Australian cattle – journey's end
A cruel trade
Transcript: A cruel trade
February 26, 2006
Reporter: Richard Carleton
Producer: Howard Sacre
We now know, to our great shame, that our wheat industry has been covering up its acts of bribery and corruption in the Middle East for years. But just wait until you see what the live animal export industry is hiding. Our lucrative live export trade has been in a mess for years with repeated animal welfare scandals in the countries we sell to. I'm just back from Egypt, where we've been sending shiploads of cattle for a decade with continued assurances that the animal welfare problems have been dealt with. Now this is a confronting story, but an important one. At stake is an export trade worth half a billion dollars a year. We will spare you the most harrowing of the pictures, but some scenes may distress.
RICHARD CARLETON: Australia exports well over half a million live cattle every year to almost a dozen countries. The unlucky ones end up in Egypt. From when the cattle leave Australia, often Fremantle, to here, the southern entrance or mouth of the Suez Canal, it is about 2.5 weeks. Now if it's cold like today, the cattle wouldn't be complaining, even about the dust storm, because here in the summer it gets as hot as 37 degrees. The cattle themselves don't actually enter the canal. They're offloaded just over there at Port Suez, and then it is 21 days in quarantine before the tender mercies of the Egyptian slaughtermen. Most Australian cattle are sent here to Cairo's Bassatin abattoir. Bassatin is the preferred abattoir for Australian cattle because of the slaughtering facilities here. What goes on here at Bassatin is near medieval. Footage like this, that includes Australian cattle, is not easily gathered. The woman passing the camera here now is Lyn White. Ms White, a former Adelaide policewoman, is now an investigator for the animal welfare organisation Animals Australia. You're the figure there in the veil and concealing yourself. Were you nervous?
LYN WHITE: Well, very nervous. In fact, we had been told there was considerable risk in entering this facility.
RICHARD CARLETON: What this former policewoman did was really quite courageous. They don't like cameras inside this abattoir. Lyn White would have been in real danger had she been caught. So too would the cameraman with the lens of his concealed camera sewn into his shirt.
LYN WHITE: The first thing that you notice in Bassatin is that people are just covered with blood. And you also notice that most people are brandishing very long knives, and animals tied up waiting outside to be slaughtered and then, eventually, would be chosen, pulled in.
RICHARD CARLETON: And then the barbarous process begins. Stabbing the cattle in the eye, at this stage, is either to disorient the beast, or it's just gratuitous cruelty. Next, the tendons in the back legs are slashed so that the beast can't run away. Then, in that crippled state, the beast is led to the slaughter. Can't show you a lot of that footage. It really is just too upsetting, but the anatomy of a cow or a steer's leg is not that different to yours or mine. I mean, muscle is connected by tendon to heel, and the foot works. Now, on this steer, if I was to slash through there, the hoof, he just wouldn't have any control over it. Just explain to me, what is this? The authorities wouldn't allow us inside Bassatin, but we did get into a smaller abattoir between Cairo and Suez. To control the animal? Clearly this beast has had its tendon cut. I didn't see it happen, but there was little embarrassment amongst the staff. How do you do? Richard Carleton is my name. So why do you cut the tendons?
DR MAGDY RABHH, VETERINARIAN: Not every day.
RICHARD CARLETON: Not every day?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Not every day. Maybe one case every one month.
RICHARD CARLETON: One time a month?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Yes. Not every day. One time. Maybe one month and not more.
RICHARD CARLETON: And today just happened to be the day.
DR MAGDY RABHH: Maybe you just saw it.
RICHARD CARLETON: Just today?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Just today.
RICHARD CARLETON: The abattoir workers just couldn't see anything wrong with what they were doing. If a beast had to be controlled, then tendon slashing was simply the way you did it. They told me 2500 Australian cattle came through here last year, but not one of them required a tendon slash. How many men do you need to get an Australian beast down?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Maybe five.
RICHARD CARLETON: Five?
DR MAGDY RABHH: One here catches the head, one catches the tail, one catches the hand, all down.
