More than 2,000 sheep died from overcrowding and lack of food and water on the Awassi Express last year. (News Video)
The death of 2,400 Australian sheep from overcrowding, heat exhaustion and lack of food and water during live exports to the Middle East has lead to some farmers questioning whether the trade should be banned entirely.
“The live export is going to be governed by farmers who are now reconsidering what they do with their livestock,” transporter and farmer, Colin Treasure, told 7.30.
“The smaller farmers, who have animal welfare at heart more than some of the bigger farmers, are considering their options now whether they continue on fattening sheep for the live export.”
The incident occurred on board the Awassi Express in August last year, but the recent release of vision by Animals Australia showing the treatment of the sheep has prompted growing calls for a ban.
‘This absolutely cannot happen again’
Joe Keynes supports live exports but is concern about the welfare of the animals. (ABC News: Marty McCarthy)
South Australian farmer and the president of Livestock SA, Joe Keynes, said he sends about 20 per cent of his sheep to export.
“Farmers, on the whole, look after their animals really well and we expect those animals, wherever they go, to be treated in the same manner that we do,” he said.
He supports live sheep exports but wants exporters to take greater responsibility.
“It is about the industry bringing in new protocols and ensuring this absolutely cannot happen again, and building the trust of not just the Australian farmers but also the Australian community.”
Those wanting to stop live exports are finding some unlikely allies in government ranks.
“I have been the first person to support this trade,” Liberal MP Sussan Ley said last week.
“I am actually no friend of the animal welfare movement — in the past they have taken me to court.
“I am a country person and I have worked in rural industries, and been a farmer for nearly half my life.
“If I am calling time on this trade, then it really is time.”
Her Victorian colleague Jason Wood agreed, arguing exporters cannot be trusted to clean up the industry.
“Trade of live sheep to the Middle East must be banned because it’s just an awful trade to be involved in,” he said.
“Every time there is a bad situation in the media there is assurances and guarantees (from exporters), yet nothing has changed.”
However, Mr Wood said any ban needed to be introduced gradually.
“One thing we must do as a government is ensure any ban that comes in does not come in overnight, and ensure any farmers are compensated,” he said.
The calls contrast with the position of Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, who announced a review into the live export of animals during the northern hemisphere summer.
‘We don’t want a kneejerk reaction’
President of industry body Sheep Producers Australia, Allan Piggott, is urging caution.
“We think (a ban) is premature at the moment. We don’t want a knee jerk reaction,” he said.
“I went to the Middle East in July and was of the opinion it was time to move on, we probably didn’t need the trade,” he said.
“But when I was over there, talking to people in the Middle East, I got a new understanding of how important the trade was to them.”
Mr Piggott conceded reform was needed, but cautioned against banning exports in the northern summer.
“It does have more financial implications because demand at the northern summer is at their highest,” he said.
“But we might find solutions.
“Perhaps that time of year we need to lessen stocking rates on boats, or there might be boats that are more efficient, quicker, better ventilation.”
West Australian sheep farmer Peter Boyle said a ban would have devastating impacts in Western Australia, which provides 85 per cent of the 1.9 million sheep exported from Australia annually.
“That would be extremely catastrophic for us,” he said.
“The whole of the state depends on it in one way or another.
“Personally I’m very worried about it because I’m fully loaded up with sheep waiting to go on the boat and I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“To get rid of them I might be selling them at a big loss.”
Ability to monitor animal welfare limited
The Awassi Express is still transporting live sheep to the Middle East. (ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)
The company at the centre of the conflict, WA-based Emanuel Exports, said because it does not own or operate the export vessel, the Awassi Express, it’s ability to monitor animal welfare was limited.
Emanuel Director, Nick Daws, said Middle Eastern importer Kuwait Livestock Transport & Trading took ownership the moment they were loaded on to the vessel.
“The exporter is responsible for welfare,” he said.
“So even if the importer assumes ownership of the sheep upon loading onto the vessel, we need to work more effectively with the importer, our accredited vets and stockpersons to ensure all appropriate animal welfare precautions are in place.”
However, under Australian regulations, Emanuel Exports is still responsible for their welfare.
“Emanuel is negotiating new arrangements with the importer to ensure shared control of the conditions in which sheep are loaded at the port and transported during the voyages to the Gulf,” it said in a statement.
The exporter also said future shipments to the Gulf will be loaded 17.5 per cent below the standards set out under the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).
However, RSPCA South Australia’s Rebekah Eyers said that is still not good enough.
“We cannot deflect the blame to an overseas jurisdiction, they were covered by Australian standards for the export of livestock,” she said.
“Sadly part of the business model is they pack so many animals into these ships and only have one vet to attend to those animals.”