Livestock Exporters Commit to Change
Australian livestock exporters have voted for reform initiatives they say will drive major cultural change in the industry.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council Chairman Simon Crean said the industry has embraced the need for significant changes to ensure the transport of live sheep to the Middle East is improved and to safeguard against high mortality voyages like the tragic deaths of 2,400 sheep on the Awassi Express on a voyage to the Arabian Gulf in August 2017.
The incident was recently publicized when whistle-blower footage was released on the 60 Minutes program. 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.
Exporters have confirmed their support for an independent observer, under the direction of the government regulator, to travel on voyages to the Middle East during the 2018 Northern Hemisphere summer. A reduced stocking density and additional welfare safeguards for shipments of Australian sheep to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere’s high summer period has also been agreed.
Exporters also agreed to support the establishment of an Inspector General for the Welfare of Exported Animals. The Inspector General would help oversee independence and cultural change in the industry and work constructively with exporters to improve animal welfare outcomes.
More footage was released by 60 Minutes a week after the first program, this time showing sheep outside an abattoir in Qatar trying to escape workers who were hitting them with sticks and picking them up and throwing them around, and exporters also voted in favor of the establishment of the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) designed to deliver improved Export Supply Chain Assurance System compliance by applying responsibility for welfare across international livestock export supply chains. Under LGAP transport companies, feedlots, farms, exporters and importers would be audited. The Australian government set aside money for LGAP in 2017.
“Today, the livestock export industry delivers on its commitment to change,” Crean said. “Exporters are listening to the community and acting decisively to achieve change in the industry. The welfare of the animals and the future of our industry depends on it.”
RSPCA: Taxpayer Dollars Should Not be Spent
“The RSPCA strongly supports independent animal welfare oversight and has called for an independent office for some time,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Science and Strategy Officer Dr. Bidda Jones in response to the industry's commitment to change. “But Australian taxpayer dollars should not be spent trying to achieve ‘cultural reform’ in the live export industry which has profited for decades off animal suffering.” Instead, the money should be spent protecting farmers as they adjust their businesses and exit the trade, she says.
“The proposed Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) is not the answer. LGAP is self-regulation via the back door,” she said. “A serious response to the community’s concerns would be halving stocking density, stopping May to October exports and locking in plans to phase-out the trade.”
Jones notes that footage of conditions on board the livestock carrier Maysora, which departed Fremantle last week, is yet to be released despite government and industry claims of greater transparency.