Live Animal Export the Human Side

Published: Charolais Magazine Winter 2010, Australian Charolais Society

Currently, a win-win scenario exists for Australian farmers and for the Omani people in the Middle East.  However, some special interest groups want to break this relationship by creating and publicizing their one sided and biased view of life in the Middle East. The general public usually has too little time to properly research all facts before forming opinions. Rather the public tends to form its opinions based on information presented to them in the media. On this issue, I sincerely hope that the public is interested in and receives the full picture and facts. With this article, I wish to provide more balanced and less biased information.

I am a PhD scientist who specializes in nutrition of both animals and humans. I have been very fortunate that my work has taken me worldwide for the past twenty years.
However with all the countries I have either lived and/or worked in, my trip in August 2008 was my first visit to the Middle East. I visited the country of Oman and city of Dubai, and this trip was a mixture of vacation and work for both my husband and me. In all my other travels, my friends bid me farewell by saying “Have a good time.” Yet interestingly for this trip, my friends said “Be careful.”

An unsafe region full of terrorists is one of the biggest misconceptions painting the Middle East. The Middle East is a large region with many different countries. Yes, small radical groups do exist in some locations; however, dangerous criminals can be found in most cities and countries throughout the world. On this trip, I found the majority of people to be just like those of us. I watched families having weekend picnics while their children flew kites in the desert. I observed women trying to decide what dress to buy while husbands looked on with a squirming toddler in their arms. I saw women with the latest fashion magazine tucked under their arms discussing how they will fix their daughters hair and people in coffee shops watching the Olympics. Theses scenes could be any where in the world, but they were the scenes that I observed in Oman in August 2008.

Located in the Middle East, Oman has some oil and gas production which has helped the country bring development in the past 35 years.  I saw prosperity and growth which has been lead and accomplished through the expert guidance of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. However, the perception that all Middle Easterners are rich sheiks is not true.  Like other countries of the world, Oman has a segment of the population that lives in poverty. Oman is working hard to help the poor by providing housing, education, medical care, and food.

Through philanthropists, like the recently deceased Sheik Saud bin Salim bin Abdullah Bahwan Al Mukhainy, food is purchased and distributed to the poor. Through the Sheik, 50,000 live sheep are imported monthly from Australia to feed the poor. This single philanthropy comprises one half of the total import of live sheep to Oman from Australia.

My concern is about some animal welfare groups that are trying to stop this live export trade. I believe they fail to provide the total picture and all the implications surrounding this business. How easy is it for those of us with sufficient food, shelter and clothing to pass judgment and condemn those less fortunate, especially those people that we do not know nor care to learn about. With that statement, I offer the following facts and issues:

  • Omani’s are purchasing Australian sheep to feed themselves and their poor. This is not charity from Australia, but a business that gives Australian farmers a viable income while helping feed a nation that can not produce sufficient food for its population.
  • Even with all the effort that the Omani people put into producing food for themselves, the topography and climate of Oman does not lend the country to be self sufficient in food production. They need imports to feed their people.
  • As an option, the Omani’s may eat frozen meat. However, consuming fresh meat is the preferred choice for their culture. Outsiders may argue for providing meat in a way selected by outsiders; however, this important choice should be that of the buyers, not sellers.
  • Australia is the only livestock exporting country in the world that provides after sales services to the countries that receive our animals. Technical experts from Australia reside in the Middle East to ensure that the imported animals are healthy, and well cared for. These experts train local personnel on proper and humane animal handling, construction of the best facilities to keep the animals safe, and establishment of proper procedures to use in heat stress conditions. Research continues to look at these three areas to further enhance animal welfare. As new knowledge is gained, it is passed on to the importers and locals to be implemented.  
  • The boats from Australia provide proper conditions and food for the animal’s journey. Mortality levels must be kept low on these boats otherwise a federal enquiry is conducted. Past problems have been identified and solved, and new procedures are put in place to ensure the same issues do not arise again. Ships that are not suitable for hot weather conditions are not allowed to be used in the summer months. Shipping debarkation of sheep is altered in Muscat, Oman to ensure that the sheep are not unloaded in the worse of hot humid conditions.   
  • Oman has high temperatures for both humans and animals, this can not be denied. However, the animals are provided facilities with proper shade, food, and clean fresh water. While visiting one sheep feedlot, I also took refuge under the shade provided to the sheep from the hot sun. The shade and breeze through the pens allows the animals to maintain their health and weight. Experimentation has shown that roofs made from date palm leaves provide better shade and ventilation than roofs made from shade cloth or tin.
  • The density of animals transported by truck is lessoned in the summer to allow for greater air passage and evaporative cooling.
  • To eliminate the use of car boots to transport sheep, special trailers have been designed to provide a delivery service to those people in need. The occasional animal being transported in a car is the exception not the rule; however, the exceptions are more common during the busy time of Ramadan. In Australia, which has among the highest pet ownership per capita in the world, we have occasional abusive of animals and pets. Should we allow the media to paint a picture that the majority of Australians treat animals based on rare atrocities done by a few people? If we answer with the obvious “no” to this, then we must consider the few situations in Oman in the same light.  
  • In order for the Omani sheep feedlot business to be profitable, every sheep’s life is important. This is simple economics; lower mortality equals higher profits. In Oman,  sheep are purchased on a unit basis and not a weight basis. The business goal is to have and sale as many healthy animals as possible.

In my 3 weeks in Oman, I found the people to be quiet and reserved, and very hospitable and friendly. As I got to know a few Omanis, I found them genuinely warm, loving a light hearted joke, and generous. They are proud of their diverse country, and love to show off their land and culture. Like us Australians, the Omanis want to earn a living and feed their family.   

Australia’s live export trade to Oman is a win-win situation. It provides fair market income to Australian producers; it feeds a part of the world that cannot feed itself; it is actively managed to consider animal welfare; and it provides service, training and support to the buyers.