RICHARD CARLETON: Down?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Yeah. Another slaughter, slash the throat.
LYN WHITE: I saw eight animals slaughtered. They were all placidly being led in, and the slaughtermen crept up behind them. There was no resistance whatsoever.
RICHARD CARLETON: Presumably the slaughtermen are not doing it for the fun of it? There must be a point to it?
LYN WHITE: There were moments when I thought the animal hasn't done a single thing. It hasn't even moved. And yet it had a blade of a knife going towards its eye, and all that was going to do was agitate it. And so a lot of it didn't make any sense, except that it's what they normally do.
RICHARD CARLETON: Mr Peter McGauran is our Minister for Agriculture. It's pretty horrific, isn't it?
PETER MCGAURAN: Gut wrenching. You see won't see worse examples of animal cruelty than that.
RICHARD CARLETON: You're responsible?
PETER MCGAURAN: No.
RICHARD CARLETON: Yes.
PETER MCGAURAN: How so?
RICHARD CARLETON: Because you were told about this at least three years ago. You set about doing something about it, which was quite futile. You've got men in the Middle East who know this is going on. They answer to you.
PETER MCGAURAN: The Egyptian chief veterinary officer has been in contact with me as has the Egyptian government. That sort of behaviour is illegal, it's illegal in Egypt, so we can't be responsible when these people are in breach of Egyptian law itself.
RICHARD CARLETON: Mr Minister, it's happening every day.
PETER MCGAURAN: There needs to be more enforcement to be sure, but we need to put this in context. Are they isolated examples? Are they Australian cattle? We're waiting for information from the Egyptian authorities, as well as sending our own vet to investigate.
RICHARD CARLETON: How do you know, how can you assure me 100 percent that they were Australian cattle being slaughtered there?
LYN WHITE: I was told from the moment that we entered the facility our guide knew that we wanted to document what was happening to Australian cattle, and so each place that we went he asked and he was told that those animals were Australian.
RICHARD CARLETON: This footage has been seen by animal physiologist Professor Neville Gregory of the University of London. The treatment of this particular steer, and it's thought to be of Australian origin, appalled the professor.
PROFESSOR NEVILLE GREGORY: They don't cut both tendons in the hind legs, and it reacted very badly to that cutting, probably the worst of all the other animals we see in the video footage.
RICHARD CARLETON: Professor, that animal had its eye stabbed after its throat had been cut when it was already down. Can you explain that?
PROFESSOR NEVILLE GREGORY: It seems unnecessary. I just don't see why it was done. It would have caused pain. As we know from personal experience, the cornea is exquisitely sensitive.
RICHARD CARLETON: Sometimes at Bassetin, when the slaughterman has got the beast on the ground, he will then stick a knife into the eye socket, so that with the handle of the knife, he's then got a lever to twist the head around so he can better slash the throat.
PROFESSOR NEVILLE GREGORY: Unfortunately, the neck cut didn't work. Thirty seconds later they had to repeat the cut to kill the animal. So that animal had a very, very rough time. It's probably the worst case of slaughter that I've ever seen.
RICHARD CARLETON: The worst you've ever seen?
PROFESSOR NEVILLE GREGORY: Correct.
RICHARD CARLETON: Now, look, clearly this is a different culture. I mean, you don't find this at home. Why wouldn't you expect a different culture in the slaughter of the beast?
LYN WHITE: Well, I think it's not that you don't expect it to be different, Richard. It's just that we are supplying our animals over here and to practices which are completely unacceptable in Australia.
RICHARD CARLETON: What right do we have, from the comfort of Sydney or Melbourne, to dictate what goes on in the meat markets of Cairo?
LYN WHITE: Well I don't think we're dictating when we highlight problems. I think animal welfare crosses country borders and our responsibility is to try to improve things.
RICHARD CARLETON: You wouldn't see this at home?
LYN WHITE: No, you certainly wouldn't — apart from the flies, perhaps.
