A Northern Territory producer who turns off around 3,500 Brahmans each year for live export to Indonesia has been reported saying that the federal government should see it as “their responsibility to assist an industry like this and keep it in business."
The comment, reported by the North Queensland Register, comes in response to DAWR’s proposed cost increases to cover the regulatory burden the live export industry creates. DAWR reportedly estimates the regulatory cost recovery for 3,500 cattle shipped to Indonesia by sea at $4.38 per head, an estimated 0.38 percent of the consignment's value.
Currently, exporters are only paying for around 25 percent of DAWR’s regulatory expenses.
So should the Government be keeping the industry in business? Here’s just one routine voyage, the 14-day, October 2019 voyage (Independent Observer Report 197) of the Ocean Drover from Townsville to Jakarta and Panjang, where problems were evident from the outset:
- unhealthy cattle were loaded (one with lumpy jaw....another with non weight bearing lameness due to an infected swollen hind fetlock with a MISSING CLAW in breach of Australian Standards (ASEL), as were bulls bleeding because their horns were cut too short
- part of the loading ramp was loosely fastened using baler twine and that some cattle were hit by the flapping walls as they passed .....seriously??
And then matters got worse. Once underway, the observer recorded:
1. “A recumbent cow in the hospital pen with depression, difficulty breathing and nasal/ocular discharge was not offered water and found dead in the same position as filmed 12 hours earlier. Her position indicated a failed attempt to reach water... her head and neck outstretched less than a meter from the water trough.”
2. “Areas became flooded with heavy effluent during discharge in Jakarta Port - challenging for crew and cattle standing in some pens with liquid effluent fetlock deep for over 30 hours.”
3. Animals were not euthanased in a timely fashion
4. No sawdust bedding in the hospital pens despite enough being loaded ....
AND on it went till discharge, where the observer noted several physical hazards and highlighted that there was “indiscriminate use of electric prods on face and body” of the cattle. The electric prods were used on cattle inside the ship and on the ship's unloading ramp, with some cattle down and being trampled at the time. Cattle got their heads or horns stuck in netting on the trucks they were loaded on, with some showing signs of choking.
This is just one voyage. The exporters and producers should be grateful that the Australian Government not only subsidised their industry but even covered up for them - yep it took VALE's FOI documents to expose the true issue. However, there are many more independent observer reports revealing or hinting at the systemic poor animal welfare in this trade (see VALE’s website) all of which which highlight why this industry has to be policed and why the Australian taxpayer should never have to foot that bill.
After around three months sailing the Mediterranean looking for a buyer for the 1,800 cattle on board, the livestock carrier Elbeik has finally been ordered to dock in Spain. The Guardian reports that around 180 of the young bulls are already dead; the remainder are considered to have suffered so much that the most humane thing to do is to euthanase them.
The order to dock in Cartagena comes not long after Spanish authorities slaughtered more than 850 young bulls from the Karim Allah. Like the Elbeik, that ship had also left Spain in mid-December and been refused entry to multiple ports because of fears there was bluetongue onboard.
Why let the animals suffer for months at sea before ordering action to be taken? Is it because both industry and government regulators accept inherent animal cruelty in live export and just wait till public outrage reaches a threshold (think Awassi Express?).
The situation is reminiscent of the 2004 Cormo Express disaster. After this disaster Australia set up MOUs with importing countries to ensure countries couldnt reject the exported animals BUT they werent worth the paper they were written on. In 2012, Ocean Drover had unloading blocked in the Middle East and in the end the sheep were offloaded and brutally slaughtered in Pakistan, a total failure of ESCAS that to this day has not been registered as an ESCAS incident by the Australian Government (22000 sheep.....quite a significant major compliance issue!).
The Guardian reports that: “Campaigners blame the EU for continuing to allow lengthy export journeys for farm animals and failing to manage problems.” Sadly, this is also reminiscent of Australia’s management of the trade.
An article in Queensland Country Life has indicated some in the livestock trade expect Australian taxpayers to pay for regulatory oversight aimed at preventing the animal cruelty that wider society sees as unacceptable.
The Dept of Ag is increasing fees in an attempt to cover the cost of putting more safeguards in place after the public outcry over the horrific death of 2,400 sheep on the Awassi Express. Actually, what society demanded was an end to the inherently cruel live export trade.
The government’s move is not “red tape gone mad,” its “red carpet removed” on an industry that has lost its social license.
The Queensland Country Life article states that farmers are the ones likely to pay the bill though, because it won’t be the exporters or the end market. Are Australian farmers willing to pay what the ones responsible for the cruelty are not?
