“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” In 2009 Paul McCartney made this comment in a video produced by arguably the largest animal rights association in the world, PETA.
Yet slaughterhouses don’t have glass walls. And even if they did, would you want to see inside? Probably not.
Most of us just want to turn a blind eye and return to the scotch fillet that’s arrived at our table. With steam coming off the plate and the mushroom sauce dripping slowly onto the bed of golden truffle fries laying beneath, all we’re thinking about is whether we could still fit in the sticky toffee pudding afterwards.
I say ‘most of us’ because not everyone is just thinking about their $45 steak. Katrina Love, head campaign manager at Stop Live Exports, is thinking about the recipe for curried coconut quinoa and greens she says she’s been meaning to try. Love is a vegan, and has been for the past six years. Her reasons for being vegan are much more than about health or being able to take a great Instagram photo of an acai bowl when she’s out for breakfast on the weekend.
Her mission is to expose the world of live export trade, showing people the harsh reality of what is really going on. But is this goal realistic? Will live export eventually cease to exist? Is being a vegan going to help end this controversial trade? Let’s have a look through these so-called glass walls shall we?
Australia has been live exporting cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo and deer for more than 150 years. According to statistics provided by Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, Australia reached its peak in live exporting in the late 1980s, with 7.2 million sheep exported. Today, Australia exports at least three million animals per year.
Stop Live Exports is the West Australian member society of leading animal welfare organisation, Animals Australia, and has been operating since the mid 1990s.
Love strives for significant change in her role as campaign manager at Stop Live Exports – leading rallies, donation drives and other organised events every day. Her work has led her to discover some of the worst cases of animal treatment occurring in importing countries. She says despite the federal government trying to implement schemes, problems with live export continue.
“Even though the Labor government investigated the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme [ESCAS] at the end of 2011 we’re still seeing two main issues which are, handling and slaughtering in importing countries and the voyage itself,” she says.
“In importing countries we’re still seeing about 60-70 per cent of the animals that are live exported from Australia having their throats cut while they’re conscious, and that is often in Islamic cultures. Even if this is done to World Animal Health Standards it is obviously very traumatic to the animals.”
The Australian Meat Industry Council outlines the way in which the slaughtering process must occur in its Industry Animal Welfare Standards Guide. Section two of the guide outlines the standards of acceptable animal slaughter in Australia. Standard six under section two, which discusses humane slaughter procedures, says in Australia animals must be effectively stunned before any type of slaughter begins.
As not all country’s guidelines align with those of Australia, Love says it’s impossible to control handling and slaughter of animals in these importing countries.
The second major issue with live export in Australia, Love says, is the voyages. “Animals being exported say from,Adelaide or Portland and going to Russia or the Middle East will be on board for over 30 days or double,” she says.
The conditions on the ships over these long periods of time are less than sanitary, Love says. The decks are only cleaned of fecal matter when the seas are calm.
“If there’s rough seas, it [the fecal matter] just kind of gathers on the decks and drips down into the decks underneath and contaminates the water and feed, so it spreads disease,’ she says.
With long voyages, the temperatures the animals experience can be so extreme they result in more illness and sometimes death.
“They’re [the animals] are going from an Australian southern hemisphere winter to a Middle Eastern summer or vise versa. So you’ve got these extremes in temperature, which put a lot of stress on their body and then when their bodies are stressed they become ill.”
Love says it has just become common for sheep to die from stress or salmonellosis, a disease contracted from ingesting contaminated food, and for cows to die from respiratory disease.
“They’ve [exporters] have already got these figures built in that they expect a certain amount of animals to die en route,” Love says with a sigh.
“It’s not a quick death. It’s a very slow, painful, horrendous death.”
Equally as passionate about the topic is Greens spokeswomen for animals Lynn MacLaren, who recently renewed her call for a ban on live exports.
She says the breaching of Australian export regulations has left her feeling irritated as to how this activity can be swept under the rug.
Earlier this year during the Festival of Sacrifice, extensive breaches of export regulations were noted across the Middle East.
“Australian sheep were diverted from the approved supply chain for backyard slaughter,” MacLaren says.
She acknowledges the fact that despite ESCAS, activity in countries such as Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates continue to go against the principles of the scheme.
“Enough is enough. We must prevent the torture of Australian animals by putting a stop to live exports permanently, replacing it with other more secure export markets, such as meat exports,” MacLaren says.
Sylvia Soltyk has been vegan for four years. Currently 30 and running one of, if not the most popular vegan advice pages on Facebook, Soltyk is considered an influencer in the Perth vegan scene.
“I chose a vegan lifestyle for a range of reasons, the first is for ethical reasons,” she says “I realised that if animals have morals, which by virtue of being sentient they do, we cannot justify exploiting them for pleasure.”
Soltyk says other reasons for her change in lifestyle came from her late father’s battle with cancer as it made her put her heath in higher regard and think about what she was putting into her body. She also says she is a “vegan for the environment”.
Soltyk says animal agriculture is responsible for a large amount of anthropogenic climate change and pollution to water systems, deforestation and destruction
She says her attitude to live export is based on research on veganism and philosophy that she undertook while working in financial econometrics, which involves statistical analysis of financial data, and completing her PhD in climate science.
“The live export campaign is based on animal welfare and to the best of my knowledge and research, no welfare reform has actually improved the welfare or utility of animals,” she says.
“In fact welfare reform encourages those and celebrates those who choose ‘free range’ or those who support the ban live export campaign. This only allows us to believe that one form of exploitation is better than another.
“Exploitation is exploitation.”
So is her vegan lifestyle helping stop the live export trade then?
“My answer is yes,” she says.
“But not by supporting the live export campaign but rather through vegan education, so that in the long run we abolish animal use completely, as opposed to focusing on increasing animal welfare.
“My opinion is that this is a false belief.”
Vegan Australia director Greg McFarlane points towards a report his organisation wrote about the benefits of a vegan agricultural system.
“In order to understand a type of future where animals aren’t exploited, we [Vegan Australia] have researched a vegan agricultural system for Australia,” he says.
The report entitled, ‘Moving to a vegan agricultural system for Australia’ examines how the Australian economy and employment among other things could be improved if the move were successful.
“The road to an ethical Australia, which fully values the interests of all animals, may be long but we can accelerate the move towards this goal if we develop an understanding of what a vegan Australia would look like,” McFarlane reads from an excerpt from the report.
Katrina Love appears doubtful when she hears this information.
“There’s just not that option of not slaughtering them [animals] at all because the world will eat animals for as long as I’m alive and you’re alive and your kids are alive,” she says.
“We’ve got to act reasonably within the world that we know.”