A Sentient’s Investigation
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The Truth About “Humane” Free-Range Meat

What happens to Australian cattle on the vast outback stations in Australia has never before been exposed. Cruelty is rife and accepted. Laws allow animals to be subjected to abuse – and where laws do apply – there is no oversight to ensure compliance.

Cattle are sold to the live export trade, cruelly shipped to destinations in South East Asia or the Middle East or slaughtered in Australia and the meat consumed by un-suspecting local or international customers. All over the world people are eating animals from Australia, misled by the myth of grass-fed free-range animals, being well taken care of and living the good life.

Follow-Ups & International Coverage

Our Findings


Workers abuse animals by kicking and punching them in the face, jumping on their back, hitting them with a stick, and more. The person responsible for animal welfare in the station kicked a calf in the face and punched him several times. This person says he signs people off as animal welfare managers.


The horns are cut with no anesthesia or pain killers. “Too expensive, too much hassle. It’s a numbers game,” explains one of the workers. Dehorning without pain relief is legal in Australia.

Animals Left to Die

Many sick and injured Cattle die unaided and without veterinary intervention. Baby calves of cows who have died (e.g. after being sent to the abattoir) are considered valueless and so are left to die slowly from starvation.


Israelis care deeply about animals, but by importing Australian cattle Israel is participating in a supply chain that involves critical levels of unnecessary suffering both on land and at sea. This footage and the associated facts as to how animals are treated in the Australian cattle industry prior to export needs to be considered by Israeli legislators. Many Israelis are already deeply concerned by this trade and will want no part in this. It is also clear that most Australians are unaware of what occurs on their large outback properties. Before now, evidence has not been available that supports the need for major reforms. Pain relief should be made mandatory for practices that result in extreme suffering such as dehorning. The basic duty of care towards animals is not currently being met. The footage shows that whether an animal lives or dies on these large properties is more a matter of coincidence than intervention by the owners or employees who have the legal duty of care to these animals. Aside from mandatory pain relief, regular unannounced audits of these large properties need to be conducted to check the condition of cattle and to audit that pain relief is being implemented. Mortality and euthanasia records should be kept and audited by independent 3rd parties to make station owners more accountable. Australia is a significant exporter or beef and live cattle, claiming for the highest standards. Sentient’s investigation showed that this is far from the case.

No. We worked at four different cattle stations and witnessed cruelty on a daily basis. We also heard directly from workers about the way this industry functions. Time and time again, current employees state the rationale behind the industry is to save money whenever and wherever possible. Little to no attention is paid to animal welfare. Sadly, some workers revealed they had to shut down their love for animals while on the job. Please see our workers’ testimonials section.

This investigation was primarily conducted to determine how Australian cattle were treated prior to export to countries such as Israel. Bringing concerns to the attention of Israeli politicians and the Israeli people who consume cattle raised in Australia, was therefore a priority.

Practices documented were clearly standard across the northern Australian cattle industry. The isolation of these huge properties and the lack of regulatory or independent oversight of animal treatment, leads to a culture of acceptance of animal suffering and abuse. Various conversations with managers and employees confirmed that cruelty (such as dehorning without pain relief and letting animals deteriorate without vet care or intervention) is an accepted part of the cattle business. Various initiatives that could reduce suffering such as pain relief for procedures such as dehorning are not embraced, due to this cultural acceptance of suffering.

This investigation highlights the need for a mammoth cultural shift to create the will to address abuse and suffering that is occurring on these stations and currently considered acceptable. Workers and backpackers felt they had no choice but to inflict and accept cruel practices – compromising their well-being as well as the animals.
Furthermore, we were amazed to find out that some of the worst practices we have seen, including dehorning without using pain relief, are legal in Australia. Only public exposure is likely to bring about change.

Sentient has decided not to name the stations in Western Australia as it became clear that what was occurring on these stations was accepted and widespread practice in the cattle industry in Australia, and in many incidents even legal. The importance of this investigation is that it reveals an overarching culture of cruelty and acceptance of suffering in the northern Australian cattle industry. Due to the isolated locations of these properties, the lack of appropriate animal protection laws, and absence of any regulatory oversight, this has likely been occurring for decades.

Israel imports Australian cattle and sheep. Many Israelis are concerned about the live export trade and the unnecessary suffering of the animals on long shipboard journeys. Sentient investigators traveled to Australia to determine how Australian cattle were treated prior to being shipped and whether standards of care were acceptable to Israeli citizens. Investigators witnessed cattle being dehorned and castrated without pain relief. Sick, injured and young motherless animals being left to die or being euthanized incorrectly. Station workers and back-packers who had become completely desensitised to the suffering of animals. An animal welfare manager directly inflicted abuse and was completely accepting of unnecessary suffering. The absence of any regulatory oversight on the isolated properties meant that both neglect and cruelty occurred without any external accountability to authorities. One of our investigators worked undercover at an Israeli slaughterhouse a few years ago and witnessed horrendous abuse of Australian cattle imported to Israel. He heard many stories about the “good life” of cattle in Australia, but working at factory farms made him realize mass-producing millions of animals is never a fairytale. He had to see what was going on in Australia with his own eyes. A few years later he had the opportunity to do so.

Workers' Testimonials

“With these animals there is no emotional attachment, so in order to get a vet out, the cost of the vet has to be less than what the animal is worth. But it costs a lot more than what the animal is worth.”

A cattle station worker

“It’s like if you’re 75 and you’ve been in Auschwitz for 3 months, and they made you run 5 miles. Because they’ve been in Auschwitz, they are skinny and poor, nearly dying without being touched.”

A senior veterinarian working in cattle farms

“You should not feel bad for them. If you have a thought about that you can’t be in the industry, you can’t feel bad for them, you just can’t, that’s just the way it is, the way it happens, someone is going to do it in your place if you’re not there.”

A mustering worker

“Here I have to switch my love for animals a bit off, you have to if you work here. I mean normally I couldn’t send an animal to death but here you have to do it.”

A backpacker working on a cattle station


Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of live animals.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of live animals.

The free-range meat myth portrays the good life of cattle in natural pasture

The free-range meat myth portrays the good life of cattle in natural pasture (before being shipped overseas, live).

Australia supposedly has very high animal welfare standards.

Australia supposedly has very high animal welfare standards.

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