Surely not. There are viable alternatives to live export, and we should be petitioning the government to invest taxpayers money in assisting the transition away from it.
Two livestock ships were refused entry to multiple countries after leaving Spain in December due to alleged presence of the bovine disease bluetongue on board. The Karim Allah is carrying a reported 895 calves, and the Elbeik is carrying 1,776 animals.
The Guardian says that official veterinary inspections of both ships had been due to take place late last week in Cyprus and Sardinia, but neither ship approached shore to allow vets on board. Now in an update, Reuters reports that the Karim Allah struggled to get supplies, and as a result the animals onboard went "several days" without food. The ship is now reported to be moored at Cartagena’s Escombreras dock, and the Elbeik is moored off the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta.
The fate of the animals is unknown, but they have had been at sea for more than 60 days so no-one has any idea how or if they have been getting any food or if there are any still left alive. There’s no doubt that, if still alive, they have endured months of suffering. And unlike the similar Cormo Express disaster, these animals will not have had a veterinarian onboard to make appropriate judgement calls on euthanasia.
The ElBeik’s voyage
18 December Leaves Tarragona, Spain
29 December Arrives in Derince, Turkey, leaves on 1 January
25 January Arrives in Tripoli, Libya
1 February Arrives in Alexandria, Egypt, leaves on 4 February
19 February Off the coast of Cyprus, near Famagusta
The Karim Allah’s voyage
18 December Leaves Cartagena, Spain
27 December Arrives in İskenderun, Turkey, leaves on 1 January
6 January Arrives in Tripoli, Libya, leaves on 9 January
27 January Arrives in Augusta, Italy, leaves 29 January
19 February Reaches waters near Cagliari, Sardinia
22 February Arrives back at Cartagena
The annual cost of departmental employees who now oversee the live ex industry has risen to $15 million. The new computer system required to run this woeful industry will cost $222.2 million so now the Government is finally asking 19 businesses to pay! 19 businesses in Australia being propped up to this extent! And the exporter response to the Australian government’s plan to recoup the costs of certifying and regulating the live export industry: “Our competitiveness is being shot to pieces”!
Beef Central reports that since the Awassi Express controversy in 2018, the Federal Government has expanded the amount of resourcing it needs to regulate the industry. Annual license fees are set to increase from $25,000 to $106,551, approved arrangement fees for sea shipments from $20,000 to $85,241, and the cost to register an export premises will increase from $5,000 to $21,311, reports Beef Central.
The Awassi Express controversy is just one of countless animal welfare tragedies that has shocked the nation. This is an industry which has consistently shown that self-regulation does not provide adequate animal welfare, or indeed crew welfare, outcomes. Yet, the 19 licenced exporters operating at the moment expect the Department to “streamline their regulatory processes.”
Really? AMSA has already decided to step up its regulation of the industry after recent tragedies such as the loss of the Gulf Livestock 1 and the danger to the crew posed by the unseaworthy Barkly Pearl, and VALE welcomes the Department’s move to recoup its losses as it tries to improve the performance of the trade. What other business gets this level of taxpayer subsidy? It is time to stop pandering to an industry that repeatedly endangers crews and cargo when it could readily be replaced by Australia’s boxed meat trade.
Splash 24/7 reports that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will carry out a focused inspection campaign (FIC) on livestock ships from March 1 to August 31. The campaign will target every livestock ship departing Australian ports.
Livestock ships are one of the oldest category of merchant ships and have been plagued by severe safety issues in recent years. Amongst other incidents there has been the Jawan wobbling wildly out of Portland, the loss of Gulf Livestock-1 (carrying NZ cattle but a regular export ship from Australia before that) and the Barkly Pearl with such concerning issues it was banned from Australian waters for 2 years. On top of that, according to Neale Prior of the West Australian, Emanuel Export's legal team have just claimed that their former director provided "questionable" pen air turnover details for the infamous Awassi Express in 2014 albeit not in his capacity as a director for Emanuel Export. It seems as though AMSA has said "enough is enough".
The new Australian campaign will look closely at the maintenance and repair requirements of livestock ships in relation to international conventions as well as the ships crews’ familiarity with determining the ship’s stability and the use of accurate information for the livestock cargo carried when calculating stability.
Once AMSA start going over these ships with a fine tooth comb, watch this space....
Indonesia is rethinking supply as Australian live export prices rise.In an editorial published by Beef Central, Dr Ross Ainsworth notes that Indonesia is concerned by the sudden rise in Australia’s live cattle prices and may consider Mexico as an alternative source of animals.
He notes the potential cost, logistics and bureaucratic hurdles (but not significant negative welfare implications!) associated with the idea and says that Indonesia is also planning to buy beef from Australia and Brazil and water buffalo from India to “plug the supply gap.”
