Live Sheep Export Update

Live Sheep Export Update

Why sheep farmers will never be able to rely on this trade

In recent weeks, the federal government granted a licence to RETWA to export live sheep to the Middle East. This has given some producers involved in the live sheep trade reason to express optimism in its future.

However, given that the trade ground to a halt as a result of public concerns in April this year over the revelations that sheep suffered and many died on five separate voyages on the Awassi Express, RSPCA is warning that while the animal welfare concerns continue to be inherent in the live sheep trade, the industry will remain unpredictable and most likely end up being phased out. 

From the perspective of animal welfare, there has not been much progress since April. Following the Awassi debacle the Federal government promised to weed out the bad operators from the industry. 

The Minister David Littleproud said he would like to see company directors be held more personally accountable for doing the wrong thing and they should not be able to hide behind companies and shell companies.

His comments now seem out of step with his department granting a licence to an exporter with strong connections to Emanuel Exports, the operators of the Awassi Express, and an equally terrible track record on mass animal mortalities. In 2004, RETWA had its export licence cancelled by former Liberal National Agriculture Minister Warren Truss following 25 high mortality voyages within a two-year period between 2000 and 2002. 

RETWA is the Australian arm of Kuwait Livestock and Trading (KLTT) which consigned all five Awassi voyages. KLTT had joint responsibility with Emanuel Exports for the sheep on board that suffered and died from heat stress. Since 1980, more than 1.5 million sheep have died on board KLTT shipments.

Just a few weeks ago, an investigation by Philip Moss into the Federal regulator, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, confirmed what RSPCA has been saying for three decades – that animal welfare has been callously disregarded in the trade administered by a regulator that is seriously conflicted and incompetent.

Just one example of this is the statement by the regulator that a 17.5% reduction in stocking densities will apply on board. It turns out, this statement was wrong. What the Department meant to say was that a 17.5% increase in space will apply. This is an important distinction because space increase and stocking density reduction are not the same thing. The 17.5% increase in space actually equates to just 15% reduction in stocking density. 

The reduction of just 15% goes against the advice of the Australian Veterinary Association which is live sheep exports to the Middle East between May and October should not happen due to the heat in the northern summer and, for the rest of the year, a stocking reduction of up to 28% should apply.

The meagre 15% reduction means only half the sheep can lie down at any one time. This has been admitted by the Department of Agriculture at the Senate Estimates. The majority of West Australians and sheep farmers could not be happy knowing sheep have to resort to lying on top of each other for almost a month at sea.

There are more problems. Mortality rates haven’t been used to measure animal welfare for decades and the regulator has been criticised in the McCarthy Report, and reiterated in the Moss Review,  for continuing to do so. Relying on the assertion that an animal’s welfare must be good simply because it didn’t die is precisely the reason the live sheep trade is in the predicament it is in today. 

The Moss Review is the third damning assessment of the live export trade in 15 years and the same problems are revealed each time – a callous disregard for animal welfare, inherent conflicts of interest and a regulator incapable of doing its job. We support Minister Littleproud for commissioning the review and for his subsequent appointment of a former Australian Crime Commissioner to investigate allegations of cover ups within the federal regulator of animal welfare issues in the live export trade.

The RETWA licence was issued by a government agency that was under review at the time and has since been exposed as incompetent. In light of this, RSPCA believes the decision should be reviewed by an independent third party, perhaps the soon to be appointed Inspector-General for Live Animal Exports.

But none of this will fix the obvious problems with live sheep exports that the Australian public and an increasing number of Members of Parliament find so disturbing. Animal suffering is inherent in the trade, which we do not believe can be carried out profitably without sheep suffering and dying from heat stress.

If animal welfare is taken into account, live sheep exports have no future and its demise is only a matter of time.

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