Consistent with their scientific analysis of sheep welfare in the live export trade during the northern summer months, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) have now written to Mr Littleproud requesting that the moratorium across these months are upheld:
"consistent with the advice we have provided previously, we believe that the welfare risks to the animals are unacceptably high in June, and that no exemptions should be granted. It is critical that the Government upholds the regulations, to ensure that animal welfare standards during live export of sheep are in line with the expectations of the veterinary profession and the wider community".
See letter here.
The Dept of Ag's dual role as facilitator of trade and regulator of animal welfare has never been more clearly put to the test than now.
Its now too late for any ship to leave by Jun 1. Will the 56,000 sheep currently being held in feedlots after the COVID-19 outbreak on the Al Kuwait be processed here in Australia in keeping with the government moratorium?
Or will the Dept prefer to expose the sheep to increased suffering and mortality to ensure that one export company and its workers in the Middle East benefit from the business of processing them rather than Australian workers?
The decision will be a test of the government's priorities.
It is also a test of the importance of the overwhelming public outcry that occurred with the release of whistleblower footage from the Awassi Express. The moratorium is in place because the public demanded that sheep should never again suffer and die like sheep in that footage, unable to escape the heat, unable to access water and bogged in faeces.
The Minister for Agriculture has backed away from taking responsibility for the decision already deferring to an unnamed Independent Regulator (and who knows who that is....surely not the Dept?). Will the "independent regulator" put an “independent observer” on board if they do breach the moratorium? If not, the Australian public will have to rely on whistleblowers to police the industry - again.
With WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan confirming that negotiations were under way to use the Awassi Express (oh Anna Marra), the ship is still not in port and Jun 1 is 2 days away. Still possible...just.
But why is local slaughter a "last resort"? Anything to keep the exporters happy as usual we assume.
Covid looked like a lucky reprieve for the 56000 sheep headed to the ME on the AL Kuwait before the summer moratorium. BUT....guess which ship has just left Kwinana Anchorage heading for Freo.....the Anna Marra, aka Awassi Express.
Watch this space....
As DAWE is now considering granting an exemption so that the Al Kuwait can load sheep in June, it is timely to consider the ongoing debate over moratorium dates. Over the past few weeks, ALEC has attempted to discredit an editorial and scientific paper by Dr Clive Phillips on the heat stress suffered by sheep shipped from Australia to the Middle East by claiming his data is out of date.
The “current results” that ALEC instead cite as representative of the industry relate to a single voyage (n=1) in April this year ... on the Covid ship of the moment, Al Kuwait (the rebadged Ocean Shearer bought from Wellard). The ship didn't have an independent observer onboard, and it sailed during a month that carries a relatively low heat stress risk compared to the months that Phillips considered in his analysis of 14 voyages (n=14).
The federal government itself gave Phillips temperature and mortality data from 14 voyages that occurred from May to December, between 2016 and 2018. And yes, it was before increased space allocation but no amount of space can save sheep on ships from suffering and dying when the temperatures are above their physiological coping limits (see shipboard veterinarian comment for Independent Observer Report 12: "The animals had plenty of space and ventilation was good; there was simply no relief from hot and humid conditions").
Heat stress is real. No amount of space will prevent it. There is nothing “outdated” about this fact, and there's no “cultural heritage” in the Middle East that makes it ethical to ignore it.
Every average Australian knows fever, sore throat....and a ship... equals Covid..till proven otherwise!
The Dept of Ag, with its biosecurity role in this country, however, hasnt quite got the message. The email below shows that not only could they not spell "throat" (for "through" read throat?)....they deemed 3 crew members with fever and one "suffering small pain in through [throat] swallowing.." to be "no concern for Covid".
Either they are even more incompetent than previously believed OR they were determined to get those last sheep out of WA before the seasonal ban of Jun 1.
WA's latest Covid cases are from guess where.....a live ex ship, the newly rebadged Al Kuwait. According to the West Australian, “It was not until Sunday evening that the Fremantle Port Authority heard of some issues on the ship. That was through word of mouth from another worker in the port and the information was then reported through the usual channels.”
And meanwhile, the Dept of Ag knew all along. McGowan said “The advice I have is (the Commonwealth) Department of Agriculture were informed but they didn’t tell the Fremantle Port Authority,” he said.
“Clearly, if there are cases of people reporting high temperatures on board that should be reported and red flags raised.”
Well clearly McGowan doesnt know the lengths to which the Dept of Ag will go to prevent any disruption to the live ex trade.....shovelling potential Covid under the carpet, leaving it to be reported by "word of mouth" says it all.
So, not so good for the poor workers or WA residents but could be a real bonus for the sheep, as with the 31 May approaching, 6 crew with Covid, probably a whole lot more set to come down with it and a biosecurity risk, its unlikely that the sheep for this voyage will be leaving Australia.
This week we had the news of an ESCAS breach with 45 buffaloes being slaughtered (somehow) between 7 and 12 December 2019 on the back of a truck (using electrical goads to keep their heads in position).
But slaughter issues are only a problem if they actually get there. Some time between Feb and now, the Dept put up a few high mortality reports including High Mortality 81 - from a voyage in Aug 2019. Buffaloes crammed in like sardines if the representative photo (see photo) was anything to go on and IO report stated: "a number of buffalo pens contained stock numbers greater than the ASEL stocking densities. This impacted on the health and welfare of the animals ...as access to feed and water and their ability to rest was reduced."
BUT the government shoved it all under the mat and stated in the official investigation report that the IO indicated "possible overstocking" and that there were no breaches of ASEL. So much for the Moss Review, the Carter Review and not sanitising reports eh?
Oh yeah and the next buffalo voyage in November, was....another high mortality voyage (Report 82...not that it is available yet).
Voyage 78: March 2019, Bison Express; North Australian Cattle Company Pty Ltd (NACC); Townsville to Vietnam; 2.86% (53/1845) cattle mortality; 11 days. No vet. No PM kit so no PMs (could they not have used a galley knife?). Treatments difficult because 2 Westergun pole syringes inoperable (but one Masterject fine). Bosun euthanased the five animals that broke their legs when the stockman "sought to stand the animals up". Vet sent to discharge port.
Oh and NACC advised that they will conduct assessments of stockman capability and competence prior to voyages! Well great to know they have it all in hand...
Especially as "The department required an Independent Observer to accompany the next voyage however a
statutory declaration was provided by NACC stating an observer could not be accommodated
on that vessel" ....so....over to the stockperson!