Unbelievable, that any country would go to such lengths to get live animals when clearly it is more than feasible to plug a "supply gap" with Australian beef. As VALE has always said - if they really needed protein, they would buy it as meat not animals. And if Australia was savvy, they would be looking to send various competitive beef cuts to Indonesia rather than losing their place in the Indonesian market - an all round win win!
Beef Central reports that Australian stock handlers and veterinarians working on live export vessels are unable to secure basic health insurance for their voyages. A large number of stockpersons and most veterinarians are hired for voyages as independent contractors, not as export company employees, and are required to secure their own personal insurance for voyages. However, with Covid and the recent loss of the Gulf Livestock 1, insurance companies are not prepared to take on the risk: Covid and the recent vessel sinking.
The insurance issue comes at a time when accredited stockpersons and veterinarians are in short supply anyhow due to COVID quarantine restrictions - now they cant fly home, they all have to endure the stultifying boredom of return trips on an empty livestock ship (not exactly luxury cruise vessels) AND then potentially have Covid quarantine in a hotel when they get back. Hardly enticing conditions.
Could Covid achieve what decades of advocacy have failed to achieve???
VALE reported on the banning of the Barkly Pearl for 2 years a week ago. Beef Central ran the story on 13th Jan and provided extra details purportedly from AMSA: "The ship had known about the hole for close to 10 days before we heard about it.....If people try to hide things from us and if they unreasonably put people’s lives at risk and unreasonably put the environment at risk, we will not tolerate that. That was what happened here, it was a significant issue and we know for a fact that some of the seafarers on board that ship were in fear of their safety."
Interestingly, the Barkly Pearl was used as an example of "world's highest standards" of shipping in an article by Beef Central only 3 months ago. The detailed interview response from the ship's owner makes interesting reading!
Ross Carter was reappointed as the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports (IGLAE) commencing 11 December 2020. On 18 December Carter released a report on the Implementation of Moss Review recommendations..and despite much procedural jargon they are actually pretty damning. He found:
1. the department’s IT systems do not support efficient operations or provide for streamlined industry interaction. They also do not effectively support data and intelligence analytics to target regulatory effort and contribute to the body of knowledge on risk mitigation to animal health and welfare.
2. the dispersed functional model of the department presents a major challenge to delivering an integrated regulatory model.
3. the department needs to improve compliance monitoring and using a proportionate response model to address poor performance.
“The department appears to determine the severity of an individual non-compliance in isolation from other factors. This is a reductive approach that risks not correcting underlying and ongoing unacceptable performance.”
It should be noted that VALE used the June 2020 Al Kuwait exemptions to illustrate the importance in regulatory practice of considering broader community trust and confidence (minimal) in its submission. It was interesting that Ross Carter chose to also use this voyage for the same purpose.
"Mortality rates ..remain the primary indicator of animal health and welfare....but not an indicator of individual animal health and welfare across a consignment."
"Transparency and access to the results of research will help underpin the credibility" SO....where is the study on rumen loggers performed by Murdoch University and reported as completed by Norman in various Shipboard Performance reports??
"The inspector general has not been provided with evidence of improvements to the compliance monitoring approach" [re Moss Recommendation 7]...[this] does not provide confidence in its agility ...and casts doubt on the departments capacity..."
"Despite a long history of significant incidents and events..the department has not put in place and effective proportionate regulatory model that includes strong enforcement action"
"The inspector general is concerned that the full intent and potential of the Principal Regulatory Officer has been reduced from the department's original intent"
"The department has not provided rgulatory process mapping in response to data requests"
"The department should continue to look for opportunities to further increase transparency and accessibility" (7 applications and 6 months for VALE to get one FOI document that showed Dept cover-ups gives little evidence of improved transparency)
"The Awassi Express incident was viewed...as an egregious failure to ensure appropriate animal health and welfare outcomes during an export voyage"
Re regulation "the senior executive have chosen a largely functional structural model [whatever that is]....However, it is a model that best works where the regulatory schemes it supports are at a mature standard of practice. For livestock animal exports this is not the case."
"It appears that the department is not sufficiently agile to take the multidisciplinary approach required"
Re Al Kuwait exemption "The voyage recorded a low mortality rate but a significant number of sheep suffered from heat stress in the later stage."....."mortality rate of 0.08% (28 sheep) ... (noting a 155 negative head count discrepancy. The heat stress scores observed ..appear to confirm that exporting sheep to the Middle East during the northern summer prohibition period results in a poor animal health and welfare outcome for many of the animals despite the additional risk mitigations undertaken by the exporter"