AVA’s export stance ‘a game changer’

The AVA is embarking on a tenacious campaign to protect live export animals travelling to the Middle East during the impending northern summer.

The recent release of live export voyage footage from the Awassi Express was described as “horrific and utterly unacceptable” by the peak body, and a short review of space allocation and body temperature regulation followed this month.

Among the key recommendations of the AVA’s submission to the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock’s advisory committee was the cessation of live export voyages for sheep to the Middle East in the hottest part of the year.

“Irrespective of stocking density, thermoregulatory physiology indicates that sheep on live export voyages to the Middle East during May to October will remain susceptible to heat stress and die due to the expected extreme climatic conditions during this time,” the report said.
“Accordingly, voyages carrying live sheep to the Middle East during May to October cannot be recommended.”

Other recommendations included:

  • Trucks delivering export sheep to be weighed dockside at embarkation, so total sheep weight can be allocated to total deck area. No more sheep should be loaded on ships when total space has been allocated.
  • Aggregated voyage data, including key animal welfare indicators, to be measured and collated, with data made available to scientists so future research topics are not only based on sheep mortalities, but also causes of morbidity during each voyage.
  • Space allocation per animal must be based on allometric principles and increased by at least 30 per cent for sheep that weigh 40 to 60 kg.

The recommendations come ahead of the anticipated Federal government-commissioned review of the northern summer live sheep trade by Michael McCarthy.

AVA President Paula Parker said it is important for government to begin implementing changes before the arrival of the report.

“We’re disappointed that Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) has not been transparent regarding their plans for immediate improvement,” she said.

“We are also urging the industry to put the health and welfare of animals first at all stages of the livestock export chain and to demonstrate commitment to this objective to the Australian community.”

Vets Against Live Export (VALE) spokesperson Sue Foster said the AVA’s stand is “unprecedented”.
“I really think it was a game changer, it’s impossible for an Australian government to ignore such a statement,” she said.

“The review has made strong conclusions and the AVA Board has obviously ratified the conclusions and published them.

“It’s one of the most powerful scientific and political statements that the AVA has ever made.”
Foster described the timing of the report as “crucial” and said it will increase scrutiny of the forthcoming McCarthy review.

Also of interest to Foster and VALE was the AVA review’s statistic that 25 per cent of live export sheep mortality occurs in the feedlot after being unloaded abroad.

“I was like ‘Really?, they’re losing a quarter of their remaining consignment before slaughter?’”, Foster said.

“Aside from the horror of the animal welfare implications, it’s amazing that it’s still a profitable industry with those figures.

“In Qatar, we have certainly heard that a lot of sheep die in the feedlot after some Middle Eastern summer voyages, but that information is not published.”

The DAWR responded to the events by saying it takes the video footage and surrounding issues seriously.

“The Department…is working on a number of measures to improve the health and welfare conditions for livestock on export voyages (and is) pursuing action within the current legislative framework,” a spokesperson said.

“All four live sheep export vessels have departed with an observer on board since April 8 2018.
“Some exporters’ licences have had additional conditions applied, including reduced stocking densities and additional reporting.”

The report may be accessed online.

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