Events involving a consignment of Australian sheep in Pakistan took a devastating turn for the worse over the weekend when Pakistan authorities ordered the remaining sheep be culled on disease grounds, despite independent laboratory tests confirming they were disease free.
Wellard Rural Exports issued a statement to media on Saturday morning advising that it had been informed the culling of Australian sheep in Karachi, Pakistan, had resumed and would be completed that day.
The Wellard statement said:
"The livestock authorities responsible for the cull have assured PK Livestock, the importer of the sheep, that the cull will be completed humanely and according to OIE standards. Wellard is unable to verify this as Wellard and PK Livestock staff members were forcibly removed from the facility.
"After months of battling in court and at diplomatic levels; after managing to prove that the sheep were healthy and fit for human consumption; and despite one of the biggest efforts the industry has ever mustered to defend animal welfare, Wellard and PK Livestock have been unfortunately subject to an event outside their control.
"Everyone in Wellard is devastated because 11,500 animals, that the entire world knows are healthy, will be culled. This is a first for the industry in more than 40 years of operation.
"PK Livestock has offered the use of its modern, World Animal Health Organisation-complaint facility to the Sindh Livestock Department for the cull to assure the welfare of the animals and the safety of the operators, but it appears that its offer has not been accepted.
"Company exports to Pakistan remain suspended as we cannot accept placing animals into states that we cannot rely on to provide the animal welfare outcomes Wellard demands. It is unfortunate this issue has undermined 20 years of incident free livestock exports to Pakistan.
"Instead, we will continue to work with other markets where there are no risks of such events and which share our commitment to world class animal welfare standards.
"Wellard is grateful for the assistance it has received from the Australian Government, Wellard staff in Pakistan and PK Livestock during what has been the most challenging and continuously changing situation we have been faced with in more than 30 years exporting livestock."
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) and Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) have condemned the action to cull the healthy Australian sheep in Karachi, which the groups say contravenes the negotiated agreement between the importer and the Sindh Livestock Department.
ALEC and SCA had hoped that the Pakistan High Court process, which determined the sheep to be healthy and fit for human consumption would allow the sheep to be processed in OIE and Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) compliant facilities.
"Instead, it appears that the local authorities have ignored the legal agreement and chosen a completely unacceptable and unnecessary cull with little regard for the animal’s welfare and Pakistan High Court processes. We totally deplore this turn of events in what is an isolated incident to one particular market," the groups said in a joint statement issued on Saturday.
"In light of the above, we welcome exporter Wellard’s decision that no further shipments of Australian sheep will be sent to Pakistan for the foreseeable future.
"We thank the Australian Government, Wellard’s and PK Livestock for their tireless efforts in trying to resolve this issue and to ensure the health and the welfare of the sheep in trying circumstances. Australian and Pakistan staff of both importer and the exporter have put their lives on the line to care and protect the sheep. No reasonable person could have foreseen the events which have transpired in Pakistan and these events are clearly a force majeure on the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
"Australia remains the only country amongst over one hundred livestock exporting nations that regulates the animal welfare of livestock destined for export from paddock to point of processing and industry continues to back ESCAS which is delivering substantial animal welfare improvements in traditional export markets."
Federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig's office told Beef Central this morning that it could not comment on possible implications surrounding the weekend's developments until more details were known and confirmed.
The Pakistan Government's decision to cull the sheep despite there being no evidence of disease, and on the contrary there being strong evidence from independent authorities that the sheep were disease-free and safe for human consumption, has given the anti-live export lobby further fuel for its cause.
Jodie Jankevics, Campaign Manager, WSPA Australia said the situation in Pakistan was "absolutely unequivocally unacceptable".
"Australian sheep are being clubbed, stabbed and buried alive whilst the Australian government stands by, supports the live export trade, and lets it happen. Untrained operators are cutting the throats of sheep and then throwing them into trenches and yet nothing is being done.
“This practice is the direct consequence of the live export trade which has left our animals to face this unbearable hardship. Once the sheep leave our shores, this kind of cruelty can happen without the Australian government having the official power to intervene.
“The live export trade is an inherently risky business. Australia cannot account for the actions of an importing country, which is evident here. This is why Australia can, and indeed must, move towards the more humane and sustainable option of on-shore processing. For the Australian economy, for farmers and for these poor animals, this is a win-win, sustainable solution”.
Four animal rights activists were charged with a variety of offences involving protests on and around sheep export vessels at Fremantle Port on Friday.