Sheep deaths spark further export debate

 

Flickr Live Export Bader III MaasmondmaritimeLive exports have again made news after more than 4000 sheep died from heat exhaustion after 21 days on board a live export ship bound for Qatar from Fremantle.

 

Exporter Livestock Shipping Service (LSS) said 4179 sheep died in the Gulf of Aden in August last year aboard the Bader III vessel.

 

LSS is a Perth based Jordanian-owned company based in Perth and they are under investigation by Federal authorities for breaches of export regulations in Jordan and Gaza.

 

The company issued a statement through a PR firm which said the majority of sheep were loaded in accordance with Australian Standards and most of the sheep died during an extreme weather event on the 21st day of the voyage.

 

Industry and Government supported heat stress risk modeling computer software was used to assess this voyage and is used by the company to assess all voyages to the Middle East and northern Hemisphere destination,” the statement said.

 

The statement added the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) increased the minimum space requirements for sheep by 10 per cent above Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock requirements for the next consignment of livestock on the vessel.

 

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia (PGA) President, Rob Gillam, conceded the incident is “not really what the industry needed.”

 

“When one considers over 100 million sheep have been sent overseas in the last 40 years, then reality says that there will be on the rare occasion be a tragedy,” he said.

 

He said there was no overloading of the vessel, and that loading densities are much lighter than they have been in the past.

 

There may be an argument to continue reduced densities in the peak of the northern summer, however I cannot recall a freak weather problem affecting sheep like this before,” Gillam said.

 

He claimed the incident is being used as a “plank” by those opposed to the live export trade.

 

The reality is that shit happens; road deaths occur, murder takes place, even trains become derailed with death the consequence when they should not and all will continue despite our best endeavours.”

 

A departmental spokesperson from DAFF said mortality involving extreme heat occurs infrequently in the Arabian Gulf during summer, and that the industry has engaged experts to develop a heat stress risk assessment.

 

>The model will take in to account factors including the type of animal, vessel and expected weather conditions.

 

Currently the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) requires a heat stress risk assessment to be agreed before DAFF can approve a consignment for export.

 

The ASEL also requires additional space for cattle and sheep exported by sea between May 1 and October 31 each year.

 

Departmental officers oversee the loading of all livestock vessels, this includes checking that stocking densities meet ASEL requirements,” the spokesperson said.

 

The department does not permit the overstocking of livestock vessels.”

 

Vets Against Live Export (VALE) spokeswoman Sue Foster said her organisation’s recent paper in The Veterinary Journal predicted this outcome.

 

VALE alleges the model DAFF uses to reduce the risk of heat stress underestimates the impact on animals of the high temperatures and humidity of the Middle Eastern summer.

 

High mortality ‘heat crashes’ in May to August in the Middle East have been reported for at least 20 years,” Foster said.

 

Independent commentator Dr Lloyd Reeve-Johnson concurs, claiming his own experiences on a similar route from Fremantle to the Middle East revealed serious problems.

 

The conditions below the deck can be almost intolerable as early as May when it is often assumed conditions are cooler,” he said.

 

In my experience as the on-board veterinarian it was often not possible even in May to spend more than 30-50 minutes blow on the hottest decks due to the temperature and humidity which are often considerably higher than the outside temperatures, especially if ventilation is inadequate.”

 

Foster added that decreasing stocking density is always desirable, but can be an inadequate response to intense heat.

 

VALE is calling for a cessation of all voyages to the Middle East between May and August.

 

Reeve-Johnson told The Veterinarian he is unimpressed by exporters hiring public relations companies to mediate the comments of the industry.

 

He said it is important to consider more than just the thousands of animals who do not survive.

 

Many more animals suffer incredibly, yet survive to reach the destination do not therefore feature in any reported statistic,” Reeve-Johnson said.

 

Australia has the capacity to lead the world by being proactive and using our expertise and technology to improve conditions for animals while being mindful of the competitive economic factors.”

 

He added that Australia should aspire to be a leader in developing new paradigms for the trade.

 

According to DAFF reports, the live export sector earns close to $1 billion annually and employs about 10,000 people.

 

Exporters have resisted suggestions livestock exports could be phased out in favour of chilled products, citing the Middle Eastern demand for freshly slaughtered meat.

 

It is time we accept the reality of this trade … and improve our own systems and make substantial changes to the levels of financial investment, governance and processes if livestock export is to be continued,” Reeve-Johnson said.

 

The live export trade needs to get smaller, more strategic and more accountable.”

 

SAM WORRAD