An investigation by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry into a complaint about the welfare of Australian breeding cattle in Qatar has concluded there was insufficient evidence to support allegations of regulatory breaches.
In September 2012, two individuals and the RSPCA, alleged livestock exported from Australia to the Al Waab farm in Qatar experienced conditions resulting in adverse animal welfare outcomes, including deaths.
It was alleged that pregnant cattle exported by air were beyond the maximum period of gestation allowed under the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL S6.6) and that the livestock were old and in poor general health and condition.
In a statement announcing the release of its findings today, DAFF said the investigation was thorough and considered many factors.
The department said it obtained information from a range of sources and concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of ASEL breaches.
“All livestock were examined and pregnancy tested prior to export by accredited veterinarians and found to meet all requirements for export laid out in the ASEL. There is insufficient evidence to substantiate a breach of ASEL 6.6.
“Breeder cattle are not subject to Australian regulation after they have arrived in the importing country. As such, there was no regulatory basis for the investigation to consider the animal welfare claims past the point of disembarkation in Qatar.
“The Qatar government has provided assurances to the Australian Government that there are no ongoing adverse animal outcomes at the farm in question.
“The Australian Government is also considering whether the current regulatory framework for breeders is sufficient. The material from this complaint is being considered as part of this work.
“Allegations of breaches of animal welfare standards are taken very seriously.”
Tighther regulations for breeding animals needed: RSPCA
The RSPCA says the DAFF investigation shows that current regulations surrounding sheep and cattle exported for breeding purposes pose huge risks to animals.
In a media statement issued in response to DAFF's investigation report, it has called for the department to urgently tighten regulations that allow breeding animals to be exported while heavily pregnant.
“DAFF’s investigation into last year’s Qatar debacle – which saw 250 pregnant dairy cows exported to Qatar and start calving within days of their arrival – highlights that the current Australian Standards for Exported Livestock (ASEL) are failing to protect breeding animals,” said Heather Neil, RSPCA Australia CEO.
Ms Neil said current standards stateed that breeding cattle exported by air must be a maximum of 250 days’ gestation at the scheduled date of departure. However, there is an accepted margin of error in pregnancy testing of late-term cattle of 30 days. The DAFF investigation report states that ‘an animal certified as 250 days pregnant at the time of export could actually legitimately be as many as 280 days pregnant and hence could have a full term calf anywhere from the day of arrival’.
“Heavily pregnant cows are far too vulnerable to be exported and DAFF should act immediately to close this loophole in the standards. In the RSPCA’s view, no pregnant heifer or cow should be exported if they are considered to be more than 220 days pregnant at the time of export, to allow for the 30-day margin of error,” Ms Neil said.
"DAFF’s report also shows how completely unprotected Australian breeding animals are once they leave our shores. The fact that up to 7,000 Australian sheep and a number of cows and calves can die from malnutrition and heat stress at this Qatar facility is proof that a system needs to be put in place rapidly, so animals in the future can only be sent to places that have the capacity to care for them.
“No animal should be sent overseas for breeding or dairy purposes unless the facility they’re going to has the capacity to care for them. What we have seen in Qatar is gross animal neglect, something that could have been avoided had appropriate Government regulation been in place,” Ms Neil said.
Sources: DAFF, RSPCA