Animals, Activists + Agriculture
24 May 2016

Last week the live export issue reared its head again – as footage of brutal slaughter practice at a Vietnamese abattoir hit the public domain. Amid calls from animal activist groups to ban all live export, the Australian government has taken a responsible and measured approach of suspending trade to the abattoirs in question. 

Australia leads the world in animal welfare practices and is the only country that requires specific animal welfare outcomes for livestock exports. The government and the livestock export industry work cooperatively with trading partners to address post-arrival welfare concerns and to improve the transportation, handling and slaughter practices. Indeed Australia’s involvement in the livestock export trade provides an opportunity to influence animal welfare conditions in importing countries. 

Despite the measures of government and industry to ensure good practice, and the fact that live export of Australian beef delivers a safe, nutritious protein to thousands in poorer countries with limited cold-chain distribution abilities – it is not enough for the public. As more and more consumers develop a conscience around their consumption, the issue of animal welfare is not going away anytime soon – and nor should it. No farmer would advocate for the mistreatment of their stock – their health and wellbeing is directly correlated to farmer livelihood. As young farmers and agribusiness professionals we have a responsibility to be champions of animal welfare.

The real issue lies in the power of persuasion that animal activists have. These groups are effectively engaging with their target audience – ethical consumers – and are doing a great job of using emotion as fact. For example, the Animals Australia’s Facebook page grows by 840 followers a day, with a whopping 89.4% engagement rate. They’ve managed to make their agendas mainstream and their content is available during the ad break of your nightly Masterchef viewing, on the radio for your morning commute and in the feed of your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Animal welfare is on trend and it is these groups that are answering consumers’ questions and concerns about how, where and by whom their food is being produced and processed. 

It is now more important than ever to make sure that consumer opinions based on fact, not just emotion. To do this, the Australian agricultural community needs to be vocal in sharing our stories and illustrate how we produce some of the best quality, ethical produce in the world. It is time to be proactive. We need to be our own ‘agtivists’ where each and every one of us takes responsibility of connecting with consumers and teaching them about the production of their food and fibre.