Australian farmers and the Dept of Ag continue to trust the exporters despite everything, including the abuses uncovered at the destination and the disasters on ships. Is it absolute collusion, flagrant stupidity or wilful blindness?
When 16 inspectors spent >12h days in the South African feedlots and on the Al Messilah (as opposed to a cursory one-off visit from an industry-compliant Australian Dept official), they found suffering on an unimaginable scale. The feedlot manager has now been arrested for animal cruelty. The diligence of NSPCA in protecting animals has exposed the fact this company, the main exporter of sheep out of Australia (mostly using this very same ship), do not care one iota for animal welfare. No amount of spin can disguise this animal cruelty by an export company that also operates out of Australia and maintains it has the highest animal welfare standards.
Critics argue that this is what will happen if Australia stops exporting. They should perhaps note that the NSPCA has powers that RSPCA in Australia doesn't. That'ss why there is transparency in South Africa and why animal cruelty in live export can be actively policed and exposed.
It's not good for NSPCA if the trade moves there but, arguably, it could be an improvement for the sheep – at least they have protection there. And probably 11000 fewer had to suffer. Word at the port is that the ship left with a mere 38,000 onboard.
An animal welfare debacle is currently unfolding in South Africa. Prohibited in Australia from taking winter acclimatised sheep to the Middle Eastern summer, KLTT has turned to other countries to do just that. Al Mawashi and Livestock Transport and Trading Company PSC (KLTT) have sent the Al Messilah to South Africa.
Despite statements from the industry spin body, Livestock Collective, and exporter media acknowledging animal welfare issues for southern hemisphere sheep at this time of year, the same exporters just go to another country, which doesn't have the same animal welfare regulations and export regardless. Not exactly what one expects from an industry that has supposedly cleaned up its act. If any act cleaning has been performed it seems that it's only because there was no choice – in Australia.
If shipping at this time wasn't bad enough, NSPCA inspection of the Al Mawashi feedlots indicated "the lack of preparedness and adherence by the exporters to the Government Guidelines despite assurances that they would be.... Inspectors observed:-
• Sheep being fed roughage at the feedlot as the pelleted food has run out. The animals have not been given the minimum of 7 days to adjust to eating pelleted food to prevent malnourishment or even starvation while on board the ship, where this will be the only feed provided.
• Many sheep with wool up to 100mm long were observed, despite the Government ‘Guidelines’ requirements for wool not to exceed 25mm, because of the severe heat as the animals face the wrath of the hot summer along the journey, especially in the strait of Hormuz.
• Numerous sheep with dangerous protruding horns which pose a risk for them being trapped between lairage bars and also risk of causing injury to other animals. These horns had not been trimmed as per Government ‘Guidelines.’
• Many obviously pregnant ewes in the feedlot and an increasing number of new-born lambs as well as many animals who have aborted their young. The Government ‘Guidelines’ were not adhered to and the animals had not been scanned to determine pregnancy.
In addition, the teams of Inspectors on site at the feedlot report compromised animals including lame sheep, sheep with foot rot, pink eye throughout the pens as well as emaciated and moribund sheep."
The situation was reportedly "so dire that in order to halt the loading until the ‘Guidelines’ were adhered to, the NSPCA applied for an Urgent High Court Interdict ... Despite these appalling conditions of the animals at the feedlot ... the acting judge did not hear the merits of the matter and only heard argument on urgency. The loading was then permitted to commence. Undeterred, and despite enormous challenges, the NSPCA Inspectors continue to monitor the loading at the feedlot and the harbour ..."
Their team of 16 inspectors have been working 12 hours a day since 20 July 2023. "Had it not been for NSPCA Inspectors, compromised animals would have been loaded onto the vessel."
So, this industry cares about animal welfare? Sixteen inspectors were required just to ensure unfit animals were not loaded by an export company that has been prohibited from exporting sheep from Australia to the Middle East at this time of year. A leopard may be regulated but it doesn't change its spots. Bring on the phase out!
