THE Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has made the decision to not grant Rural Export and Trading (WA) Pty Ltd an exemption to export livestock after 1 June.
The livestock vessel Al Kuwait was unable to depart prior to June 1 as planned, following confirmed cases of COVID-19 among crew members.
The exporter submitted an application to the department for exemption from the June 1 export deadline under the Australian Meat and Live‑stock Industry (Prohibition of Export of Sheep by Sea to Middle East—Northern Summer) Order 2020, including an Animal Welfare Management Plan.
In a statement issued late Tuesday night, the Department said that after considering all relevant matters under the legislation, including animal welfare and trade implications, it has taken the decision not to grant an exemption to the exporter.
The 56,000 sheep to be exported in this consignment remain at registered premises and the department said it is satisfied there are no welfare concerns.
The Department said a detailed statement of reasons for the decision will be released later this week.
The decision means the exporter Rural Export and Trading (WA) Pty Ltd (RETWA) will now have to sell the sheep to a new buyer, most likely one or more processors.
A statement from RETWA (in full below) confirmed the sheep will “now enter the domestic market over time which comes at a significant costs and financial losses and is likely to push down farm gate prices”.
In a statement this morning the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) said it was disappointed by the Department’s rejection of the exemption application.
ALEC said crew members on board the Al Kuwait reported minor flu-like symptoms on their recent journey from Qatar to Fremantle, where they arrived on 22 May, and 21 have since tested positive to COVID-19. The majority of the crew has been isolated in a Perth hotel under the direction and supervision of WA health authorities.
The exporter, Rural Export and Trading (WA) Pty Ltd (RETWA) had applied for an exemption to the order prohibiting sheep shipments to the Middle East from 1 June, involving the use of an alternative vessel.
“There were appropriate risk management practices and animal welfare plans in place as part of the exemption application to ensure the health of the sheep during the voyage, as well as reduced stocking density. The shipment would have provided the Middle East with much needed food security at a time when a reduction in air travel is limiting access to chilled and frozen meat,” the ALEC statement said.
“Whilst the decision is disappointing the live export trade will continue to operate and provide protein and much needed food security in these unprecedented times. We remain committed to providing our global partners with high quality Australian red meat.”
Exporter: Decision will have significant ramifications
Rural Export and Trading (WA) Pty Ltd (RETWA) Managing Director Mike Gordon said in a statement that animal welfare has always been the company’s top priority, and its exemption request had considered all risks carefully to ensure mitigating controls were in place.
Historically over 450,000 sheep had been exported in the months of June, July and August.
“After going through this process with the department I cannot envisage an application for exemption of the Northern Summer Order being approved under any circumstance,” Mr Gordon said.
“In this case, from application to decision took 6 days.
“We believe the department’s risk appetite is unrealistic and over cautious. This decision has significant commercial and trade ramifications.”
The RETWA statement said the sheep in quarantine are in excellent health and under regular veterinary inspections.
They will now enter the domestic market over time which would come with significant costs and financial losses, and would put downward pressure on farm gate prices.
“Our long-term trading partners that have invested in Australia are not going to continue to take the insults by our regulator and we know are investing elsewhere,” the statement said.
“The crew remain in a stable condition and no one has been hospitalised. We continue to work closely with the WA Health department to ensure the health and welfare of crew from the Al Kuwait is upheld.”
As the Department was considering whether to grant the exemption earlier this week, Animals Australia provided it with an analysis of forecast temperatures across the Persian Gulf in coming weeks.
It said the analysis prepared by expert climatologist Dr John McBride indicated there was a high risk that sheep would sail directly into the ‘danger zone’ for heat stress, if the Al Kuwait was allowed to proceed to the Middle East in coming weeks.
In a statement issued to media Animals Australia said the Department of Agriculture’s own regulatory decision matrix recommended that shipments be avoided if the risk of heat stress was 5 percent or more.
Heat stress can occur when the combination of heat and humidity (called Wet Bulb Temperature) reaches 29 degrees Celsius.
Animals Australia said Dr McBride’s analysis showed current sea temperatures this year are higher than normal and the expectation of the vessel crossing a region of sea temperature above 33C was ‘very high’.
Dr McBride also highlighted that actual relevant temperatures in the last three days in May 2020 had already exceeded the threshold into the ‘danger zone’ for sheep.
“The only relevant regulatory consideration is whether an exemption will place the health and welfare of these animals at risk. All available evidence says ‘yes’. We call on the regulator to uphold the integrity and intent of this legislation,” said Animals Australia’s Lyn White.