Government review highlights fundamental problems with live exports
The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) (which covers the selection of animals for export on farm and on board the ship to the point of disembarkation in the importing country) were developed in response to the 2003 Cormo Express disaster which saw 57,000 Australian sheep rejected by Saudi Arabia.
In 2011, the government-commissioned Independent review of Australia's livestock export trade (the Farmer Review) found that 'a full review of the ASEL was a priority'.
Two years later a revised version of the ASEL was presented to the Department of Agriculture by a steering committee, however despite repeated requests from the RSPCA for action, the report was shelved until a request under Freedom of Information legislation by RSPCA Australia forced its publication yesterday.
"The report clearly shows many aspects of the current standards require urgent action, yet Minister Joyce has ignored this issue for months," said Dr Bidda Jones, Chief Scientist RSPCA Australia.
"The review shows that current standards are failing to ensure people handling animals are aware of their legal responsibilities and have the competency to carry them out, and are allowing animals that are sick, injured or otherwise unfit to slip through the inspection process.
"Failure to progress these important changes means that current standards fall far short of best practice or developments in animal welfare science," said Dr Jones.
Over 2.3 million animals have been exported since the report was submitted.
While the steering committee agreed on some of the changes needed to the ASEL it failed to agree on key welfare areas such as increased space allowances and bedding provisions on-board ship.
"Current stocking densities force animals to lie down on top of each other and jostle for access to feed and water points. The current bedding provisions for cattle – a handful of sawdust per animal – and no bedding for sheep, are a joke," said Dr Jones.
"The main impediment to adopting changes to these issues is money. This is despite in many cases there being clear scientific evidence, including industry-funded research reports, indicating the need for improved standards.
"When it comes to the live export industry, it seems animal welfare only matters when images are shown in the media and changes don't affect the bottom line," said Dr Jones.