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Draft live sheep export heat stress risk assessment rules released

by Sheep Central, 13 December 2018

LIVE sheep exporters have been urged to make a greater investment in animal welfare by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud following the release of new draft recommendations to minimise heat stress risk during Middle East shipments.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s independent Heat Stress Risk Assessment Technical Reference Panel has released its draft report on heat stress risk in live sheep exports to the Middle East.

After the release of the panel’s recommendation’s today, Mr Littleproud said it is clear the sheep export industry and ship owners have not been proactive enough in dealing with this in the past and must now commit to investment in better technology to keep the industry sustainable.

“Other industries have done this in the past like the implementation of sow stalls in the pork industry, so the live sheep export industry and ship companies need to invest similarly in new technologies to dehumidify their boats.

“Exporters have significantly gained financially in the past from this industry and it’s now imperative they re-invest back into their industry immediately,” he said.

“I therefore expect the industry to start to show some leadership in greater investment in animal welfare standards.”

Action required to reset the industry – Littleproud

Mr Littleproud said the horrific events of the MV Awassi brought to light in April were distressing and meant calm and decisive action based on science was required to reset the industry. Footage from the Awassi shipment and others last year showing dead, heat-stressed and dying sheep in crowded on-board conditions has sparked community outrage, inquiries, export licence suspensions, cancellations and industry reform.

“Part of the government’s response was scientific analysis of animal welfare standards, so I welcome the draft report on heat stress risk assessment which is handed down today for consultation,” the Minister said.

The panel has recommended that the heat stress risk assessment (HSRA) framework focus on animal welfare, rather than mortality risk, using a wet bulb temperature welfare limit for exported sheep based on weight, breed, condition score, acclimatisation, fibre length and where they are sourced from. The recommended wet bulb temperature welfare limit is 28°Celsius for a standardised shipper sheep – a 56 kg adult Merino wether, body condition score 3, zone 3, winter acclimatised and recently shorn.

The panel has also recommended that the heat stress assessment model should use a 98 percent probability that the deck temperatures the sheep would be exposed to during a planned voyage would remain at or below the wet bulb temperature welfare limit.

It has also been recommended that the base space allowance for sea voyages should be determined by the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, and then adjusted according to the HSRA. Environmental conditions in the destination ports be taken into account, and recognise the ongoing need to measure and record environmental conditions accurately and at a sufficient number of relevant locations on board vessels to provide transparent monitoring and protection of livestock welfare.

Following submission of the panel’s report to the department, the draft recommendations will be tested with stakeholders via a second public consultation process. The panel welcomes submissions from stakeholders at that time. The panel’s final report is due to be provided to the department in early 2019.

Mr Littleproud said it is clear the sheep export industry and ship owners have not been proactive enough in dealing with this in the past and must now commit to investment in better technology to keep the industry sustainable.

“Other industries have done this in the past like the implementation of sow stalls in the pork industry, so the live sheep export industry and ship companies need to invest similarly in new technologies to dehumidify their boats.

“Exporters have significantly gained financially in the past from this industry and it’s now imperative they re-invest back into their industry immediately,” he said.

“I therefore expect the industry to start to show some leadership in greater investment in animal welfare standards.”

Exporters expect draft HSRA to have a significant impact

The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council said it will examine the details of the proposed HSRA and work with its partners in the supply chain to produce a comprehensive response.

It is very clear that the draft HSRA, as it stands, would have a significant impact on Australia’s sheep industry, especially in Western Australia, ALEC said.

“With regard to industry reform, exporters, producers and other supply chain stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the Federal Government’s imminent release of the updated Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.

“The updated ASEL, alongside HSRA requirements, will provide much needed certainty regarding the practical and commercial parameters on which the livestock export industry will operate in the future,” the ALEC statement said.

ALEC last week said livestock exporters would observe an annual three-month moratorium in sheep shipments to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere summer, commencing from 1 June 2019, reflecting its need for certainty and confidence for producers and overseas customers.

“In the meantime, exporters will continue to make significant investments in technology to monitor and manage welfare risks, reflecting the care we have for the animals in our supply chains, while working hard to maintain a commercially viable trade,” ALEC said.

Stakeholder submissions close on 31 January 2019

A DAWR statement said work on a new approach to heat stress risk assessment for the live export of sheep to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer was a recommendation from Dr Michael McCarthy’s review. The McCarthy review recommended a move from an HRSA based on mortality to one based on the animal becoming affected by heat stress, with five related recommendations.

The department convened the technical reference panel to test these recommendations, with expertise across the animal welfare, heat stress and animal science fields, along with an Australian Maritime Safety Authority representative.

Submissions to the draft report will be analysed by the panel in finalising its report and recommendations to the department. The aim is for new HSRA settings to be implemented in 2019—before the next northern hemisphere summer. Stakeholders can provide their feedback to the draft report via the ‘Have Your Say’ platform at haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/hsra-reviewSubmissions to the panel will close 31 January 2019.

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