History of the trade and reviews

​​​​​​The first exports of live sheep from Australia took place over 150 years ago. Since then, livestock exports to over 60 countries have grown into a valuable Australian industry that is worth over $800 million each year and supports the livelihood of many people in rural and regional Australia.

The livestock species that Australia exports for slaughter and breeding are cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, and camelids such as camels and alpacas. The first three of these species dominate the volume and value of livestock exports.

The 1970s and early 1980s saw development in the export of live sheep to the Middle East. Today, the Middle Eastern countries Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar are the principal destinations for live sheep. Turkey is also imports large numbers of live sheep from Australia.

Export of live cattle developed later than that for sheep, but cattle are now exported to a wide range of destinations. Indonesia takes by far the largest number of slaughter cattle, followed by Israel and Turkey. There is an important trade in export of breeder dairy heifers to China, Russia and other destinations.

Reviews and reforms

The welfare of animals and the livelihood of Australians working in rural and regional communities are important considerations in the export of live animals. The Australian Government has a responsibility to the animal producers, exporters and service industries who rely on the export of livestock for their income; the exported animals that are dependent on exporters and government to ensure their welfare; and the broader Australian community, which expects government to enforce standards that reflect their values.

The most significant reform of the livestock export trade has been the introduction in July 2011 of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). This reform ensures the welfare of exported slaughter and feeder livestock, from on-farm sourcing in Australia, up to and including slaughter in the importing country.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources committed to a review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) that began in the second half of 2017.

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Reviews in 2013

Review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Livestock Export Standards Advisory Group (LESAG)

The Australian Government has committed to finalise a comprehensive review of ASEL and LESAG.

A high-level steering committee has examined ASEL and the role and function of LESAG, and clarified the respective roles and responsibilities of governments for regulating the supply chain, in line with recommendations 1, 6 and 7 of the 2011 Independent Review of Australia’s Livestock Export Trade (the Farmer Review).

The final report of the ASEL and LESAG review was completed on 31 May 2013. The committee recommended in their report that draft standards (intended to replace ASEL) be further developed and consulted upon. The committee also proposed terms of reference and membership for a standards advisory group to replace LESAG.

Fremantle review

On 23 March 2013, the Australian Government released the findings of a review into export inspection processes at the Port of Fremantle, the 'Fremantle Review'.

The Fremantle Review was done by a committee comprising representatives of livestock exporters, animal science experts, animal welfare experts, and the Western Australian Government.

The committee has recommended improvements to sheep pre-export inspection processes at Fremantle, many of which address broader issues across Australia's live animal export industry.

Review of modified and copy Mark IV – type cattle slaughter restraint boxes

In July 2013, the departmentreleased a review of these slaughter restraint boxes, by the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer. The reviews’ conclusion was that Mark IV – type cattle slaughter restraint boxes meet the ESCAS checklist requirements and provide a humane animal welfare tool for the slaughter of cattle under the conditions observed if they are designed, maintained and operated as per the original Mark IV manufacturer’s instructions.

Review in 2012

Senate Inquiry into animal welfare standards in live export markets

On 16 June 2011, the Senate of the Australian Parliament referred animal welfare standards in live export to a senate committee for inquiry and report.

The Australian Government agreed to, or noted, all but one of the Senate committee’s findings and recommendations to improve animal welfare standards in the export of livestock. The government’s goal was to ensure that by the end of 2012, all Australian livestock exported for slaughter will be treated at or above the OIE’s recommendations for animal welfare.

Reviews in 2011

Assessment of Mark I and Mark IV slaughter restraint boxes

Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer coordinated an assessment of the Mark I and Mark IV slaughter restraint boxes used in Indonesia and elsewhere.

The assessment found that the Mark I slaughter restraint box does not conform with the OIE’s recommendations for animal welfare. The assessment found that proper use of the Mark IV slaughter restraint box conforms with OIE recommendations.

In addition to correct equipment, operator training and proper operational procedures are essential for ensuring animal welfare standards are met.

Independent review of Australia’s livestock export trade

Following the May 2011 revelation of animal cruelty in some Indonesian abattoirs, in June 2011 the Australian Government paused the export of livestock for slaughter to Indonesia until it had established improved animal welfare safeguards.

In June 2011, the Australian Government commissioned Mr Bill Farmer AO to undertake an independent review into Australia’s export livestock trade.

The specific issues that the review examined are outlined in the terms of reference.

The government also established two Industry Government Working Groups (IGWGs) to develop a regulatory framework for improving animal welfare throughout the entire export supply chain, including and up to the point of slaughter.

The government accepted all 14 recommendations made by the Farmer Review, and also those of the IGWGs. The resulting regulatory framework is ESCAS. At first, ESCAS applied only to exports to Indonesia, but on 21 October 2011, Minister Ludwig announced the ex​tension of ESCAS to all livestock exports for slaughter, by the end of 2012.

The Farmer Review, and ESCAS assisted the Australian Government to establish verifiable and transparent supply chain assurance up to and including the point of slaughter for every livestock consignment that leaves Australia.

Review in 2003

Keniry livestock export review

In December 2003, Dr John Keniry finalised a review into the export livestock export industry. The review was triggered by sheep mortalities on the MV Cormo Express following Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow the vessel to unload sheep in August 2003.

The Keniry Review recommended that a national standard for livestock exports be introduced. It also recommended that government assume responsibility for granting livestock export licences and enforcing compliance, and that industry assume responsibility for research, development and quality assurance systems.

Last reviewed: 22 April 2021
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