Meat & Livestock News

Australian Sheep Farmers Furious Over Government Decision to Ban Live Sheep Exports

TL;DR: The Australian government’s decision to ban live sheep exports by 2028 has outraged farmers, who fear it will devastate the $1 billion industry and rural communities. Activist groups support the ban for animal welfare reasons. A federal support package is seen as inadequate, and protests have erupted. Farmers worry this sets a precedent for further bans on live exports.

Government Decision Sparks Outrage

A significant dispute has erupted in Western Australia following the government’s choice to prohibit live sheep exports by May 1, 2028. This move threatens to put many farmers out of business. The government has been attempting to enforce this ban for several years, driven by activist groups condemning the practice, which has placed Australian animal welfare under intense scrutiny.

Pressure from Activist Groups

Following numerous incidents involving livestock on ships to export markets, the government has felt pressured to yield to the demands of minority groups. The live sheep export industry faced major controversy in 2018 when shocking footage showed thousands of sheep dying aboard livestock vessels due to overcrowding and extreme heat. This bold step to ban live sheep exports is hitting Western Australia particularly hard, as it is the primary player in live exports abroad. The industry is valued at approximately $85.2 million.

Scanning the Stats

Examining the statistics from Meat and Livestock Australia, live sheep exports by sea in 2023 increased by 22%, or 107,191 head, totalling 593,514. This marks the only annual rise in live sheep export numbers in the past five years and the largest year since 2020. For the fourth consecutive year, Kuwait was the largest importer of live Australian sheep by sea, receiving 271,162 head in 2023, making up 46% of total sheep exports. Israel followed, importing 16% of live sheep exports, or 94,000 feeder animals. Jordan, the third-largest importer of sheep in 2023, saw the largest jump in exports, increasing by 411%, or 84,376 head year-on-year. The UAE, Oman, and Qatar remained significant, importing a combined 25% (143,876) of the market.

Live Cattle Exports Also Rise

Live cattle exports by sea also increased by 12%, or 73,612 head, from 597,179 in 2022 to 670,791 in 2023. Indonesia remained the top importer of live cattle by sea in 2023, with 359,305 head, or 54% of live exports, entering their predominantly feeder market. These numbers remained relatively stable year-on-year, rising by just 6%. Vietnam imported 19% of total live cattle exports by sea, or 126,930 head, split between slaughter, breeder, and feeder cattle, marking a 118% increase over 2022 exports to the country. China imported 12% of exports at 78,723 head, a 44% drop from 2022 figures. Israel had the largest year-to-year shift, lifting export numbers by 149% to 68,393 head, representing 10% of total live cattle exports by sea. The remaining 6% (37,440 head) were imported by Malaysia, Jordan, Brunei Darussalam, Sarawak, Thailand, Sabah, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.

Minister Under Fire

Announcing the ban, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry, Murray Watt, highlighted the decline of the live sheep export industry over the years, with exports dropping from AUD$415 million in 2002-2003 to AUD$77 million in 2022-2023. Farmers have heavily criticised the minister, blaming him for ruining the acclaimed $1 billion industry and forcing many out of business. They argued that the ban would also “rip the heart out of many rural towns” that depend on farmers, truck drivers, shearers, and many others working in the sector.

Mixed Reactions

While the move has been welcomed by several animal welfare bodies, including Compassion in World Farming, others have expressed concern. Compassion in World Farming stated, “We welcome the news that the Australian government has finally announced an end date for the export of live sheep by sea. The current government pledged to end the trade when it came to power in 2022. Since then, we, along with many local and global animal welfare groups, have been waiting for a date for the practice to be outlawed. The Australian live exports industry has made international headlines recently, with several high-profile incidents highlighting the cruelty suffered by farmed animals on these journeys.”

Pitiful Aid Package

The Australian government announced a federal transition support package of AUD$107 million over five years to help with the phase-out. However, industry leaders say this is nowhere near enough to compensate for the loss. Minister Watt said, “Importantly, it will be available to help all parts of the sheep industry supply chain, from farmers, to truck drivers, to shearers and processors. We want to ensure those affected by the phase-out are well-positioned, resilient, and ready when the trade ends in 2028.”

John Hassell, president of the Western Australia Farmers Federation and a sheep farmer from Pingelly, stated, “At the moment, we are facing an attack from the federal government based on activism by well-funded animal activists. This means we are having policy by populism. The really sad part about this is, it means that every part of every industry is going to be under potential attack from minority activist groups. We simply can’t afford to capitulate in this one because it will affect everybody in the long run. We are asking all sheep producers in Western Australia to help fight the government on this particular issue.”

Farmers Fight Back

National Farmers Federation President and farmer David Jochinke warns that unless MPs and senators do their homework, they are likely to fall victim to a highly effective misinformation campaign by animal activists. David said, “Activists want you to think this industry hasn’t changed. They want you to think that the ghastly scenes seared in our memories from many years back are still true today. That is completely false. The fact is we haven’t had a serious welfare incident on water since sweeping reforms more than seven years ago. Banning live sheep exports means banning something that does a huge amount of good. Australia’s trade sets the global standard for animal welfare; gets safe, affordable protein to those in need; and supports thousands of jobs in Western Australia.”

Jochinke cautioned that by endorsing this ban, parliament would be supporting groups whose stated objective was to end animal agriculture. He added, “If you look at the industry today, its animal welfare outcomes are gold standard. You ban that, and you put wind in the sails of groups who are openly campaigning for an end to livestock farming. Unless you and the people you represent agree with an end to livestock production in Australia, listen to the farmers, not the fanatics. I think the government has underestimated how hard the industry will fight for this. This isn’t just about live export. This is about regulation based on science and evidence rather than activist misinformation. It’s a principle and a precedent industry will stand on.”

Protest in Perth

Almost 2,000 trucks and farm vehicles descended on the business district of Perth in Western Australia in protest over the ban. Farmers fear that this ban on live sheep exports may set a precedent for the government to ban live cattle exports, which would be another massive blow to Australian farming.

The government’s decision to ban live sheep exports has sparked significant controversy and fear among Australian sheep farmers. The impact of this ban is expected to be wide-ranging, affecting not only farmers but also the many rural communities that rely on the industry. The debate continues, with both sides presenting strong arguments for and against the ban. The future of live sheep exports in Australia remains uncertain as the industry prepares for the changes ahead.