Meat & Livestock News

Western Australia’s Meat Processing Sector and the Live Export Ban Debate

Butchers processing sausages at meat factory.

The Western Australian (WA) sheep industry is currently facing a significant debate over the potential impact of a live export phase-out.

A Department of Agriculture memo, released under freedom of information, claims that WA’s meat processing sector can “readily absorb” additional sheep numbers if live exports are phased out. This claim, however, has been met with scepticism and labelled as “total rubbish” by WA sheep industry representatives.

Department of Agriculture’s Analysis

The Department’s internal memo points to Meat & Livestock Australia’s analysis, which predicted international demand for Australian live sheep exports last year to be around 600,000 head.

The Department suggests that the WA small stock processing industry, bolstered by surplus production potential, capital investments in capacity and automation, and the potential for additional shifts, could handle an additional 500,000-1,350,000 head of processing if required.

Industry Stakeholders’ Perspectives

WA industry stakeholders have diverse views on the Department’s position. While one processor agreed with the Department’s analysis, stating that the number of sheep exported in the State was small and could easily be absorbed by processors, others pointed out key issues such as access to a year-round supply of suitable stock.

V&V Walsh’s general manager, Brent Dancer, emphasised that future supply, rather than capacity, will likely be the key issue. He noted concerns about the capacity to absorb the spring flush of lambs without live export but highlighted that the main challenge is ensuring a year-round supply of quality lambs to meet customer demands consistently.

Challenges and Criticisms

Sheep producer representative Tony Seabrook from the Pastoralists & Graziers Association of WA described the Department’s position as overly simplistic and failing to recognise WA sheep production dynamics. He criticised the potential harm to the landscape and animal welfare from overstocking if live exports are banned.

Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton emphasised that removing live export would devalue sheep production in WA and likely result in reduced sheep production. He argued that the policy to shut down a segment of the market is based on activist ideology rather than evidence.

Government’s Consideration of Independent Panel Report

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) stated that the government is considering the independent panel’s report and recommendations on phasing out live sheep exports by sea.

The panel’s terms of reference included potential mechanisms and timeframes for the phase-out and ways to support the transition away from live sheep exports.

PGA’s Response

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) welcomed WA Premier Roger Cook’s comments urging Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to reconsider the plan to ban live sheep exports. PGA President Tony Seabrook praised the Premier’s support and emphasised the importance of the live sheep trade to WA’s rural economy.

This ongoing debate highlights the complexities and potential impacts of phasing out live sheep exports on WA’s agricultural sector, with various stakeholders expressing concerns about capacity, market dynamics, and the broader implications for the industry.