See NSPCA FACEBOOK 24 July : https://www.facebook.com/NSPCA
Up until now, ships have had to carry food for 3 extra days. Despite this, an analysis of the IO summaries revealed numerous voyages running out of food or running low on food. This occurred especially on trips to China. VALE published this information in a peer-reviewed scientific paper (Hing et al 2021). Was it this that finally cause the department to scrutinise? Or was it the sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1 (a ship running out of food so forced to run a storm)?
The ASEL review notes for fodder reserves state that 63% of voyages were underestimated, and for China voyages the average underestimate was 3.9 days. Three extra days of food isn't much help for 5more than 50% of voyages!
Worryingly, the department is not insisting on a minimum voyage length but is still sticking with the exporter estimates (which reflect either incompetence or unreliability) and actually reducing the food requirement by a day. Two days or 20%, whichever is greater, won't help the China voyages (or in fact 17% of voyages by the government calculation – see below).
So we will have the best welfare standards in the world but one in six voyages will run out of food?
Have Your Say on the ASEL Review. Vets should accompany all voyages – there is still no requirement for the cattle voyages to China (average voyage time 21 days – Hing et al 2021).
NOTE: The government reserve fodder proposal "indicated that 17% of all cattle consignments to single port destinations would have had insufficient fodder to complete the voyage without rationing below ASEL minimum levels, even with the reserve fodder loaded."
VALE read with interest the article in The Conversation titled "Why Australia banning live sheep exports may be a net loss for animal welfare" written by an academic who is a non-executive director of Sheep Producers Australia and is on the WA Farmers' Livestock Council. It was appropriate for the author to make that disclosure (routine academic procedure) as the article has statements that potentially reflect conscious or sub-conscious bias to industry and presumably, because of that, failure of careful academic analysis.
The article questions whether there will be a net gain for global animal welfare as more animals will be shipped from nations with lower standards. Most certainly that will occur but many of those countries eg Somalia are much closer (ie less duration of transport stress), already acclimatised to the same seasonal conditions and the sheep in those countries already have unstunned inappropriate slaughter so there is a no net change in slaughter standards compared to the situation for Australian sheep. So yes a slight decrease in shipping standards but a positive net benefit for global sheep slaughter welfare statistics.
The article discusses the value of the trade ($92 million) but does not look at the value of the sheep meat trade: on 2017 figures alone, the total value of sheepmeat production to WA was about $513 million with sheepmeat exports from WA increasing about 40% in value (from 2010-217) to $323 million as a result of increased demand from China, UAE, Jordan and the USA (see: Western Australia’s Agrifood/Fibre/Fisheries/Forestry Industries 2017).
The article then shifts to facts and figures about combined sheep and cattle exports (not exactly relevant to a sheep export phaseout) with comments that the end destinations markets require live animals due to lack of reliable refrigeration or cultural preference. It would appear that this statement may not have been well researched - there is no lack of refrigeration for the Middle East destinations as is quite evident by an analysis of Australia's boxed meat exports (eg to UAE, Jordan, Bahrain etc). Even as far back as 2014, a survey by ABARES concluded that in the Middle East ‘substitutability between Australian live sheep and sheep meat imports has increased in recent years, largely reflecting growth in incomes, urbanisation, refrigeration availability and popularity of western style supermarkets’. This is underscored by the experience regarding Bahrain, which stopped importing Australian sheep in 2014, after which sheepmeat imported from Australia increased over two-fold!
Then there is the graph that seemingly shows ESCAS non-compliance has improved from 2020 but with no mention that Covid largely prevented travel/auditing in 2020-2022. Wait for the figures to go up again now the unpaid auditors (Animals Australia) can again travel!
Then there is a whole lot of information about cattle exports and tellingly, the statement at the end of the article: "Correction: this article originally stated the Australian government wants to ban live animal exports. The proposed ban is for live sheep exports. The article has been amended accordingly."
