Live Animal Export: Ignorant, defiant or stupid?

Splash livestock expert Dr Lynn Simpson is disappointed with changes made to the animal export industry in Australia this week. She calls for an end to the trade.

Sheep die every day at sea. They shouldn’t be there.

There is a clear trend that trying to deliver sheep by sea on ships, let alone through hot, humid weather is a recipe for death and disaster. The Middle Eastern summer is the key ingredient of predictable welfare disasters.

The science is clear.

The trends calculated and graphed, and likely still understated due to poor, limited and non-transparent reporting.

So why is Australia’s minister of agriculture experiencing such resistance from a handful of rich businessmen over the continual and predictable deaths of sheep on every loaded voyage.

I defy anyone to find me a loaded long haul voyage with no sheep deaths.

Why should any animal have to predictably suffer and die because of a handful of selfish, wealthy exporters?

The answer: greed, insecurity and an inability to give a damn; that’s why.

The global public is in an uproar over the animal suffering with this out of date trade. Enough is enough, the people in support of the trade are living in a moral and ethical vacuum.

Stop bringing the general shipping industry into disrepute through your callous greed.

We live in a more enlightened time since decades ago when the live export trade began. However, since 1985 the trade has been scientifically, objectively and subjectively declared incompatible with reasonable, let alone good animal welfare.

I watched animals suffer and die for 57 voyages. The spectrum of their suffering differed, but the true death count has never been declared. It will likely never see the light of day. Like so many animals who died below the water line on a ship in the middle of an ocean.

Personally I had to drag, kill, dismember and throw animals to the sea. There wasn’t a day that you thought this trade represented the right treatment for the animals. Yet they needed medical, transparent reporting and care… so I sailed.

The refrigeration argument, especially in the Middle East, is bullshit. I’ve yet to find anywhere in the Middle East where I couldn’t find a refrigerated Liptons iced tea, the drink I relate with the Middle East still. It didn’t matter how ‘middle of nowhere’ a desert stand I have stopped at.

The religious argument: according to the Quoran, animals who have been forced to stand in their own sewerage are not Halal, let alone an animal that has had to suffer as these ones do.

I’m sick to the teeth of hearing this ‘clinging to a cliff edge’ rhetoric from the live export industry. It’s all sensationalised, propaganda to influence the less informed and keep a few people in well paying jobs.

The industry claims to be providing food security. Yet Australia’s meat industry is around ten times the size of the live industry. The economics of sending live animals requiring tending and headspace versus chilled and frozen boxed meat cannot be in favor of the live trade… or else why would the boxed meat trade be so much bigger?

I no longer have any faith that the exporters or the department of agriculture in general give a toss. I know first hand that the department of agriculture doesn’t know what its doing and has no place even trying to pretend. What I hope occurs now is that our agriculture minister, David Littleproud, who has acknowledged that he cannot trust his own department has launched an investigation into their own lack of efficacy, and does something to improve it.

He has hired an ‘independent’ veterinarian to do a short sharp revive of the trade. And that is barely warranted, as the science is clear. The trade is an animal welfare travesty.

I’ve been asked repeatedly if I think I should be the person to do the review, and not my ex colleague. Another live export vet who has done around 65 voyages from what I hear. My answer. No. I shouldn’t have been asked. But neither should Mike McCarthy.

We are simply too conditioned to the trade and the subtle suffering that we have been accustomed to deal with for decades.

I don’t envy him this task one bit. He is a sound scientist, but cannot humanly be conflicted by the level of conditioning he has been exposed to. I would be the same.

This trade doesn’t need a review with ‘fresh eyes’ either. The public and political outrage has completed that comprehensively.

It needs to be transitioned out of business as soon as possible.

What many people do not understand with the sheep trade from Australia.

Only about 6% of the sheep exported from Australia, are exported live. A very large percentage of the ones who survive the voyage and post voyage feed lotting are killed only to be sold under cellophane in the supermarkets. Refrigerated supermarkets. Worse still reports leak back to Australia that many a box of processed Australian meat (killed in the Middle East) is on exported to other countries such as Iran. Potentially damaging Australia’s meat export reputation and quotas.

Why torture animals with a hideous voyage first? Send them as processed meat from the get go. And if you think this ‘grey’ market trading is bad enough, it also means that the product is not differentiated in these countries as from a stressed live ship delivery, or fresh from a low stress Australian abattoir and refrigerated container or plane. This jeopardizes the much larger meat exports that Australian farmers rely on. Good on you greedy minority of farmers who knowingly export your animals, your jeopardizing the livelihood of your decent farmer friends, neighbors, relatives.

Why send our processing and by product work overseas.

We have the capacity in Australia to process that 6% of sheep in Australia, right now! If those facilities are not in the right place well that is an issue that decent farmers would rather their levy money go to correct.

The sheep trade has the highest and most predictable poor welfare and death rate.

Lets get smart and transition to processed meat now.


For Lynn’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.


  1. Be nice if you also explained why the business exists.

    Unions have made meat processing in Australia most uncompetitive.

