Opinion Piece – The Countryman March 2020

Recently a college said to me, ‘I don’t feel like I can tell people what I do, but I love it and I know I make a difference to animal welfare’. The influence Australia’s live export industry has on people’s lives around the world is something we don’t talk about. How many people did we feed in Indonesia or Kuwait today? I think about that and I’m proud of that. So why do I feel vulnerable or a feeling of shame to talk about it?  It may be fear of being attacked on social media or fear of not being able to effectively explain this to city friends. But I think it’s mainly the influence activism has had on the Agricultural community in telling their side of the story. This is something I’m passionate to change. This was the premise of The Sheep Collective.

As a veterinarian I have welcomed the live export regulatory review and the industries collaboration to ensure that animal welfare is upheld, there have been dozens of submissions these past twelve months. The recent review of the WA State Animal Welfare Act is also important as the previous Act was from 2002 and there are areas for improvement in many parts of agriculture and livestock industries, these are not restricted to the live export sector. The attention live export has received has been disproportionate and does not promote or support animal welfare. This attention created business models for activist organisations and is something we need to keep talking about.

What isn’t great about regulatory change is uncertainty and how it affects people while decisions are made. The recent Mecardo report Impact of the live sheep export trades self-imposed moratorium and regulatory changes (Jan, 2020), demonstrated the challenges faced by many supply chain participants affected by the extended stoppage of the trade in 2018.  The live trade is still currently waiting to understand the regulatory decision on the ongoing moratorium, it has not been easy for regulators with changing leaders and political uncertainty federally.

The Sheep Collective has evolved into The Livestock Collective, with a mission to unite the agricultural sector through connection and communication, visibility and leadership. We have shared stories and demonstrated improvements, run vessel tours and I am inspired by the support and connection we have created.

The improvements made in visibility and connection we have created as The Livestock Collective is an initiative that I am proud of. I didn’t set out to be the face of live export, but I am proud to be called that and I’m proud to represent the farmers, truck drivers, feed suppliers, shearers, stock people, veterinarians, exporters and importers that all care about animal welfare and a successful industry. I’m keen to call out poor behaviour and I’m not going to stand for behaviours or culture that doesn’t support continuous improvement and collaboration.