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Australian Labor Party Promises to Protect Dairy Cattle

Image courtesy of Wellard (March 2018)
Image courtesy of Wellard (March 2018)

By The Maritime Executive 04-06-2019 07:29:53

The Australian Labor Party, currently in opposition, has committed to closing a loophole in Australia’s live export regulations that denies protection to thousands of Australian animals exported for purposes other than slaughter.

The commitment comes after ABC News coverage of the fate of dairy cows exported from Australia and New Zealand to Sri Lanka. Around 5,000 New Zealand and Australian cattle were exported to Sri Lanka to set up a dairy program, but around 500 have allegedly died in appalling conditions.

The scheme was underwritten by an Australian Government loan of A$100 million. The Sri Lankan Auditor-General has stated that the cows aren't doing well because of climatic conditions and disease.

Australian animal export company Wellard has acknowledged problems with the program. "A handful of the 68 farmers selected by the Sri Lankan government to receive some of the 5,000 cattle shipped to date did however fail to follow the prescribed herd management advice processes, which has caused some animal welfare issues on those farms," Wellard said in a statement. 

Wellard alerted the general public in March 2018 that it was experiencing some challenges in Sri Lanka. The company says it has continued to provide technical support even though this was supposed to end six months after the cows were delivered. “Efforts to resolve the current issue have been ongoing for some time, and are continuing. Wellard is in negotiations with the Government of Sri Lanka to make changes to the program to prevent a re-occurrence of these issues for any future shipments.”

No cattle have been shipped since November 2017, and no more cattle will be shipped until changes to the farm selection criteria have been agreed, says Wellard. 

Thousands of Australians have expressed concern over the fate of the cattle. The RSPCA has welcomed the Australian Labor Party's commitment to change regulations and has long called for breeding and dairy animals to be covered by the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) which calls for animal handling and slaughter to meet World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards. The OIE guiding principles call for, among other things, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort and freedom from pain, injury and disease.

“It’s heartening to see political leadership address the community’s concerns,” said RSPCA Australian Senior Policy Officer Dr. Jed Goodfellow, responding to the announcement on diary and breeder animals made by Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon last week. “Sadly, it’s a case of another day, another live export disaster, says Goodfellow. “It shows the inherent risks of sending Australian animals half-way around the world into countries with significantly different climatic conditions and limited means and capacity to handle and raise Australian animals to acceptable welfare standards.

“The RSPCA calls on leaders from all sides of politics to work together to expand and improve ESCAS as quickly as possible to better protect animals live exported for breeding and dairy production overseas,” he said. “Unfortunately, history shows that we need comprehensive and rigorous regulations to ensure animal welfare will be prioritized by these companies, otherwise we will continue to see sick, dying and dead animals at the hands of the live export industry,” said Goodfellow.

Australia's live export industry has been under the spotlight after whistleblower footage taken on board an August 2017 voyage for exporter Emanuel Exports become the centerpiece of an investigative media report on the 60 Minutes program last year. Throughout the program footage from five separate voyages was aired depicting 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. At least one sheep that’s clearly alive is shown being thrown overboard.

The 60 Minutes program resulted in widespread community backlash for the live export industry, and the Australian Labor Party has committed to phasing it out.