LIVE EXPORT of sheep from Western Australia will go ahead this month after the trade regulator awarded an exemption for a shipment during a Middle East moratorium.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has granted Rural Export and Trading (WA) Pty Ltd an exemption to the prohibition of export of sheep by sea to the Middle East following a second application for exemption by the exporter.
Despite Australia’s regulated moratorium on Middle East shipments from 1 June until mid-September, RETWA will be able to load livestock no later than midnight on June 17 on the purpose-built carrier Al Kuwait under specific conditions including extra pen area, a sheep liveweight limit and unloading at one port only.
The decision follows the department’s denial of an earlier application by RETWA and has been welcomed by the export and the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, but condemned by the RSPCA. The animal welfare body has asked Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud to intervene and ensure an independent observer accompanies the shipment.
The exemption is specific to the Al Kuwait, whose departure from Fremantle with about 56,000 sheep and 400 cattle was delayed last month by a COVID-19 outbreak among crew members.
The department said the decision was based on a separate application submitted by the exporter, not an appeal of the decision not to grant an exemption made by the department last week. For the detailed statements of reasons for the department’s decisions on RETWA’S two exemption applications click here.
The department said RETWA proposed an alternative approach for managing the voyage, and the exemption detailed strict measures to protect the health and welfare of the sheep, including:
- Utilising the livestock vessel the Al Kuwait, a purpose built livestock carrier
- Unloading at one port only
- Not loading an area of the vessel known to be hotter due to engine room location
- Limiting the weight of the sheep loaded on the vessel, focussing on those sheep most well adapted to tolerating heat
- Providing additional pen area over that currently required on any livestock voyage and which exceeds those required under the updated Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock
- Requiring loading to cease by midnight on 17 June 2020
An Australian Government Accredited Veterinarian will accompany the voyage, with additional reporting requirements placed on the exporter.
Utter disbelief at backflip – RSPCA
The RSPCA has expressed utter disbelief that the department “backflipped” on its earlier exemption decision and said it is gravely concerned the previous evidence-based decision of the so-called ‘independent regulator’ within the Department of Agriculture has been so completely overruled.
The animal welfare body said the new decision represented an extraordinary about-face and allowed the voyage to go ahead at a later and even riskier time. It said the department’s Public Statement of Reasons was based on the same material facts of the original decision, but placed greater focus on the potential financial impacts to the exporter.
RSPCA senior policy officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said the exemption indicates that the government has swung the risk pendulum back in favour of economic interests over animal welfare.
“The risks to the health and welfare of the sheep which were key to the previous decision have not diminished – in fact, they increase every day as temperatures in the Middle East rise.”
All risks can be mitigated and managed – RETWA
RETWA general manager Mike Gordon said the ventilation, livestock heat tolerance, and weather forecasts have been reviewed with expert advice.
“In making this submission, RETWA believes all identified risks can be mitigated and managed accordingly.
“All the science has been reviewed and we have appropriate measures in place, he said.
“It has never been more important to value and service our trade partner relationships.”
RETWA said the Al Kuwait is the fastest and most technically advanced vessel servicing the Gulf region. The ventilation, livestock heat tolerance, and weather forecasts have all been reviewed internally and with external expert advice, the exporter said.
“There are appropriate risk management practices and plans in place to ensure the health and welfare of the sheep during the voyage are protected,” Mr Gordon said.
RETWA is owned by the Middle East importer Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading Co, which has been a long-term trade partner with Australia buying over 30 million sheep worth nearly $ 1.9 billion since 1989.
Highest animal and crew welfare to continue trade – ALEC
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) welcomed the exemption announcement and said the industry remained committed to the highest standard of animal welfare and ensuring that all staff and crew were well cared for.
“Crew members have recovered from COVID-19, and the MV Al Kuwait is able to leave Fremantle after its 14-day quarantine period,” ALEC said.
ALEC said the live export industry has shown its resilience, “continuing to operate under these extraordinary times as an essential service and without any government assistance or stimulus.”
ALEC said the MV Al Kuwait is the world’s biggest purpose-built livestock vessel, has recorded excellent animal welfare outcomes and the health and wellbeing of the vessel’s crew, along with animal welfare, remained the exporter’s top priority.
“With reduced stocking density and appropriate risk management practices and plans in place the shipment will provide the Middle East with much needed protein and supply chain security,” ALEC said.
“Never has the maintenance of international trade been more important and as a country we should be doing our utmost to facilitate this, showing respect for these longstanding relationships and to service food security needs globally,” ALEC said.
Department’s ruling on space inconsistent – RSPCA
The RSPCA said department has claimed that further reductions to stocking density of 10 percent will mitigate heat risks to the sheep on the shipment, despite earlier concluding: “If ambient temperatures are very hot, as occurs from June to mid-September (inclusive) in the Middle East, no amount of additional space will allow for metabolic heat loss.”
Dr Goodfellow said the exemption decision meant sheep “will be exposed to an even greater degree of suffering, in return for financial gain for one of Australia’s most notorious live exporters.”
“The public can have no faith in the department to drive progress or improvement to this industry, let alone enforce its own regulations, when it is so clearly compromised by external influences.”
The RSPCA said independent observers were introduced by Minister Littleproud to provide “truth and proof” on what occurs on live export vessels, but have subsequently been removed due to COVID-19 concerns.
“To allow this voyage to go ahead is a tragedy; to do so with no independent eyes on board to report on the welfare of the sheep goes against everything the minister has previously committed to, and will irrevocably undermine public confidence in the regulator.”
On 17 March 2020, the department paused the deployment of independent observers on all livestock vessels due to the national and international response to COVID-19, including the Australian Government’s advice to reconsider non-essential international travel.
No one wants to see a high mortality rate. Not the exporter, not the carrier and certainly not the importer. A small mortality rate of about 2 percent is unavoidable.
In a fully air conditioned vessel with plenty of space for the animals to move around and plenty of feed and water the animals should arrive at destination in good condition. And even put on weight!