Australia Extends Ban on Live Sheep Export

Source: whilsteblower footage aired on 60 Minutes
Source: whistleblower footage aired on 60 Minutes courtesy of Animals Australia

Published Aug 3, 2019 9:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia's Department of Agriculture has extended the prohibition on live sheep exports to, or through, the Middle East up until September 22, 2019.

The department already determined conditions in the Middle East in June, July and August are too hot for sheep exports from Australia's wintertime. It now says that evidence indicates the risk of heat stress for voyages departing Australia in the first three weeks of September is comparable to, or higher than, in June, as sheep departing Australia in early- to mid-September are acclimatized to cooler Australian temperatures and therefore less heat tolerant than sheep departing in Australia's summer or autumn months.

For October, the risk of an animal welfare incident related to heat stress is more aligned with conditions in May, says the Department. Once trade resumes, shipments to, or through, the Middle East must comply with the same conditions that applied in May 2019 which include:

• verification of the ship’s pen air turnover
• a heat stress management plan
• stocking sheep in accordance with an allometric formula or the heat stress assessment model – depending on which provides more space per animal
• collecting automated environmental data (wet bulb temperatures) and reporting to the department

The extension of the ban only relates to 2019, pending a Regulation Impact Statement process. 

The RSPCA has welcomed the Department of Agriculture’s decision. However, it still holds high concerns for the continuation of October trading.

“This is an important step forward by the regulator in acknowledging the scientific evidence that sheep are at high risk of heat stress during September journeys to the Middle East,” RSPCA Senior Policy Officer, Dr. Jed Goodfellow said. 

The ban extension comes after the Department of Agriculture sought public submissions on the future of September and October sheep exports to the Middle East where almost 7,000 concerned Australians joined the RSPCA in its submission and called for October to be included.

Australia's largest sheep exporter, Rural Export and Trading (WA) (RETWA) has voiced disappointment about the ban extension, as the company’s business planning, vessel bookings and marketing contracts have long been established on the basis of the markets receiving animals in September. RETWA is the Australian subsidiary of Kuwait Livestock and Trading (KLTT).“At this late stage to invoke further restrictions is unacceptable for our business,” said the company in a statement.

“The moratorium was originally voluntary and an industry-led initiative that the regulator has chosen to formalize. We welcomed the three months moratorium with the expectation there would be stability for the remaining nine months,” RETWA Managing Director, Mike Gordon said. “Clearly we need to balance the commercial realities of running a business, but at the end of the day if we don’t have good animal welfare standards then in my view we don’t have a sustainable business.” 

Gordon says the company's importers are also disappointed with the Department of Agriculture's decision and are actively concentrating on sourcing livestock from other countries. 

Since RETWA was granted an export license late in 2018, the company has exported over 714,000 sheep to the Middle Eastern countries of Kuwait, Qatar and UAE. These sheep have been delivered over 11 consignments which had success rates ranging from 99.54 - 99.89 percent. May shipments under new allometric stocking densities called for by the Department of Agriculture discharged with success rates of 99.83 and 99.89 percent.

When RETWA received its export license in 2018, the RSPCA expressed its shock that another company affiliated with live exporter Emanuel Exports had gained an export license. Emanuel Exports was the exporter and KLTT/RETWA was the importer for the five voyages that where the subject of whistle-blower footage aired on 60 Minutes last year. The footage showed thousands of sheep suffering severe heat stress; sheep caked in melted feces and urine; injured and sick animals left to die slowly; decomposed bodies left in pens with living sheep and pregnant ewes giving birth and their lambs dying. 

Goodfellow said back in 2018: “KLTT has a horrific track record of animal cruelty and disaster in live exports and has been implicated in multiple Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) breaches and animal cruelty investigations in Kuwait in recent years. What the public needs to know is that RETWA had its export license canceled in 2004 by then Nationals Agriculture Minister Warren Truss following 25 high mortality voyages within a two-year period between 2000-2002. And when this happened, Emanuel Exports filled the gap providing export services for KLTT. 

“Now that Emanuel Exports has had its license canceled, RETWA is stepping back in.”