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'You can't call for an end to live exports but close your eyes to the animal cruelty in our own backyard.'

You might have been lucky enough to miss it. Earlier this week Animals Australia released footage of Australian cattle being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer in Vietnam. It’s horrible and shocking, and it’s not the first time they’ve captured such ghastly treatment on film. In 2011 footage from Indonesia led to the suspension of the trade while safeguards including electronic tagging of the animals was implemented.

We feel outraged by these images, and we should. How anyone can think that it’s ok to inflict such pain and suffering on another living creature is beyond comprehension. We should question why these lives are seen to have so little value that the behaviour could in any way be justified in anyone’s mind.

And then we should we look in our own fridges.

Watch this ABC report on the shocking treatment of Australian animals overseas. (Post continues after video.)

Yes, the unspeakable cruelty that happens to some Australian animals when they leave our shores should stop, but I don’t think addressing animal welfare it’s as simple as banning live exports. In fact, there is an argument that Australia’s involvement in the industry actually provides us with a legitimate pathway to make those improvements internationally.

Calling for an end to live exports is easy because that’s a part of the industry we as consumers don’t have to feel any responsibility for.

The uncomfortable truth is that whether it’s live exports or long haul domestic transportation on trucks without food and water, or the killing of calves in the dairy industry, or factory farming pigs, or chooks living in space the size of an A4 piece of paper – animal cruelty is a day to day part of farming practices. It’s improved over the years, but mainstream animal farming is inherently cruel.

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I know there are a lot of thoughtful, careful farmers out there who are ready to dispute that. Some are leading the way on reforming their sector and back when I worked for the Australian Agriculture Minister almost a decade ago, I met many of them, some are even friends. But from paddock to plate, there is almost always a part of an animal’s journey that wouldn’t stack up if we as consumers were prepared to know what had really happened.

is live export bad

It's not always this pretty. Image via iStock.

In many cases, treatment on the farm is pretty good in Australia – for cattle there’s space and plenty of food and sunshine. Where it falls apart is the trip to the abattoir when food and water on board is denied and getting on and off the truck for a feed is distressing and sometimes deadly.

For most pigs, life isn’t quite so good. Happy as a pig in mud? Not if you’re in a cell with a concrete floor and literally no room to move. That’s the life of many Australian sows. They’re confined like that for all or part of their 16 week pregnancies. It’s done because apparently pregnant sows can get a bit grumpy with each other and stopping them from moving around obviously prevents them from getting into a barney. As any pregnant woman knows, this can also be solved by just giving everyone a bit more space.

It’s tough in the dairy industry too. To keep dairy cows producing milk they have to give birth twice a year. Some of those calves grow up to be dairy cows just like their mums. But not the boys, and not 25% of the girls. In those case they are whisked away from mum within 12 hours and after they’re five days old, but sometimes sooner, they’re off to the abattoir, often on a very long journey without having been fed. Some end up on our plates as veal.

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is live export bad

Are they really as happy as pigs in mud? Image via iStock.

The thing is, this stuff is market driven. We want meat to be cheap and farmers who improve their practices often can’t compete with those who don’t.

I know a lot of people are okay with how meat and animal products are produced here, it doesn’t seem to bother them, but if it does bother you, don’t underestimate your power as a consumer. Look for RSPCA approved meats and buy genuinely free range eggs. Nonetheless we’re seeing some big changes in the egg industry which just goes to show what can happen when consumers are both informed and use their buying power.

It’s true that sometimes those choices are more expensive and that’s really tough for some people, so everyone has to decide what’s right for them, but if we’re upset by live exports we really ought to be looking at what happens here at home too.

Skye Laris has been thinking about this stuff for a really long time. Aged nine she hand-wrote a petition for neighbours to sign calling for an end to battery farmed chickens (it didn’t work), later after 30+ years as a vego, she went to work for the Agriculture Minister in 2008, and a few years later she worked on GetUp’s campaign with Animals Australia and the RSPCA calling for a ban on live exports. Today she’s a consultant on online community engagement and sometimes procrastinates by writing articles.

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