not to sell animals into a situation where we are certain that they will be subjected to horrific cruelty. By continuing to supply animals to countries where they are routinely abused, we send a clear message that we approve of that abuse.

The best way to ensure animals are handled as humanely as possible and have a chance at competent stunning and avoid long-haul, stressful transport, is to slaughter them in Australia and only export them as chilled or frozen meat.

Don't consumers in the Middle East prefer live exports from Australia?

The Middle East loves chilled Australian sheep meat. It is high-quality, Halal-certified and disease-free. The chilled trade to the Middle East alone is worth more than the entire live trade.

What happened when live exports were suspended to certain countries?

After the trade to Saudi Arabia was suspended due to the Cormo Express disaster, there was a 67% increase in mutton exports.

When we stopped supplying live sheep to Bahrain in 2013 after their breach of our Memorandum of Understanding which saw 21,000 sheep stranded then massacred in Pakistan, they increased their chilled imports from Australia and now import exclusively chilled meat.

Aren't we an important source of protein for the Middle East?

Yes, but we can still provide that protein via chilled meat exports only.

All of the Middle Eastern countries which import sheep from Australia are wealthy nations and every country we currently export live animals to, with the exception of Turkey and Israel, also imports chilled beef and/or sheep meat from Australia.

What about Australian Farmers? Don't they rely on the live export industry?

Australia already exports billions of dollars worth of chilled meat to many countries including the Middle East.

The live export trade is just a tiny proportion of Australia’s livestock industry.  Australia’s live export trade accounts for less than 5% of the value of Australia’s livestock industries. Relying on the chilled meat trade is also much less risky than relying on the live trade, which history has shown can be shut down overnight at the whim of an importing country or government. Chilled meat can always be stored or find other markets – animals that can’t be exported need to be kept and fed, or sold at a loss or greatly reduced profit.

Far greater long-term security for both Australian farmers and Australian workers in meat processing industries in Australia could be created through vigorous marketing of Australian chilled, disease-free meat to importing countries.

If Australia stopped live exports, wouldn't markets source their meat from other places with lower animal welfare standards?

According to many industry representatives, no other country is currently able to supply the same volume of healthy, good-quality sheep to the Middle East as Australia. People trust the quality of Australian beef and sheep meat.

Australia’s distance from importing countries means our animals are forced to travel much longer distances than local animals, and our animals are less suitable for the stress of handling and transport because they have such limited contact with humans. (Jones, B & Hart, S 2008Situation report on the long-distance transportation of live animals for slaughter in Australia and export for slaughter overseas (WSPA Sydney).

Other countries already export live animals, a few export many more animals than we do; they didn’t start because we stopped, and they won’t refrain from exporting because we continue. Our continuation of the live animal export trade sends a message that we condone the cruelty inherent in the trade.

It is difficult to imagine animal welfare standards worse than those we have seen in the past decades, even as recently as 2021 and the horrific on board suffering of sheep dying from heat stress in their thousands in 2017 and 2018.

Do consumers in the Middle East prefer live exports so they are sure of their Halal status?

No – Australia has around 70 certified Halal slaughterhouses, with the slaughter of each animal overseen by Muslim officials who are licensed by importing countries. Halal accreditation of meat is administered under the ‘Australian Government Supervised Muslim Slaughter Programme’.

Meat from animals Halal-slaughtered in Australia is genuinely Halal as opposed to the meat from animals slaughtered in the back streets and makeshift killing rooms where they are often traumatised first – the levels of abuse some animals suffer would make the meat “Haram” – forbidden.

Many Islamic leaders have approved the pre-stunning of sheep and cattle prior to the cutting of the throat. Because electrical and concussive bolt stunning is ‘reversible’, the animal is not injured and is still alive, the practice is consistent with Islamic requirements. Footage of investigations in the Middle East show that the way animals are being slaughtered is not in accordance with Halal principles, which are:

  • Not killing animals in the presence of other animals
  • Animals are not to be bound
  • The slaughterman makes a dedication of the animal to “Allah”
  • The animal being slaughtered must face Mecca
  • The animal should be killed with a single cut to the throat with a long sharp blade
  • The animal must not suffer prior to slaughter
    Doesn't having a vet on board make it safer for the animals?

    No. A shipboard veterinarian may have responsibility for more than 60,000 animals on board.

    Sick or moribund animals are not routinely euthanised. Most animals who die on live export ships are found dead in their pens – they are not euthanised before they reach this point.

    For the 2400 sheep who died during one voyage aboard the Awassi Express in 2017 or the 4179 sheep who died in a “heat event” aboard the Bader III in 2013, they suffered horrendously prolonged deaths – not many, if any, were euthanised. For each sheep who finally died from heat stress, there were likely another 10 or more who suffered.

    The presence of a vet has no impact on rough seas, crowding, temperature extremes, high ammonia levels from the build-up of urine and faecal matter, 24/7 fluoro lighting and constant noise from both the ship’s engines and the ventilator/extraction systems — all exacerbate the risk of illness and injury. Causes of death at sea include heat stress, inanition (failure to eat – essentially, starvation), salmonellosis, respiratory disease and traumatic injuries requiring euthanasia.

    Up to 1% of every consignment of sheep and 0.5% of cattle can die at sea before a government investigation is even triggered. On a shipment of 60,000 sheep or 8,000 cattle, that’s 600 sheep and 40 cattle respectively.

    From Australia alone, we estimate that over 20 million animals have perished at sea over the past 30 years, and countless tens of millions more suffered.