RICHARD CARLETON: This woman runs an animal shelter for SPARE, the Society to Protect Animal Rights in Egypt. Now that it's clear what's going on in there, are you ashamed of what is happening?
SPOKESPERSON, SPARE: Very. And we discovered that this is the routine in the slaughterhouse and this shouldn't happen in a country like ours, who was so much civilised, who is even the first civilisation of the planet, so I am ashamed because of that.
RICHARD CARLETON: Why does it go on here?
SPOKESPERSON, SPARE: Because our government doesn't give any importance to welfare, and when we go and talk to the authorities, they look at us like we are crazy people. So it's not at all their priority.
RICHARD CARLETON: There is a civilised way to slaughter a beast, but it requires a restraint box. There is a restraint box at Bassatin, and the hidden camera catches it there. This is a machine that locks an animal into place and then turns it on its side for slaughter. No question in the world that that's the restraint box that we supplied?
LYN WHITE: Absolutely.
RICHARD CARLETON: Is it being used?
LYN WHITE: No, it's not being used.
RICHARD CARLETON: This restraint box was installed by and paid for by the Australian Meat Industry after 60 Minutes last exposed the cruelty at Bassatin.
DR MAGDY RABHH: Not used. Not practical for Egyptian people.
RICHARD CARLETON: It's not used?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Not used. Not practical for Egyptian people.
RICHARD CARLETON: It's not used?
DR MAGDY RABHH: Not used. Not Egyptian for practical.
RICHARD CARLETON: It's not practical? You don't like the box?
DR MAGDY RABHH: I don't like this box.
RICHARD CARLETON: This one box at Bassatin…
DR MAGDY RABHH: Not used.
RICHARD CARLETON: Has it ever been used?
DR MAGDY RABHH: I work in Bassatin before. I not seen it work.
RICHARD CARLETON: You've never seen it used?
DR MAGDY RABHH: No.
RICHARD CARLETON: I mean, it's pristine clean! You know what abattoirs are like. They are filthy places. The paint isn't even chipped.
PETER MCGAURAN: That's absurd, utterly unacceptable. I will need an answer from industry and from the Egyptian authorities.
RICHARD CARLETON: You see, what you've done in the past is justify Australia's participation in this trade by writing, "Bassatin is a good example where Australia has improved animal welfare conditions." Goodness gracious me, sir, if that's improvement, I'd hate to see deterioration.
PETER MCGAURAN: We're obviously working off a very low base. But are they Australian cattle? I don't want to jump to conclusions, particularly when I know the Egyptian government is as outraged as I am at what you have revealed.
RICHARD CARLETON: But look, in a good year we sell 200,000 cattle to Egypt. There's no way in the world they're going to put 200,000 Australian cattle — check them out, 'Oh, this one's Australian, this one's Australian. We'll put this one through the press or the crush.' I mean, that is just fairyland.
PETER MCGAURAN: As I understand it, we're trying to steer the Australian cattle towards one of two facilities, moreover, to one particular processing part of those two facilities. I think we can, if you like, isolate or quarantine the Australian treatment.
RICHARD CARLETON: That's what was said when this disgrace was last exposed. What odds you'll hear the same again in another couple of years?
LYN WHITE: If ever there is a set of facts, a history and a facility that shows through the pretence that our Australian industry prioritises animal welfare, it is Bassatin. For anyone who cares about animal welfare, that's been in that facility to send Australian animals or even to suggest any animal should go in there is, to me, far more culpable than those men standing there with the knives that, to this stage, don't seem to think they've done anything wrong.
RICHARD CARLETON: Livecorp, the company responsible for Australian live cattle exports, was invited to explain its role in this affair. Now they say the restraint box at Bassetin is being used and they are certain none of the cattle you've seen are Australian. Now I would like to contest those viewpoints, but Livecorp has refused to be interviewed.
Watch ninemsn video – 60 minutes 26 February 2006
Animals Australia update – Animals Australia has revealed for the first time that a broader undercover investigation has been conducted in the Middle East into the treatment of Australian animals – view update