LIVE sheep exporters came under increased pressure from Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud today, as he demanded a timeline this week for the installation of new technology to ease heat stress.
Mr Littleproud said he has written to the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council demanding to know how quickly vital new technology can be installed on live export ships, ahead of next year’s Middle Eastern summer.
A media release from Mr Littleproud said research and studies done on animal welfare indicators over many years by ALEC’s research body, LiveCorp, was used as part of the Heat Stress Risk Assessment released publicly last week, which some say will threaten the viability of the industry.
Mr Littleproud’s statements follow a Heat Stress Risk Assessment panel recommending that wet bulb temperature be used as a measure of a ship’s thermal environment to set a heat stress threshold for sheep. It has suggested a WBT welfare limit for a standardised shipper sheep (56 kg adult Merino wether, body condition score 3, zone 3, winter acclimatised, recently shorn) is 28°Celsius. The panel’s report also recommended that there be a 98 percent probability that the deck temperatures the sheep would be exposed to during a planned voyage would remain below the WBT welfare limit.
A DAWR briefing paper said that a comparison with analysis undertaken during the McCarthy review suggested live Merino sheep exports from Australia during the hottest months of the year in the northern hemisphere (May to October) may not meet the WBT animal welfare criterion.
The department has suggested that under the proposed HSRA recommendations it may not be economic to export live sheep to the Middle East during the northern summer, “leading to a cessation of trade during this period,” and vessels could also carry less sheep or depending on shipboard ventilation, make fewer voyages in other months of the year.
Mr Littleproud’s release said ALEC chairman Simon Crean in May this year supported the industry moving to an animal welfare model, rather than simply measuring mortalities.
“The industry did the science which helped create the heat stress model, but they haven’t done the work on the solution.
“Why hasn’t ALEC led the industry transition?” Mr Littleproud asked.
“ALEC needs to tell me when they’re going to have the solution.
“Farmers need to know what progress exactly has been made on this solution and on implementing it,” he said.
“I’m on the side of the farmers here.
“This solution may involve dehumidifiers and improved ventilation,” the Minister said.
“The live export industry needs to provide certainty to our farmers and our trading partners.
“They’ve made millions over the years and now the opportunity is here to invest for the future,” he said.
“Ship owners and exporters should not run away from Australia to run ships on live export routes elsewhere in the world, following research about live shipments into the Middle Eastern summer.
“The pork industry are phasing out sow stalls because they’ve moved with the expectations of society and the market,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Other agricultural industries recognise the need to do this.
“Some 35 pieces of research on heat stress have been completed by live export research body LiveCorp. ALEC exporters are years behind their own research,” he said.
“Time is against us.
“I’m also concerned ALEC and members were given research five years ago showing public attitudes against the industry were at crisis point and true transparency and animal welfare indicators were urgently needed. Why has this not been acted on?”
Mr Littleproud’s release said the trade has been aware of concerns since 2003 over the welfare of live sheep travelling to the Middle East between May to October, as detailed in the Keniry Livestock Export Review.
ALEC last week said 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.”
Sheep Producers Australia last week welcomed the heat stress assessment panel’s findings, saying the industry had made a commitment to science-based animal welfare regulation and this work was an important first step in better understanding a best practice approach.
SPA chair Chris Mirams said changing the way the industry operates from measuring mortality rates to measuring animal welfare requires a great depth of science and understanding.
“This is an important first step in starting to build this understanding.
“This is an important area to get right because if we know the parameters where we can move the sheep comfortably then we can start to look at new technology that enables that to occur,” Mr Mirams said.
“SPA is committed to seeing genuine change in the live sheep export trade and we are pleased that the wheels are in motion to achieve this.
“Science needs to underpin the decisions, including animal welfare considerations, that determine when we can and can’t export to our overseas markets.”