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Competing National Standards within a Globalized World



This is a very interesting discussion about national standards within the global supply chain. Australia is actually shipping live cattle to Vietnam for slaughter and processing because it is cheaper to do. But in Vietnam, cattle are killed by being beaten in the head with a sledgehammer. That’s outraged parts of the Australian public.

Recent revelations about the sledgehammering to death of what seem to be Australian cattle in Vietnam provide further evidence of the government’s inability to control how exported livestock are slaughtered overseas.

An Animals Australia investigation reported by ABC’s 7.30 showed what are reportedly Australian cattle being slaughtered in three abattoirs. Australia has suspended trade to the facilities while they are investigated.

The government’s tool to try to ensure humane slaughter is known as the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS). This requires cattle to be killed in accordance with World Animal Health Organisation standards. Killing cattle by hitting with a sledgehammer, although common practice in Vietnam, is not allowed by the standards.

The other requirements of ESCAS offer little reassurance to the Australian community that welfare will be safeguarded. Under the standards, cattle must be traced. This means we should know which cattle are Australian, and be able to control and audit the supply chain.

There are problems with this model. Supply-chain control is desirable but potentially contravenes the principles of the World Trade Organisation. Auditing is only as good as the manner in which it is undertaken, and there has been much recent debate about this.

I’m personally less concerned over the animal welfare side of this essay, which is its real point, as I am the larger question of supply chain standards. To what extent should companies be able to take advantage of different methods and laws between countries to maximize profit? Does the fact that a company is Australian or American or Canadian mean that they should have to operate by the laws of their home nation no matter where they operate? What role should the citizens of the home countries have in determining corporate behavior overseas? If it’s so cheap for Australia to ship that cattle to Vietnam, is it therefore their responsibility to build facilities humanely slaughtering that cattle? These are the core questions of globalization and supply chains. My own positions on these issues are clear enough and I think that we all need to think through the supply chain and make taming it a core progressive priority.

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  • J. Otto Pohl

    Interesting,I did not realize cattle could be shipped so cheaply across seas. But, it might make the only surviving slaughterhouses in Australia those that prepare kosher or halal meat since the sledgehammer method is neither.

    • Vance Maverick

      I think you’re assuming that Australian consumers can’t influence how animals butchered abroad for the Australian market are killed. This is the question Erik is raising, and you’re jumping to a pessimistic conclusion. On the contrary, I’d say — you’ve identified categories of consumers that will have even stronger requirements than those of us who prefer humane treatment of animals.

    • Warren Terra

      This is a pretty silly suggestion. If it’s cheaper to ship animals over and meat back, that probably remains true if you’re applying religious strictures on the methods of slaughter – it’s not like the Vietnamese are using sledgehammers out of some inflexible moral principle that would prohibit someone opening up a kosher or halal slaughterhouse in Vietnam.

      Indeed, it’s more often the opposite: there are large swathes of Europe that do not permit the slaughter of animals according to kosher or halal practice, and so all kosher or halal meat onsumed there must be shipped in from elsewhere (which shipments animal-rights campaigners have sought to make illegal). It would have been less surprising if all the kosher meat in Australia came from slaughterhouses in Vietnam than if only the non-kosher meat did.

    • DW

      Oddly enough, apparently in the late ’90’s, Australian animal welfare activists publicized the issue of inhumane treatment of live cattle shipped from Australia to the Middle East to be slaughtered by halal means.

    • Ghostship

      I think you’ll find the meat is for the Vietnamese market and not re-export back to Australia so there is still plenty of business for Australian slaughterhouses. Many people prefer their meat freshly slaughtered particularly where the climate is hot, refrigeration is not widely used and electricity supplies are unreliable.
      BTW, why is there a picture of Cambodian cattle when there are plenty of pictures of Australian cattle?

  • americanpride

    What role should the citizens of the home countries have in determining corporate behavior overseas?

    I’m a firm believer in democratizing corporations. This does not necessarily mean state ownership of enterprises, but definitely means more employee owned corporations (especially if the company is beyond a certain size and has a measurable impact on a country’s political economy), more oversight of corporate behavior at home and abroad, and more transparency in corporate governance and decision-making. How this looks in regards to your specific question, I don’t know, but citizens should have a leading role in determining corporate behavior overseas for corporations that purport to originate from their country.

    • Ahuitzotl

      efinitely means more employee owned corporations (especially if the company is beyond a certain size and has a measurable impact on a country’s political economy)

      Having spent 14 years working in an employee-owned very large corporation, I can assure you that this is not a solution, nor does it democratize the corporation noticeably (it does seem to reduce layoffs, but otherwise the corporate officers are just the same assholes as every other corporation).

  • Rob in CT

    It’s cheaper to ship cattle from Australia to Vietnam, butcher them there and ship them back to Australia than it is to just butcher them in Australia. Holy shit.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised (cheap labor in Vietnam and all) but for some reason the absurdity of this just jumps out at me.

    • Linnaeus

      Salmon caught in US waters often gets shipped to China for processing, frozen, then shipped back to the US.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        FWIW, those aren’t live animals though.

        The fish are de-headed and gutted on the ship in the Bering Sea, then frozen and sent to China, says Douglas Forsyth, Premier Pacific’s president. Once there, they are boned, skinned and cut into portions of 2 ounces to 6 ounces, he says.


        • Linnaeus

          True, but it still seems a bit odd to ship them thousands of miles and then ship them back.

    • Murc

      This is less a statement of how cheap labor is in Vietnam (although it is cheaper) and just how goddamn cheap shipping is.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    Also sea shipping is ridiculously cheap per mile (and btw fuel efficient but that’s not germane here).

    • Latverian Diplomat

      Shipping live animals seems like a huge PITA though.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Who’s shovelling that shit? Is it done at sea? Are the people given that task slaves? I have an inkling…

        I’d like to think the Vietnamese are eager for the manure, too, to use as fertilizer. They’re not rich enough to be above old school fertilizing.

    • so-in-so

      How cheap is shipping them to port? I assume they aren’t raised at harbor (or harbour) side.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    I guess, but they can walk on and off.

    ETA was supposed to be reply to Latverian Diplomat.

  • (((Hogan)))

    “The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.”

  • To get the ball rolling, here is my suggestion for the maximum proper time of travel for a food animal going to slaughter: one hour.

    • DrDick

      That is not going to happen. Montana produces a lot of beef, but has no slaughter houses and the nearest is several hundred of miles away. This is not unusual or even anything new.

  • evodevo

    Same situation happened when the slaughter of horses was banned in this country. They are now mostly shipped out to places like Mexico, where there are in reality NO regulations governing humane slaughter, at least ones that are enforced. Before the ban, most of the meat was shipped out of the country, to France, Japan and other places. The Europeans suspended importation from slaughterhouses in Mexico in 2014, citing numerous food safety issues, and also documenting the abusive environment.

  • Jhoosier

    Not cattle, but I recall seeing a pigs being offloaded from a truck in Hoi An 10 years ago. The guys would just grab a pig’s leg and drag it off. Usually they looked a bit startled after hitting the ground, then be dragged into the building. One, however, must’ve broken a leg in the fall, because it was just laying there making this godawful sound. Geez, how hard would it have been to get a ramp?

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