Recurrent animal welfare risks uncovered in new live cattle export study

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Hungry, thirsty, cramped and suffering because of extreme temperatures—these are the conditions experienced by Australian cattle on live export ships, as recorded by government observers and laid bare in a new Australian study.

The study—published in Animals—scrutinises 37 summaries from government observers on board ships carrying live cattle from Australia to China, involving more than 147,000 Australian cattle over an 18-month period.

RSPCA Australia senior scientific officer and co-author of the study, Dr Di Evans, said that the animal welfare risks with the live export trade were well-known but that this data demonstrated the recurrent nature and significance of these problems.

“This study identified 10 key risk factors for the animals on board these ships,” Dr Evans said. “These are hunger, thirst, exposure to extreme temperatures, poor pen conditions, health issues, absence of veterinarians, rough seas, poor ship infrastructure, mechanical breakdown and mismanagement at discharge.

“What this study makes clear is that this isn’t just one or two bad operators—these animal welfare risks are inherent in the live export trade.

“Unless we see significant change, and ultimately an end to live export altogether, hundreds of thousands more Australian animals are going to suffer.”

The study also flagged serious issues with the transparency of data available from these ships.

“The Federal Government does not release full reports from its observers on board these ships, instead only publishing a summary—and these summaries omit most of the photographs and all of the videos,” Dr Evans said.

“We have expressed these concerns before and had to use freedom of information requests to get more detail, and what was revealed then was very worrying.”

Also, from 49 live cattle export voyages from Australia to China during the period of the study, only 37 had independent observers on board at all. 

“Australians deserve to know exactly what is happening on board live export ships, especially when there are ongoing and preventable animal welfare risks,” Dr Evans said.

Read also The Outsider published in Vet Practice magazine.

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