It's only fair to share…

Regular readers will know my views on the importance of real food to our health. Humans as natural omnivores eat both plants and animals and this has been the case for thousands of years. It is no more wrong for a human to eat meat or fish than for lions or sharks to do so.

However, the way farm animals are treated matters. For this reason it is worth sourcing free-range eggs and free range or organic meats. We do not need hormones or antibiotics in our food. And farm animals are meant to roam around not be kept in small enclosures. Indeed it is better for humans to eat meat from animals that are not stressed as stress tenses the muscles (meat). Humane treatment is a classic win – win.

There is another aspect to the treatment of animals and that is how they are killed. There are humane ways to do this. Indeed all animals and humans will die, so death itself is not optional – the manner of it is, especially when it comes to animals.

Consumer pressure in Australia has led to an increase in free-range meats and eggs and in some supermarkets the phasing out of hormones in meat.

Public pressure has also this week led to a ban on the export of live cattle to Indonesia. This follows the exposure on a current affairs program of animal cruelty in an Indonesian abattoir. I am totally opposed to animal cruelty.

There are two sides to every story. There is a substantial industry behind live cattle exports and many families face financial hardship or ruin due to the ban. Furthermore many cattle are “en route” at the time of the ban starting. Some are in pens, others were on trucks and some are in ports waiting to be loaded. Nobody seems to know what will become of them.

There are other problems with the government’s knee jerk reaction. No consideration seems to have been given to the fact that different abattoirs in Indonesia have different standards or that there will be an impact in Indonesia from a sudden halt to the importation of meat.

There is of course the broader question about exporting of live animals per se. It is fair to ask whether this should happen at all and this is the real debate that needs to be had.

Meanwhile I never cease to be amazed at the ineptitude of government. A “ban” is easy to put in place without having to think at all. Reports in the Weekend Australian note that the minister responsible for instituting the ban visited Indonesia earlier this year but did not visit any abattoirs. An animal rights activist was able to enter places and take graphic video but nobody from the government seemed to know what was going on.

Furthermore facilities, which are treating the animals humanely, get caught up in the ban.

Whilst having some sympathy with pastoralists whose livelihoods have been ended at the stroke of a pen, industries come and go. Few earn a living from making horse shoes these days and ultimately few may earn a living from animal exports in the future. I suspect that a boat journey for a cow or sheep is a miserable one. Exporting meat makes more sense to me than exporting animals.

Yet to do this effectively you need to give people time to rearrange their affairs. Moving the goalposts on an industry overnight is not fair to people who have played by the rules and suddenly have their future income decimated.

This is compounded if governments, which move goal posts, do so to cover their own ineptitude in not having been across the issues or even bothering to ask questions. Politicians and department heads will not have to worry about feeding their families like pastoralists and others working in the export industry are today.

Profiting from misery is wrong and in my view phasing out live exports is the way to go. However creating human misery through inept policy on the run is also wrong.

It is possible to have sustainable farming, which treats animals well and enables farmers to earn a decent living whilst providing consumers with good quality produce. This principle can equally apply in the developing world.

It will require change in practices and enough warning needs to be given to industry players so they can make changes if they need to. Governments charged with regulation need to be across what is happening in the real world. Sadly all we get is knee jerk bans from a government asleep at the wheel.