Update Tuesday, September 2:
A court hearing that will determine the fate of a consignment of Australian sheep in Pakistan has been adjourned until mid-October.
The Sindh High Court is currently considering whether to overturn a Government order to slaughter the sheep on health grounds, and is waiting for the results of independent blood tests before it makes its decision.
The hearing has been adjourned until October 17, but could be heard sooner depending on when the results are received, according to media updates from Pakistan today.
The crisis surrounding a consignment of almost 22,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan has deepened following reports that almost 7000 were brutally mistreated as they were culled by Sindh Government officials.
Pakistan media outlets have reported the sheep were clubbed, stabbed and buried alive by untrained butchers hired by the Sindh Government to cull the sheep, after it claimed they were infected with “contagious diseases”.
The sheep were initially rejected by Bahrain which claimed they were infected with scabby mouth disease, and were delivered to an alternative buyer in Pakistan two weeks later.
Various reports from Pakistan media agencies have since claimed the sheep are infected with foot and mouth disease, anthrax, salmonella and scabby mouth, but no evidence has been produced by the media or Sindh Government officials to corroborate those claims.
In contrast clinical inspections of the sheep by the Australian Government, Pakistan officials upon their arrival in Karachi, an independent veterinarian, a Pakistan High Court appointed veterinary committee and the country’s National Veterinary Laboratories have found no evidence of disease whatsoever.
Despite the lack of hard evidence to support its claims of disease, local Sindh authorities proceeded with the destruction of sheep late last week.
It has been reported Sindh officials entered the importer’s farm where the sheep were held and forced representatives of the importing company PK Livestock and the exporting company Wellard Rural Exports to leave the farm as the culling commenced.
High Court injunction
The importer was able to secure a Sindh High Court injunction to halt the slaughter last Saturday, September 22, but by that time more than 7000 sheep had been slaughtered.
Pakistan’s The International News gave a galling account of the brutal nature of the culling on its website yesterday: “Like a giant mass of wool, bloodied and filthy, they lay in trenches – slit open, stabbed or clubbed to death, while many still wriggled with some life left in them, soon to be buried alive.
“This was the horrific and brutal fate that the Australian sheep, which provincial authorities had claimed were diseased, met after their culling was ordered…
“A video footage of the mass execution, obtained by The News, reveals that the sheep were disposed of in a shockingly brutal and unethical manner. Many of them were still alive when they were thrown into trenches dug at the importer’s farmhouse in Razzaqabad."
The report noted that the people killing the animals were not wearing any protective gear whatsoever, even though the animals were being culled on the basis that they were suffering from a ‘contagious disease’.
DAFF to investigate ESCAS non-compliance
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry released a statement late Thursday afternoon stating that government officials and the Australian High Commission in Pakistan were actively involved in assisting to resolve issues related to the sheep.
It said Wellard Rural Exports continued to inspect the remaining sheep regularly and reported they were in good condition, had access to feed and fresh water and displayed no signs of disease.
The department said it was aware of, and was looking into, reports regarding culling practices in Pakistan.
However it also warned that under the recently introduced Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System Australian livestock exporters are required to ensure that livestock will be handled in accordance with internationally accepted World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards up to and including the point of slaughter.
The department said Wellard Rural Exports had self-reported the “loss of control of its supply chain in Pakistan” when local Sindh authorities entered the facility and ordered the importer and Wellard representatives to leave the facility.
“The department will conduct a full investigation of the ESCAS non-compliance and continue to provide further information as it becomes available and can be verified through official channels,” the DAFF statement said.
'An affront to Islamic principles'
Wellard Rural Exports said the previous injunction imposed by the High Court, which prevents any further culling, still stands.
It said the High Court judge had warned parties to the action that the matter is complicated, extremely important and the consequences very serious.
The court is scheduled to reconvene tomorrow.
Wellard Managing Director Mauro Balzarini said Wellard had been advised the treatment of some of the sheep that had been culled prior to the court order last Saturday was appalling.
“Wellard and PK Livestock’s stockmen were forced to leave the facility by local police and as a result could not ensure the sheep were treated according to Wellard or PK Livestock’s standards,” he said.
“We strongly condemn the treatment of the animals. It has become a major issue in Pakistan too as being an affront to Islamic principles.
“That is why we have used every channel – diplomatic, political and legal – to stop the cull and regain control of the livestock and ensure animal welfare standards are adhered to.”
He added that Wellard has suspended sheep exports to Pakistan until the company and the Australian Government are satisfied that any future exports will be properly looked after and there will not be a reoccurrence of this issue.
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council also issued a statement on Thursday evening to say it was appalled by reports that brutal and horrific methods have been used to cull Australian sheep in Pakistan.
“We are distressed by these reports and condemn such cruel and abhorrent behaviour in the strongest terms,” ALEC chief executive officer Alison Penfold said in the statement.
“The exporter and importer have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the welfare of the livestock and regain control of the situation in the most difficult of circumstances including in the face of an armed escort off the feedlot by local police.
“Australian employees of the exporter remain in Pakistan at significant personal risk to work with the importer and the Australian Government to pursue every legal, commercial and diplomatic avenue possible to prevent further culling of the sheep and regain entry to the feedlot.
“This incident calls into question the ethics of those who have made spurious claims against the health status of the sheep and those who proceeded to cull the sheep in the manner reported.
“This is an isolated incident and is no foundation for restriction or suspension on the livestock trade to other markets.”
Animal rights activists have seized on the issue as further ammunition for their campaign to convince the federal government to abolish the $1 billion a year livestock export trade.
Animals Australia has described the issue as an "absolute disaster" in animal welfare terms, and says it is "now clearer than ever" that the only way to protect animals from the inherent cruelty of live export is to ban the trade.
Several Labor backbenchers has also reignited their campaign for ban on live animal exports from Australia in the wake of the Pakistan sheep issue.