Dr Lynn Simpson looks at what has happened to the Australian livestock export trades since April’s dramatic 60 Minutes exposé forced politicians to act.
What’s happening with the live export of sheep from Australia, I keep getting asked.
In short – not much, by that I mean nothing, no live export of sheep by sea.
However, in the background, backrooms and in backward minds much is happening.
A brief summary of the current situation is required:
In April this year the Australian public was shown an explosive and disturbing exposé of more than 2,400 sheep, dead and dying from overcrowding, heat stress and poor animal welfare conditions in transit by sea from Australia to the Middle East over multiple voyages.
The 60 Minutes exposé threw the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) into a flat spin of action. What a nice change. It appears DAWR is now seriously open for business for the first time in several decades.
The company responsible for managing the sheep shown on 60 Minutes was Emanuel Exports. Now bear with me as I explain the chain of responsibility – shipping is never straightforward.
Kuwaiti Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT) is the mother company of Rural Export Trading Western Australia (RETWA) who lost their license to export livestock many years ago, so have since been utilising the licence of Emanuel Exports run by the Daw family. The ship, the Awassi Express, was owned by someone else and chartered for these voyages.
Clear as sheep sewage so far?
Upon evaluation of the footage taken on those five voyages DAWR immediately instigated a ‘short, sharp review’ (The McCarthy Review) of animal welfare standards on sheep ships that was science based. What a novel idea. Why hadn’t this been done 40 odd years before? My bad, it has been done, repeatedly; and repeatedly the industry has vehemently resisted any significant reform to improve animal welfare on the ships. Outrageous.
Many a shipboard vet such as myself have provided science-based evidence of the need for significant change. All resisted and ignored. Outrageous.
So now the outcome of this 28-day review of a 50-odd year old trade reveals the need for a few stark amendments to attain welfare improvement. There were many in fact, and all were accepted fully, except one that solidified the stocking density outcome.
The clincher. Apparently DAWR thinks that needs more research.
The DAWR minister however suggested that a trial be undertaken. Keep in mind DAWR has daily and end of voyage reports from every voyage that has left Australia. 50 years of evidence was not considered a significant trial. Really?
In short the review meant all sheep ships leaving Australia for the Middle East during the northern summer needed a stocking reduction of about 30%. The ‘acceptable’ mortality rate during the sailing passage of these thousands of sheep was to be reduced from 2% to 1%. Much improved if you’re not one of the 1%.
The live export industry tried to say that the mortality rate on ships was lower than that experienced on farms. WTF?! Do they really think our farmers are so bad they would expect to lose 2% or even 1% of their entire mob in a three-week period consistently throughout a year? Surely there would be few sheep left to export.
Any farmer with a brain would disagree, I’m sure.
Regardless, Emanuel Exports appears to have reshuffled their board members and delegated responsibilities within the office thinking this would result in a more acceptable voyage outcome.
Even DAWR didn’t fall for this and eventually suspended two of the three licences that the Daw family held (Emanuel Exports and EMS Exports), leaving them with International Live Exports (ILE) only. One must ask why would a reputable company need multiple licences? Something smells fishy here.
DAWR then conceded that an export permit issued to sail was illegal. Ooops.
DAWR has also instigated a review on the culture within itself. More on that in late August when that can of worms explodes.
I’ve personally experienced some long overdue vindication from the government by being asked to assist with that as much as possible.
So back to the actual movement of sheep:
1) Emanuel is not trading until their ‘show cause’ notice, reply is analysed and accepted by DAWR. Tick tock, guessing that won’t be rushed
2) The DAWR employee who issued the now considered illegal export permit shed tears stating they were unaware such atrocities were taking place. What did a vet really think thousands of sheep dying of heat stress on a ship looked like? It’s been presented to DAWR on paper for decades. Just look at roadkill in summer, no brainer.
3) KLTT (under the name of Al Mawashi) has put out media complaining that DAWR is not allowing them to get any of Australia’s live sheep, wait for it. So that will damage THEIR processing chain and they will have difficulty in on-exporting our sheep, processed by likely expatriate workers in Kuwait to other countries as Australian meat. Likely competing directly with our Australian meat exports (jobs, meat quality, low stress handling measures, etc).
4) The second largest exporter behind Emanuel, Livestock Shipping Services(LSS) announced in the media that they would not export sheep out of Australia in response to the new stocking densities in place, reiterating by their actions that the crowding and welfare stress is essential for their shipments to be commercially viable. Off to South America they went to meet great public resistance there.
5) The Australian government is now experiencing an in-house anti-live trade insurgency that is growing with every passing week.
6) Export offices have been raided, warrants to inspect operations have been granted, information seized.
7) Israel has announced a three-year phase out from live animal importing.
8) And many of the live export fleet, being 140 ships will be under tight scrutiny in less than 18 months when the International Maritime Organisation implements new emissions regulations on January 1, 2020. The live export fleet is the oldest fleet in the world and a large cull for scrapping is expected.
Meanwhile back in Australia, this months NSW Farmer magazine quoted that the global live export industry is worth A$19bn with Australia’s worth only being A$1.4bn, indicating we are not the trade ‘kingpin’ some people would like to say.
No Australian live sheep have had to endure the furnace of the Middle East via sea for months and the sky hasn’t fallen.
For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.