This article would seem to be more suited to a discussion on a live export ban than a sheep export ban. As it stands, it has included much irrelevant material on cattle, some potentially misleading figures and failed to carefully interrogate the data provided.
VALE respect the right of anyone to have their views heard (a courtesy at odds with farmer treatment of animal welfare advocates at public hearings). However, for Farm Weekly to pick up a submission from a stockman of former years as evidence without examining it a bit more closely is poor journalism.
The former stockperson claims that he is "pretty sure you haven't heard much from someone with my background, at these meetings"...WRONG veterinarian Lynn Simpson, a veterinarian for 57 live export voyages, made a submission
Then the claim: "The pad in the footage had clearly been watered, although this provides short-term relief, in the long-term it's a disaster." WRONG. Pad watering is an absolute no-no in managing heat stress as it increases humidity and wet bulb temperature. It may have been mooted as an idea in the early 2000s but was quickly discarded. Wet pads, as per even recent peer-reviewed scientific papers by an accredited shipboard veterinarian, Dr Renee Willis, are a sign of heat stress and correlate with panting score. The wet pads on the Awassi Express were due to heat stress not due to a rubbish stockperson or vet making a mistake - this is simple physiology and has been known since the early days of Murdoch University Research (Barnes, Stockman, Beatty etc).
Then there was the claim: "On my most successful voyage I had zero mortalities." COMMENT: Parliamentary records back to 2005 show there has never been a sheep voyage to the Middle East with zero mortalities and the information in submissions should have pertained to sheep voyages. This comment, if accurate, must pertain to a short northern cattle export voyage or a very small consignment of sheep to SE Asia.
"On my worst voyage, I recorded a mortality rate of 0.8 per cent - not because of conditions onboard - but because of an aggressive and rapid spread of pneumonia." COMMENT: this mortality was rare on sheep voyages before the changes in space allowance post Awassi Express (2018) and again, suggests a cattle voyage. And yes....the maiden voyage of the Awassi in 2014 was ....you guessed it, a cattle voyage (mortality 0.18%). Of course, the question also has to be asked whether he refers to "his" consignment on the ship or the ship itself...yes they look aft inividual consignments on these ships.
Then there is the concerning comment about Draxxin: "With quick intervention by injection of the drug Draxxin, I slowed mortalities to only acute cases". COMMENT: again this pertains to cattle as Draxxin is not used in sheep. In NZ, Draxxin is a red light antimicrobial (should be highly reserved; this lines up with WHO management of critically important antimicrobials) and as such in NZ requires extra care and oversight in use, likely to be restricted soon to veterinarian use. Yet, in Australia this drug is the mainstay of the live export cattle trade....industry more important than human health!
Regarding crew numbers: "They are very observant and provide 15 more sets of eyes for a stockperson, like me." COMMENT: if the maximum crew for this stockperson was 15, then the ships must have been little bigger than rowing boats. Sheep ships would have a much larger crew than 15 (eg about 50 crew for stock on the Bader, which is listed as one of his ships). Again this comment suggests mainly experience of small cattle ships or caring for small consignments on a larger ship.
Stockperson: "More than 10 years ago, when I first got into live export...You had to be a man". COMMENT: that may have been true for stockpeople but not for the industry - Dr Lynn Simpson.... 57 voyages and definitely female.
And then the old chestnut: "Live export is still being judged for incidents that occurred many years ago." WRONG: live export is being judged for incidents that have occurred repetitively from before the 1985 Senate Select Committee Report right up to 2018 (Awassi Express) and even now (ongoing ESCAS breaches in Oman in May 2023).
Lastly: "I encourage each of you individually to travel aboard a live export ship." COMMENT: good luck with that one...took the ABC years according to Landline and cant imagine any invitation coming to VALE any time soon!
And, as a final comment, it is fascinating that Dr Lynn Simpson is dismissed out of hand by industry because her last shipment was ~10 years ago but the same industry spruiks an out-of-date stockperson who travelled on a number of vessels that are now defunct (Finola, Barkly Pearl, Bader etc) and must have mostly done cattle voyages.