In a move to calm an issue that is threatening to turn into a populist political bun fight, Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has issued a statement relating to cattle exports to Egypt, confirming that Australian animals there will only have their ears removed after they have been slaughtered.
The Egyptian authorities had earlier recommended that the ears be cut off as part of a crackdown on implanted hormone growth promotants, a call that had enraged politicians and activists in Australia.
However, the Egyptian government has subsequently issued assurances that the ears will in fact remain intact.
Even though agriculture departments around the world recognise that animals treated with hormones do not present a risk to public health when eaten, some Egyptian governmental authorities had become concerned about the ear implants, which resulted in a stoppage in the processing of some Australian cattle.
“DAFF has been advised that the Egyptian General Organisation of Veterinary Services’ veterinarians have removed implant pellets from cattle but the ears have not been removed,” the ministry announced.
“The safety of hormonal growth promotants [HGPs] registered in Australia for use in cattle has been rigorously assessed. The joint FAO and WHO Expert Committee on Food additives has also undertaken independent scientific assessments which support the safety of these HGPs.”
The HGPs used in Australia are designed to ensure that no active drug remains after the slow release. The devices are made from inert materials, such as silicone rubber. Depending on the particular HGP implant formulation, the release period ranges from 100 to 400 days. After this period only the inert part of the implant remains.
The Egyptian debacle comes shortly after 21,000 Australian sheep were brutally slaughtered in Pakistan, the government there saying the cull was necessary due to health concerns.
Parliament demands action
Furious Labor backbenchers have since demanded the establishment of an independent office of animal welfare, which would be separate from the Agriculture Department.
Meanwhile, the Green Party today put forward a plan to phase out live animal exports while strengthening domestic processing and packaging of meat for shipment.
The five-point strategy argues that domestic processing not only resolves animal welfare concerns but would boosts jobs and regional economies. The party proposed a new packaging centre for northern Australia.
Australian Greens animal welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said that agriculture minister Joe Ludwig needed to take real action, rather than institute "half-baked" inquiries.
"Minister Ludwig is in denial about the long-term viability of live exports," she said in a statement.
"He has to admit that Australia has a problem and take action to move away from live exports."
This is not a new issue, and calls for the industry to move completely to a domestic chilled and frozen meat have not proved popular with Australia's livestock industry.
According to the Australian Livestock Exports Council, business surrounding the export of both live and packaged meat are complementary, while DAFF cites cultural preferences for live animals, and argues that Australia isn’t able to serve its export markets with chilled meats because of a lack of refrigeration.
Editor's note: Do you believe that episodes like these should herald the end of live animal exports from Australia? Do you support the Greens' idea or do you think it is impractical, as the industry suggests. Let us know in the comments below.