Live Animal Export: Alternate facts

Dr Lynn Simpson enters the ring in the fight between veterinarians and those she describes as spin doctors.

In this growing age of social media, the appetite for facts is growing. Facts regarding what happens to any animal that is exported live, by ships, is a very hot topic right now as awareness grows exponentially.

Personally I think this is great! Knowledge is power.

What I don’t understand is how people, some presumably intelligent, are fooled and made complacent by the readily available industry approved facts. The repeatedly, poorly defined, and overarching comment of Australia having a 98% success rate with live export.

You don’t need to be Einstein to realise: a 98% success rate equals a 2% failure rate.

This would not be a great advertising endorsement for a mode of transportation of any kind, be it for humans or animals. Only a fool would proudly tout a 98% success rate and not understand its relationship to the remaining 2%.

The animal in the header image above was definitely one of the 2%.

It mattered to him.

I found him collapsed upon discharge, I shot him, and once he was unconscious I cut his throat to remove his blood supply to ensure no recovery from the captive bolt gun shot.

And let’s look at the definition of success; my dictionary states it as: ‘The correct or desired result of an attempt’.

In the last few years I sailed I was being asked to change my end of voyage reports to indicate a ‘success rate’, not a ‘mortality rate’. No way would I do this.

What a ridiculous request, misleading at best. I’m a veterinarian and was hired to treat and report on sick animals, not ignore them.

The majority of people are not stupid, they can see through this attempt at ‘window dressing’ by ‘spin doctors’. I sailed on ‘long haul’ voyages, and I call a spade a spade. Dead is dead, not, ‘unsuccessful’.

Morgues are not full of ‘unsuccessful’ people.

The voyage mortality rate as it is, is already poorly indicative of the number of animals who do not survive the export process.

– It does not include animals dying in road transport to feedlots.
– It does not include animals that die in the feedlots whilst being prepared for shipping.
– It does not include any animal dying on repeated road transport from feedlot to ship.
– It does not include the now potentially ill and definitely fatigued animals that may die on the way from the ship to the importing country feedlots.
– It does not include any animal that dies in the importing country feedlot.

My report was for deaths that occurred on the ship. One ‘leg’ only, of these animals’ journey.

Globally it’s difficult to get reliable facts on the numbers of animals transported. Most countries do not report mortalities from live export.

Australian parliamentary legislation requires the number of animal who die on Australian live export ships to be recorded. This number is available to the public as a yearly total.

Whilst the mortality levels of this one leg seems to be a respectable act of transparency from a government agency it unfortunately is not replicated around the world by every country that exports live animals. It should be adopted globally as a minimum. Then the world would know the true cost in lives of live export by sea. Regardless of the fact it falls well short of the true unscheduled mortality of the trade.

The recorded mortality rates (unsuccessful animals) for 2016 do not appear to be released yet, however here are 2015 and 2014’s numbers as issued by the Australian Live Export industry.

Sheep exported = 2.24m (15,899 died at sea) = 0.71 % mortality rate
Cattle exported = 1.16m (1,412 died at sea) = 0.12 % mortality rate

Lets break this down:
– Southeast Asia, 0.08% died (774 of 1m)
– Middle/East/North Africa. 0.36% deaths (384 of 0.11m)
– Turkey/Russia 0.46% deaths (254 from 0.05m)

Sheep exported = 2.01m (12,560 died at sea) = 0.62% mortality rate
Cattle exported = 1.31m (1,354 died at sea) = 0. 1 % mortality rate

Lets break this down:
– Southeast Asia: 0.08% died (804 of 1.07m)
– Middle East/North Africa: (0.25% deaths (254 of 0.1m)
– Russia/ Turkey 0.53% deaths (215 of 0.04m)

So when you look at the averages there is a clear correlation – more days at sea equals more deaths. Animals are not built to travel by sea.

This seemingly healthy looking animal joined the 2% of unsuccessful animals just days after this photo, regardless of treatment and hospital space.

Mortality rates are a blunt indicator of animal welfare and death rate in the live export process.

It’s an extraordinarily unusual event for an animal to just fall over dead. There is first a range of health declines such as weakness, illness, injury; we call these morbidities. Many morbidities soon become mortalities once unloaded from a ship and are not accounted for in a transparent fashion.

These morbidities are more difficult to quantify and usually go unreported. They often lead to death.

Morbidities are not recorded and should be.

The true number of mortalities of the live export trade is easy to calculate.

It is 100%. The trade meets its objective of a 100% mortality rate. Does that make it 100% successful or 100% unsuccessful. You make the call.

Being outraged about this would be foolish. As humans on this planet we also have a 100% mortality rate.

Where there is justification of outrage is how many animals in this trade die from unnecessary suffering and pain. Its unlikely we will ever know the number of animals who die in this trade outside the slaughterhouse and are not accounted for in a parliamentary report.


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


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.


  1. Well for the first time Dr Simpson has printed something a bit thought provoking. Well done! I agree with her that 2 % mortalities are too much and when extrapolated to numbers are quite substantial. I dont agree with her ‘humanising’ the deaths comparing what happens to humans and then animals.Its the big positive picture that needs to be looked at. There are tremendous benefits in the Live Animal Trade, world wide, but probably not for slaughter animals. Whenever was there? We have no rights to tell the world that you can’t have our animals, live or dead.The industry has improved over the last 40 years and will continue to do so.Thats where you go.You dont ban the industry you fix it. Dr Simpson, print good stuff and you will get support.Print fake news and you become incredible.
    Dr Peter Arnold, a more experienced vet than Dr Simpson.

