Australian sheep farmers have reason to be concerned now that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has turned in more militant direction. This week has seen the start of an RSPCA advertising campaign against live sheep exports and the Society has of late been more active as well in criticising the mulesing of sheep.
Until now opposition to the live sheep trade and to mulesing has had limited impact on politicians because the demonstrations against them were confined to a militant fringe of animal liberationists. Now that the pearls and cardigan set have joined in with the scruffy rent-a-crowd, both causes will become more politically relevant for the major parties.
The RSPCA has taken the conventional lobbying path by commissioning an “independent” report on the live sheep business which examines the economic impact on the grazing industry of phasing it out. The report by consultants ACIL Tasman concludes that adjustment costs and the impact on farmers will be modest if the trade is phased out over five years and a transferable quota system is implemented to manage the gradual reduction in the number of sheep available for live export over that period.
Not that the animal welfare aspect is being forgotten. The RSPCA website now has a campaigning edge and draws attention to the Live Export Shipboard Performance Report revealing that more than 36,000 sheep, cattle and goats died while being transported overseas for slaughter in 2008.
“It’s not a quick or simple death — they died from such things as starvation, salmonellosis, injury and pneumonia,” notes the RSPCA.
“The sad reality is that Australia’s live exporters measure their success by the number of animals still standing at the end of the sea voyage. The fact is that tens of thousands of animals that embark on these journeys out of Australia every year will not walk off at the other end. For them at least, the ordeal is over.For the others, it’s just the beginning. Those that do disembark are often handled, transported and slaughtered in a way that would neither be legal nor tolerated in Australia.”