Updated Monday, Sep 17 at 1:50pm:
Wellard Rural Exports issued the following update on the status of its sheep consignment to Pakistan this afternoon:
Pakistan livestock orders
Wellard has been advised that a state veterinary department in Pakistan has issued orders that prevent Australian sheep exported to Pakistan from entering the consumer supply chain in Pakistan.
The company has been advised the orders also require the sheep to be euthanised. Those orders conflict with previous advice from regulatory authorities that blood tests taken from the sheep were either still being tested or confirmed the sheep were free from disease and were therefore safe for human consumption.
The sheep were also physically inspected by Pakistan’s veterinary health officials on arrival and were approved for import and were assessed and approved by the Australian Government as meeting export animal health protocols.
Wellard and the Australian Government are now working with the Pakistan Government to stop the sheep being euthanised while a Pakistan Government committee conducts its own testing program.
“We are not sure what is going on as the sheep are healthy. They are from healthy Australian flocks that feed Australian and international consumers with chops and roasts on a daily basis with no risk to human health,” Wellard Managing Director Mauro Balzarini said.
"Previous tests have demonstrated that the sheep are healthy and free of disease and sheep from the same consignment have been accepted without issue in other markets. We have senior people in Pakistan at the moment and are working with the Australian Government and Pakistan authorities to suspend and overturn the order.
“The sheep were farmed for human consumption, so it is disappointing that some healthy sheep are being euthanised when they are absolutely safe to be processed as intended."
It is unclear on what animal health grounds the orders were enacted.
Media reports from Pakistan have claimed that a shipment of 22,000 Australian sheep recently unloaded in the country may be culled due to the presence of ‘harmful bacteria’.
The consignment was unloaded in Pakistan earlier this month after authorities in Bahrain refused to accept the animals, claiming some were infected with scabby mouth disease.
The animals were inspected and approved as healthy and free-of-disease by Australian authorities before they were exported, and sheep from the same shipment were unloaded in the ports of Oman and Qatar without incident before the ship sailed to Bahrain.
Australian live export protocols require exporters to have ‘back-up’ orders in place should a foreign port reject a shipment.
As per that requirement, the exporter involved, Wellard Rural Exports, was able to divert the shipment to an alternative buyer in Pakistan when Bahrain refused to unload the sheep.
Australia’s high commissioner to Pakistan Peter Heyward has since stated that the sheep were inspected and cleared upon arrival at Karachi’s main port in Pakistan.
“They were examined while they left the Australian port. They were inspected upon arrival at the Karachi port. Independent veterinarians also checked them on the vessel. There was no trace of any disease,” the Australian high commissioner said, according to comments cited by Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper.
“The same ship had gone to Oman and Qatar to discharge cargo before it went to Bahrain. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I can tell you that the sheep are perfectly healthy,” Mr Heyward said, adding that he was puzzled by Bahrain’s refusal to offload the sheep.
The importer of the sheep, PK Livestock and Meat, has also stated that the company received a no-objection certificate as well as a release certificate from AQIS, and said there were no problems unloading the sheep in Karachi because the shipment was supported by all relevant documents.
“The vessel complied with all health certification requirements,” PK Livestock and Meat Managing director Tariq Mehmood Butt told the Express Tribune. “We have a health certificate from the Australian government as well, saying the sheep are healthy and safe for human consumption.”
The importer has also told Pakistan media that it has received a report from the federal laboratory in Islamabad stating the animals are free from any disease and are safe for human consumption.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on the weekend that “test reports” have shown the sheep have tested positive for salmonella and actinomyces – which can cause lumpy jaw in sheep – and as a result the entire consignment will be culled.
However that claim has been disputed by an official from the Sindh Livestock and Fisheries, which is currently analysing blood tests from the shipment.
Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Secretary Syed Abid Ali Shah told Pakistan’s Express Tribune that the Government has not released “any such report”.
He said the committee analysing test results expected to release its final report on the physical condition of the sheep today or tomorrow. “People should not jump to conclusions as investigations are still underway.”
Another official, who was not named, suggested the Dawn article was premature.
“The newspaper seems to have picked up something from our internal correspondence,” he said.
“It cannot be considered official until we approve it.
“Moreover, it was based on just one component of the overall investigation into the issue."
As a professional veterinarian, the official stated that the bacteria the alleged test results referred to could be found in any animal and was not harmful.
“It’s not sufficient evidence to call the entire consignment infected.”
Other Pakistan media outlets continue to report today that the consignment will be culled.
The Daily Times reported this morning that veterinary staff will administer lethal injections to the sheep and that heavy earthmoving machinery is being moved to the farm where they are being held to dig a ditch in which to bury them.
Beef Central was waiting for a response from Wellard Rural Exports and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry at the time of publication this morning.