Live export vessel veterinarian reports injuries, standards breaches

tightly stockedThe recent mistreatment of Australian animals overseas has been the source of much consternation in recent months, deflecting attention from conditions on live export ships.

A veterinarian who has spent 13 years working on live export voyages has made a submission to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) review in to Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), which alleges that some in the industry are more concerned with profits than animal welfare.

Lynn Simpson, who has been an accredited on-board veterinarian for 57 live export voyages, as well as having peripheral feedlot, loading and transportation experience, described the suffering of animals resulting from exporters allegedly ignoring the law.

“It should be appreciated that these voyages are not all short and clean as depicted by industry and their public relations machine,” she said.

Though she has worked for all of the major exporters, most of them departing from Western Australian ports, Simpson declined to name her former employers in her 44-page submission which makes a number of recommendations about how to improve conditions for animals.

These recommendations include finding a commercially viable reduction on stocking density, and for each animal to positioned such that they can be regularly and easily be observed by animal handlers, or others charged with their wellbeing, during voyages.

The report describes cattle that exceeded the allowed weight and as a consequence suffered leg injuries which required euthanasia.

Simpson also states that animals were deprived of water during the final stage of voyages which could last for several days.

These periods included conditions of extreme heat and humidity in the Middle East.

Despite live export laws being designed to ensure animals do not give birth on ships, Dr Simpson reported that significant numbers of animals give birth during such voyages, and in one case about 100 lambs were born on a single journey.

Vets Against Live Export (VALE) spokesperson, Sue Foster, said that her organisation has also noted on-board births being described in many recent voyage reports by DAFF.

“This is a gross breach of the standards,” she said.

Foster added that the report indicates that too little space is given to animals on long live export voyages.

Simpson noted that the space allocated is such that animals are unable to lie down and rest properly, causing them to be smothered or trampled in some instances.

“We have long suspected this was the case, but this is the first time an on-board veterinarian has expressed this view,” Foster said.

Simpson’s report states that many cattle suffered serious leg problems on long voyages as a result of standing and lying on bitumen or bare metal.

The report includes photographs of cattle with severe lesions of the limbs and hooves that can result in the exposure of joints and bones.

“Animals will be reluctant to stand but unable to lie down because of the limited space,” Foster said.

“Anybody allowing these lesions to occur as a matter of routine in Australia would be prosecuted.”

Some of the more striking photographs from Simpson’s voyages show animals covered in faeces and lying in slurry, and her report claims that these occurrences are not unusual.

Foster said the report underlines the need for the presence of independent veterinarians on live export voyages.

“The report illustrates the inadequacy of the regulatory system that has been in place for nearly a decade,” she said.

“DAFF has failed to prevent this cruelty. We repeat our call for a completely independent regulator of this trade.”

A spokesperson for DAFF said The Steering Committees for the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock Review and the Fremantle Inspection Review have considered all of the submissions they have received and are taking them in to account in developing their recommendations and the revised livestock export standards.

“Incidents of births on voyages inconsistent with the ASEL are a concern to DAFF and are subject to investigations,” the spokesperson said.

“This matter is also under consideration through the review of ASEL.”

Of the photographs, the spokesperson said the ASEL sets minimum standards for the export of livestock and does not allow for the mistreatment of animals.

“The photos indicate a potential impact of vessel maintenance and design on animal health and welfare outcomes,” the spokesperson said.

“The submission shows some animals being transported in appalling conditions. This again demonstrates the importance of periodic reviews, backed by evidence, to ensure that the on-board management and treatment of livestock on vessels is appropriate to achieve acceptable animal health and welfare outcomes.”

Though The West Australian reported that Dr Simpson due to commence working for the secretariat attached to the review of livestock standards, DAFF told The Veterinarian that Simpson is not employed and has never been employed in the immediate area that provides secretariat support to the review of ASEL.

Veterinarian Mike Back has publicly defended the live export industry throughout the controversy, and told The West Australian the mortality rate is extremely low due to rigorous inspection protocols.

Simpson’s report argues that low mortality is not necessarily the benchmark of success, and recommended that other less dramatic parameters, such as morbidity, treatment requirements and hygiene should also be closely monitored.

West Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back also defended the trade, telling the Senate that Australia is the only country in the world that invests heavily to ensure that animal welfare standards in our target markets are high.

“Should we be forced to leave the trade, one can only assume that standards of animal welfare in those countries…will dissipate,” he said.

In related news, Lloyd Reeve-Johnson said DAFF has contacted him to discuss the poor conditions he witnessed in Mauritian slaughterhouses last year.

Reeve-Johnson visited Mauritius at the request of Animals Australia to report on the status of cattle exported from Australia on the MV Barkly Pearl in October.

Animals Australia became aware of the welfare problems on the voyage after being approached by a Mauritian importer who was concerned that pregnant imported livestock were unacceptable for slaughter under Mauritian law.

DAFF’s contact came four and a half months after Reeve-Johnson’s initial report.

SAM WORRAD