Live Export

Pakistan sheep cull was beyond exporter’s control: DAFF

Beef Central, 24/07/2013

A ten-month-long Federal Government investigation into the brutal culling of Australian sheep in Pakistan in September 2012 has found that the handling of the sheep was not compliant with international animal welfare recommendations, but that the intervention of armed Pakistani authorities meant the outcome was beyond the control of the exporter, Wellard Rural Exports.

The investigation was launched in response to footage showing 21,000 Australian sheep being killed and buried after Pakistani officials ordered Wellard Rural Exports staff at gunpoint to leave the quarantine depot where they were being held.

The footage was broadcast on ABC’s Four Corners program. It sparked fresh criticism from animal rights groups that improvements to welfare laws had failed to guarantee the protection of Australian animals in export markets, while the live export industry described the event and the intervention of armed authorities as an extraordinary situation that was not typical of the trade.

After investigating the incident since September The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry today released a report stating that no grounds existed to take regulatory action against the exporter.

The report said Wellard had complied with the conditions of its Notice of Intention to Export, its Consignment Risk Management Plan and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, “except when risks to personal safety or intervention by Pakistan authorities prevented Wellard from doing so”.

The report concluded that the intervention of Pakistani authorities and armed guards meant that the events were “beyond the control of Wellard and could not have been avoided through the exercise of all due care”.

In a statement issued in response to the report, Wellard said it provided its full co-operation to the DAFF inquiry.

“Wellard is pleased that DAFF found the company had complied with its regulatory requirements and could not have foreseen the events that occurred,” said Wellard Managing Director and CEO Mauro Balzarini.

“However, the sadness created by the events that occurred in Pakistan has not diminished in time and nor has our commitment to keep improving international animal welfare standards.”

The DAFF investigation also confirmed that Wellard self-reported the ‘loss of control’ of the sheep in Pakistan and that the company worked closely with the Australian Government to attempt to regain control of the situation.

Australia’s live export industry voluntarily suspended exports to Pakistan in the wake of the incident, and the suspension remains in place.

An 'unprecedented and exceptional incident': ALEC

The Australian Livestock Exporters Council said the live export sector took no solace from the Pakistan sheep investigation report.

“The events in Pakistan are no less horrific and sickening today than they were back in September last year,” ALEC CEO Alison Penfold said.

“There will never be a justification for the cruel manner in which the cull of sheep was carried out which caused unnecessary pain and suffering to the animals concerned.

“The personnel of the Australian exporter and Pakistani importer went to extraordinary lengths to protect the welfare of the sheep and prevent the cull from occurring, and retook control of the feedlot as soon as it was safe for them to do so. Their efforts in the face of significant personal threats and dangers were extraordinary.

“Industry is fully cognisant that this incident will remain in the minds of many people and the entire trade may be judged by this event alone. This was an unprecedented and exceptional incident of a singularly horrific nature that in no way is the norm for Australian livestock exported into Australian Government approved facilities.

“Far from it – we care for our livestock, not only because of our moral responsibility to do so but also because it is good business.”

Ms Penfold said lessons learned from the incident included:

  • Increased effort by livestock export trade participants to create a stronger awareness of the high health status of Australian livestock by importing countries; 
  • The need for ongoing and increased diplomatic contact by Australian Government and industry officials to ensure Government Ministers and Government officers of importing countries are at all times aware of MOU obligations particularly concerning discharge; and
  • Consideration of establishing a 3rd country as an emergency market for rejected consignments where appropriate ESCAS and Government to Government arrangements are in place for such circumstances.

“The incident weighs heavily on exporters and the broader exporting community and we are more than ever resolved to continue our hands on and direct investment in training, support and infrastructure to improve animal handling, care and slaughter practices in the markets in which we operate.

“This effort to change and educate attitudes and behaviours towards exported livestock continues to see Australia stand alone amongst over 100 livestock exporting nations as a contributor to global animal welfare improvements.

“Industry has no inclination to remove the suspension it placed on exports of feeder or slaughter livestock to Pakistan.”

Report fails to address key questions: RSPCA

The RSPCA said Australians would be shocked to learn that the official Government investigation into the incident had resulted in no repercussions for the exporter involved.

“The animals were unloaded from the Ocean Drover in Pakistan by exporter Wellard Rural Exports after they were rejected from their original destination, Bahrain,” an RSPCA statement said.

“This rejection was not disclosed to Pakistan authorities by either the exported or by the Australian government.

“It is unclear exactly why Bahrain rejected these sheep, but failing to disclose this information to the Pakistan government proved catastrophic and what ensued was some of the worst cruelty ever encountered in the live export trade."

RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neill said the DAFF report had failed to address key questions, including why Pakistan was not informed of the rejection by Bahrain, why the sheep were rejected in the first place, and how Pakistan could have been considered a legitimate contingency plan for the exporter when it was not approved to take Australian animals when the Ocean Drover left Australia.

“The rejection alone should have in itself sparked a full investigation”, said Ms Neil.

“It was the 2003 Cormo Express incident, where 57,000 sheep rejected by Saudi Arabia were stranded in the Persian Gulf for 2 months, which led to the development of written agreements (MOUs) with some importing countries; the introduction of Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock; and a requirement for contingency plans in the case of future import disagreements.

“The 2011 exposure of appalling cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs led to the development of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Program, which was supposed to prevent the type of horrors witnessed in Pakistan.

“The rejection by Bahrain shows that the MOUs are not worth the paper they are written on. The disaster in Pakistan shows that our regulations cannot prevent cruelty in importing countries. And today we learn that even when the government has the power to investigate and prosecute exporters when breaches occur, they have failed to do so.

“Live export is a senseless trade – from both an animal welfare and economic perspective – and planning for a future without it is in the best interests of Australian animals and a sustainable livestock industry in this country.”
 

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