    Live exporters pay more money.

    The industry just needs strong independent regulations.

    Did you also explain that more sheep die on farms than die on boats?

    Yes they must stop any cruelty. No question. Banning the trade is not the answer. You’ll see millions of sheep die tragic deaths on farms.

    Your real agenda is pushing us all to be vegans. Why not come out and say it.

  2. Dear Pete, Im not a vegan so why should I impose such a lifestyle on people. The business exists due to the fat that in the 60s Australia had a glut of cast for age merino wethers. Farmers were shooting them in the paddock s they couldnt make money selling them because australians dont like to eat mutton. Some one decided it would be a good match to send our glut, live to places that could not easily grow sheep, such as desert countries. We live in a more enlightened time now with refrigerated transport and more advanced importing countries. There is no need for this cruelty to continue so a farmer can profit a variable and unpredictable premium at the expense of unnecessary suffering. Any sensible human ,especially a decent farmer would agree to that. Australia has the processing capacity already in australia to handle all the sheep that we export. So if that capacity is used, there is no need for live sea transport or for a welfare disaster on farms. The sheep farmers already have an alternative, unlike the cattle producers. Poor regulation is the reason we are still having this conversation and regulation has failed, I would say deliberately in many cases for over four decades, the industry doesnt want to be regulated. I hope this answers yo questions, do not hesitate to ask more. Regards, Dr Lynn Simpson

  3. The old union thing Pete…there it is for all to see;

    That’s just an old grudge, a hangover from yesteryear carried over into the totally different industrial relations climate of today which is nothing like that which you complain about, unions do not rule the roost. If you don’t know that, you are profoundly ignorant.

    The union excuse is weak, outmoded and invalid, the only thing you are protecting is profit derived from the slave labour of third world countries more exploitation. However, to be honest, that wouldn’t bother me too much…except for one thing and one thing alone; innocent animals are being put through sheer hell because of it.

    Jam your excuses where they fit, you are defending cruelty and that is all there is to it.

  4. Pete., Let’s face it. You are pushing your own agenda to try to sustain an industry that is cruel and unsustainable. You have no knowledge of the conditions that occur on live animal export long haul voyages in summer, if so please correct me. Incorrectly labelling and categorising intelligent and knowledgeable people as vegans is disgraceful and childish behaviour. Play the ball not the person. At least you have enough decency to acknowledge that the cruelty should be stopped. Wake up to the real issue here instead of attacking the messenger.

  5. Dr Simpson. Your comment “sheep farmers already have an alternative, unlike the cattle producers” seems to have been just ‘thrown in’ for no particular reason. I would like you to tease out this a little more. The live export of cattle from Australia seems to have been completely forgotten in the last few weeks.

    1. Dear David. I rarely do anything for “no particular reason”. This article is obviously focused on the current sheep trade contention as a result of appalling animal cruelty exposed on 60 minutes in April and still gaining traction in our news and parliamentary actions, hence the emphasis on the sheep trade. Im glad you asked about the cattle trade, according to Meat and Livestock Australia data there is a shortfall in Australias processing capacity for cattle. Of all the cattle exported from Australia only around 7% (and possibly less now) are exported live, mostly to South East Asia and Russia. The processing shortfall is generally in the north of Australia and as such the farmers there have little option but to rely on the live export trade, or, transport their cattle extreme distances to abattoirs elsewhere. Our roads in the north are notoriously terrible and are a welfare issue to the cattle in themselves due to dust aspiration and corrugation on dirt roads. Many of the producers in the north have expressed that they would slaughter in Australia if the infrastructure were available and local to the cattle production properties of origin. This seems to have fallen on deaf ears as instead of investing money in northern roads and abattoirs to increase onshore production as has been promised by politicians in the past, this has not eventuated. The northern producers are well aware of the fickle nature of some of our northern neighbours, especially Indonesia whom has changed their own requirements and numbers due to internal reasons with no commitment to the Australian Producers, eg, the rapid uptake of importing frozen Indian buffalo meat to oust up to 40% of the Australian live quota. the change to only cattle under 350 kgs etc. Apparently they have fridges after all. The cattle are certainly still at risk from sea transportation as is every species and every human on board. My understanding is that the Australian Cattle producers would like to not be beholden to the fickle nature of shipping which has inherent shipping, geopolitical and welfare risks. It would be sensible if the Australian government / Live export industry were to invest more money in Australian Infrastructure instead of propping up other countries. I believe this would give producers more stability and improve welfare for the cattle and the farmers.The live export trade causes farmers much angst as is reported by producers who sadly have depression and or have tried to or have committed suicide from trade, seasonal and farming uncertainties. Farming can be very stressful from season to season as is well known in Australia. Reducing some of the variables would help reduce this stress enormously. If you have any more questions pleas do not hesitate to ask. Regards, Dr Lynn Simpson

  6. Let’s not forget the camels, buffalo and goats who also go into the live export trade along with the sheep and cattle . No animals should be going into the cruel and unnecessary live export trade.

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