    1. Would you have any insights regarding the pros and cons when comparing the options of exporting livestock as compared with the export of processed and packed meat? Of course the livestock carriers would lose out but reefer and boxship sectors would stand to gain. One beneficiary would be the domestic meat packing sector. Cargo shrinkage resulting from mortalities would be eliminated. For the shippers focused solely on maximising profits, the relationship between transport costs and prices at the end-market is the decisive factor. Another factor, beyond the balance sheet, are the CSR policies of the companies involved, which are more difficult to put a price on.

  2. Dear Thomas,
    Thank you for your question and comments, very much appreciated. Firstly, I’m no economist and I’ve not been made privy to the balance sheets of any shipper; so with this in mind I provide the information below.
    The pros and cons have changed greatly over the last 4 to 5 decades. Back in the 70’s and 80’s Australia had a surplus of sheep and farmers often made a financial loss when sending them for domestic processing. Live Export shipping provided an outlet for this over supply and was seen as a financial saviour. Farmers of course had no, if any knowledge of what sending a sheep on these voyages entailed for the sheeps welfare. Now we have less sheep and the box meat sector, if operating at full capacity appears capable of processing them all at a profit for the farmer with less or no need for live exportation.
    However; decades ago there were also many more cattle slaughterhouses in Northern Australia that operated seasonally. These slaughterhouses have mostly been disbanded as live export has increased. Resulting in Australian meat processing jobs lost.
    Increased meat exports and improved domestic infrastructure would undoubtedly result in more domestic employment, higher animal welfare outcomes and likely more reliable meat safety standards.
    The exact shipping costs of Live Export V’s Boxed Meat, I’m sure have huge variations that change constantly depending on destination markets and demands.
    Hoever I believe that boxed meat would be a much more efficient and less risky form of transportation of animal meat and by-products for the actual shippers. The ‘product’ can be more efficiently and densely, stowed, does not require head space and room to walk around. Less crew are required as it does not need feeding, watering, cleaning, veterinary care, and does not incur ‘shrinkage’ from deaths or morbidities (weight loss).
    The ‘con’ for meat export would be if there was refrigeration breakdown, much like if there was a ventilation breakdown for live animals.
    The exportation of live animals by ship is a clumsy, cumbersome, labor intensive, space wasting and inherently risky form of transportation. The only ‘pro’ (for want of a better term) for live export from Australia would be meeting supply requests for live animals for live sacrificial purposes.
    Public opinion is clear that ‘live sacrifice’ is not well condoned and has proven repeatedly to be the catalyst of pro ‘PR’, which has resulted in international incidents and trade fluctuations.
    I suspect the more efficient transport of a ‘product’ is, the more a shipper would maximise profits. I hope this helps.
    Lynn Simpson

    1. Dear Lynn,
      Thanks for your insights – illuminating as always.
      My question was intended for Dr. Arnold (posted as a reply to his comment) in view of his claim regarding ‘tremendous benefits in the Live Animal Trade’. Benefits that of course can be questioned in view of animal welfare concerns and documented health risks to humans that result from a meat-laden diet, although putting those aside, there could be sound economic arguments for the live export trade.
      I don’t know if that is the case, however, if the livestock carrier fleet is growing, that is one indicator that it is profitable. Having some qualified data on such trends would be useful.
      My gut feeling (no pun intended) is that the freight costs for frozen meat in reefer containers on container ships, and possibly also for butchered frozen meat transported on reefer ships, would be lower when compared with the freight cost for live export.
      Again, if anyone has the numbers on that, it would help to see them.
      As you say, livestock carriers require larger crews. In comparison; On a containership the only extra burden on crew is to make sure that the reefer unit is plugged in and running.
      Regarding market value of the meat, I reckon that the price for frozen meat once it reaches the foreign supermarket is lower than the price for freshly butchered meat. This would not only result from consumers’ perception that fresh meat is better and worth the extra money, but would also reflect the difference in respective transport costs.
      Having had some experience with cargo claims I can confirm that reefer machinery does, like any other kind of machinery, occasionally break down. Yet even here, if it did happen, there is no consequence regarding animal welfare. The packaged and frozen meat will thaw, and might end up in pet food instead of on a dining table, but such a machinery breakdown would not cause any additional suffering for the animals.
      Nor would I expect that cargo loss from reefer equipment failure to reach 2% of the total transported cargo.
      Turning to the demand for live animals to be used in ritual slaughter and live animal sacrifice ceremonies, of course frozen meat would not fit the bill, so the demand for live animals for these purposes will continue.
      On the bright side, in the eyes of animal welfare advocates anyway, this market could be shrinking.
      In some communities the actual act of slaughtering a live animal has been replaced with symbolic acts.
      In other communities practicing animal sacrifice rituals, the meat from the sacrificed animals is distributed to needy families. Such acts of charity could eventually be replaced with the distribution of packaged food or food vouchers, with the actual slaughter of the live animal replaced by symbolic acts as done in an increasing number of such communities.
      Meanwhile, as consumer demand for meat in general decreases so too will the need for transport of both live animals and packaged meat products.
      Is consumer demand decreasing? It sure looks that way.
      The Natural Resources Defense Council has just issued a report documenting that between 2005 and 2014, Americans reduced their consumption of beef by 19%.
      Information from the US Agriculture Department shows that consumption of all meats, taken together, has been falling from a peak in 2007.
      If consumer dietary trends like these in the US expand globally, so too will the need to transport livestock contract.
      That’s pretty tremendous news for animal welfare advocates.
      Thanks again for your efforts to address animal welfare concerns,

  3. Thank you Dr Simpson. You are doing valuable work. Reading Dr Arnold’s comments (24/3/17), if the live export trade has ‘improved over the last 40 years ‘, that’s an horrific thought. Dr Arnold seems to have a lot of experience, but little compassion. If the technology exists to make this regressive practice obsolete, it should be implemented. The technology has evolved. We haven’t.

Back to top button