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Opinion: Pakistan sheep debacle ‘wanton, witless and wasteful’

Liberal Senator for WA Chris Back, 13/11/2012

WA Liberal Senator Chris BackBeneath the recent debacle in Pakistan lies another deeper, fundamental issue – the $100m Australia gives annually in foreign aid to Pakistan. In this opinion article Dr Chris Back questions the strength of Australia's diplomatic relationship with the country despite that significant annual aid investment, and why a country with 22pc living below the povery line could authorise not only the brutal culling of sheep, but the wanton waste of high quality food as well.

Three key issues emerge from the Pakistan sheep debacle during September and October.

The horrific death of 21,000 Australian sheep at the hands of thugs, the wanton waste of 500 tonnes of top quality sheep meat and the question of Australia’s relationship with Pakistan.

The culling of those sheep was never necessary. The way in which it was carried out was criminal. It was certainly un-Islamic and occurred despite a senior court judge ordering it should not proceed.

Australia has exported livestock into this particular feedlot and its associated abattoir for many years.

In September, 21,000 Western Australian sheep were offloaded in Karachi at a high-quality feedlot facility, designed by Australians to international standards.

After the ship had left Pakistani waters, allegations were made by local authorities that the sheep were infected with highly-contagious, exotic diseases including foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax.

This was palpable nonsense as these diseases do not occur in WA, a fact that is well known in the international veterinary community.

After these allegations were made, there was a storm of politics, media and court proceedings:

  • The UK’s top animal infectious diseases lab at Pirbright confirmed the sheep to be disease-free;
  • The Court in Karachi accepted this advice and an order was reinforced that culling of animals should not continue;
  • Despite this order, the exporter and the feedlot operator’s staff were subsequently forced out of the facility at gun point;
  • And the culling continued.

 

How or why 500,000 kilograms of excellent-quality Australian sheep meat could be thrown into a pit in a country where children are protein-deficient and people face hunger is a flagrant breach of a country’s duty of care.

This 500 tonnes of meat could have supplied protein to a population of 10,000 people for a year.

For the local community this needless slaughter occurred on the eve of the Festival of Eid when demand for sheep meat was at its highest.

For an exporter who meets the highest international standards, this must have been gut-wrenching.

Australia stands alone in the world for our role in raising standards of animal health, welfare, nutrition, husbandry and transport in our target markets.

Exports of livestock from Australia are currently managed under the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme.

I have been a critic of some elements of ESCAS since it was introduced earlier this year. I am especially concerned about the legal liabilities imposed on the exporters.

In Senate Estimates in May this year I asked Australian Trade Commission officials a simple question: could they nominate any example in any country of the world where an exporter, under threat of criminal liability, is held responsible for the behaviour of every person in a supply chain, through to the consumer.

To date they have not.

And yet that is exactly what Agriculture Minister Ludwig requires of livestock exporters from Australia.

There have been suggestions this exporter should be held legally liable for the fate of this consignment of high quality sheep even though they were forced to relinquish control of animals by criminals at gunpoint.

What if we impose an ISCAS – Importer Supply Chain Assurance Scheme? Is an importer trading with Australia to be held criminally liable if a product adversely impacts on an Australian consumer?

Would an overseas car manufacturer accept the threat of such an imposition as a consequence of the actions of a negligent Australian driver?

Or go a stage further to apply a DSCAS – a Domestic Supply Chain Assurance Scheme.

The RSPCA manages animal shelters and sells pets from these facilities – a worthy initiative.

Does anyone think for one minute the RSPCA should be held responsible, under threat of criminal liability, if a family mistreats an animal purchased from them?

Of course not. You deal with the criminal behaviour and the perpetrator.

It is high time some balance was restored to this debate.

Australia has been a trusted supplier of both live animals and boxed meat to many countries for over 40 years.

Chilled or frozen meat has not, is not and will not replace live animals in these markets.

The relationship between the two is entirely complementary.

In the Indonesian cattle market this year, live cattle numbers supplied from Australia have halved and boxed meat supplied has halved also.

Live sheep numbers from WA to the Middle East are down this year and boxed meat tonnages and prices into the same markets have been decimated.

But beneath the recent debacle in Pakistan lies a deeper, fundamental issue – Australia’s foreign aid program.

Australia contributes nearly $100 million per annum in aid to Pakistan. It is amongst our twelve highest recipients.

More than 22pc of the Pakistani population lives below poverty level, and the country suffers from low incomes and poor economic growth.

In the light of these facts, how could anyone authorise such behaviour and wanton waste of high quality food in the face of endemic poverty in that country?

Despite Australia’s generous aid to Pakistan, it appears our diplomatic relationship was not strong enough to resolve this issue and reach an acceptable outcome.

The Australian community would rightly expect a more mature dialogue than that displayed in this regrettable situation.

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