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Why animals are a crucial part of the Australian economy

Livestock is very important to the Australian economy, explains independent economist Stephen Koukoulas. (Source: Getty)

Animals are a critical part of the Australian economy, either for food, companionship or entertainment.  

But every month, millions of sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens, fish and other animals are bred and then killed.

Most of them are killed in what we define as ‘humane’, but no doubt tens of thousands are horribly mistreated, as are a proportion of the animals we keep as pets.

Animals are slaughtered to provide food for human food consumption, to feed other animals (your cats and dogs are carnivorous) and for fertiliser. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects a range of data on animal slaughterings and the most recent release of the Livestock and Meat data release included the following facts.

In the year to September 2019, the number of animals slaughtered in Australia were:

  • 5,218,000 pigs;

  • 9,207,000 sheep;

  • 21,826,000 lambs

  • 8,286,000 cattle (excluding calves);

  • 557,000 calves. 

These 45 million or so slaughterings in the past year are generally down on the recent peak levels as the severe drought gripping much of Australia reduces herds and breading numbers, but they are large in a country of 25 million people.

The most recent data also show 65,275,073 chickens were slaughtered in the year to the June quarter 2019. That’s almost 180,000 chickens a day!

Society obviously finds these numbers to be desirable. These animals end up being your hamburger mince, in the election day sausage sizzle, part of the fancy slow cooked leg of lamb at a top restaurant and the Shantung chicken at the local Chinese.

We can only assume that all of these animals are killed in a humane way even though we know that live animals exported for bizarre religious reasons are treated poorly.

A small part of population, around 11 per cent according to a Roy Morgan poll, are vegetarian. For the other 89 per cent of us, we demand these animals to be slaughtered for part of our food intake and to feed our family pets.

Speaking of pets, according to RSCPA data, there are 4.8 million dogs and 3.9 million cats in Australia.

The food we buy our lovely pets has a lot of meat in it. 

As you open the tin of dog food for Fido, the slaughtered animals are part of the stinky blend that slops into the dog bowl. Fluffy the cat purrs with delight as the fish ‘treat’ is given to them every now and then, made from fish trawled from the oceans.

Even the RSPCA kill animals. In the last 5 years, it euthanised more than 32,000 dogs, 75,000 cats and 80,000 ‘other’ animals in its care.

These animals could not be rehomed and it notes that the reasons for this level of killing was due to infections, behavioural matters, medical and legal issues. 

The RSPCA also indicated it investigated more than 57,000 complaints into animal cruelty in 2017-18, which is more than 1,000 a day, confirming that a proportion of all pet and animal owners are inhumane in their neglected of cats, dogs and other animals.

Despite these and other cases of cruelty and horrid mistreatment, animals are an important part of society and a vital part of the economy. 

Rules are in place to ensure that all animals are treated humanely, even if we grow them to be for the sole purpose of being killed for our food or to feed our pets or bred for companionship and entertainment.

Such is life.

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