The Dairy Loophole

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Live export’s most vulnerable victims

Imagine being pregnant, forcibly removed from your home, and loaded onto a large ship heading to an unknown destination. The voyage is torture. What will happen to you once you arrive? No one knows.

Every year, the Australian dairy industry exports over 90,000 dairy cows and heifers alive to foreign countries.1

Just like their fellow live export victims, dairy cows are subjected to the horrific conditions of live export ships, a voyage of pain and suffering. These intelligent creatures experience this voyage whilst many of them are even more vulnerable and sensitive – because they can be pregnant with a calf

Unlike most animals who will be slaughtered overseas for meat, dairy cows are exported as ‘breeder’ animals to be used for their milk and to grow foreign dairy herds. This means that in addition to the immeasurable suffering of live export that Australians already know about, these dairy cows are afforded even fewer legal protections than most live exported animals.

That is why there is no option. Dairy cow exports must be banned.

The dairy ‘legal loophole'

Even though they are exposed to the same risks and suffering as animals exported for slaughter, animals who are exported for breeding are excluded even from the most basic live export standards once they reach their destination.

Most Australian animals who are exported live are protected by the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). In theory, ESCAS requires an exporter to declare to the Australian Government that they can account for their animals throughout the export process up to the moment they are slaughtered.  

Animals who are exported for breeding purposes are exempt from ESCAS, so once they disembark from the export ship, Australian exporters are no longer responsible for them. This means that once the dairy cows have disembarked, there is no obligation on exporters to ensure their welfare.  

Worse still, there are no rules to govern how or when Australian dairy cows are slaughtered once they have moved overseas. They effectively have zero protection under Australian law.

It’s ‘too hard’ to protect them

In 2013, a government review2 concluded that animals who are exported for breeding purposes were at risk of poor husbandry practices and inhumane slaughter.3 Despite this, the review decided that these risks didn’t warrant the difficult job of maintaining oversight over these animals, who are often transported and sold in various locations.  

In short, the review concluded that it would be “unreasonable for exporters to be generally responsible for breeder livestock through to the point of death or to be responsible for the offspring of livestock exported from Australia”.4

End the trade

Dairy cows should not be subjected to the horrors of live export, nor should they be exported while pregnant and vulnerable. The Government says it is too hard to protect these animals.  

We say it’s time to end the trade. 

  • 1. Meat & Livestock Australia (2014), 'Australian Livestock Export Industry Statistical Review 2013-14', at 2.
  • 2. Industry Government Implementation Group (IGIG) (2013), 'Report to Australian Government Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Breeder Livestock Exports', (2013) at 3-5.
  • 3. Ibid, at 3-5.
  • 4. Ibid, at 4.