MINISTER for Agriculture David Littleproud has announced the terms of reference for the short, sharp review into sheep exports to the Middle East during the northern summer.
Animals Australia today welcomed the review into summer live sheep shipments to the Middle East, but raised concerns that a long-time paid contractor of the live export industry Dr Michael McCarthy is leading the process.
The announcement came as live sheep export ships continue to depart and dock in Fremantle and calls escalated for prosecutions over alleged regulatory breaches highlighted by live export sheep cruelty footage shown in a recent 60 Minutes episode.
Sheep Central has been told at least another two live export vessels are due to dock to load sheep in Fremantle this week, although the MV Awassi Express remains stranded in the port while it undergoes work and testing on its ventilation systems.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has demanded third party testing of the vessel’s ventilation systems before it will be allowed to leave the port with a Middle East sheep and cattle shipment for Emanuel Exports.
Minister Littleproud said the review by the Queensland-based veterinarian will consider information including scientific literature, outcomes of recent voyages and reports from observers.
The review will be complete in time to make any recommended changes to the 2018 northern summer trade, the Minister’s media release said.
“The footage I saw recently from voyages in 2017 shocked me.
“After meeting with the stakeholders last Monday, I announced this review on the Tuesday,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The review will consider stocking density on ships, bedding and animal waste management, ventilation and heat stress risk.
“It will also consider and evaluate the potential use of air conditioners, and conditions placed on recent voyages, which includes the independent observer paid employed by the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
“The review will identify any improvements in how the current standards, known as the Australian Standards for Export of Livestock or ASEL, can be administered or executed.
“The review will also consider the number and skills of the crew in managing animal health and welfare, contingency planning and reporting,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The TOR allows for Dr McCarthy to delve into other issues he considers worth exploring.
“Transparency builds trust,” he said.
“We need to let the light shine in.
“It’s important we get this trade right for our farmers.”
The minister’s statement said the “short, sharp review” will complement the review into the investigative capability, powers and culture of the independent regulator, as well as the current ASEL review as he takes decisive action to address the issues raised in the past fortnight.
For a full copy for the Terms of Reference, go to www.agriculture.gov.au/livestock-northern-summer-review
Animals Australia said it has written to the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture asking why Emanuel Exports hasn’t had its export licence suspended given the extensive evidence of non-compliance with regulations on ships, and its track record of regulatory breaches in importing countries.
Animals Australia’s Lyn White said the secretary has the power to suspend an export licence if conditions of that licence have been breached.
“The department is in possession of evidence confirming comprehensive breaches by this exporter, which on top of a history of non-compliance in importing countries, warrants the strongest possible departmental response,” she said.
“The Australian public is still reeling from the egregious suffering they witnessed occurring at sea under Emanuel Exports’ control,” she said.
“To reward them with another export permit, rather than take strong regulatory action is exactly why there is such contempt for the regulator and the law.”
In an opinion piece published at the weekend New South Wales Liberal Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, said she had written to Mr Littleproud, “congratulating him on the steps he has taken in response to Australia’s latest live sheep debacle, but asking him to go further and, in consultation with farmers and associated rural industries, set a date by which live sheep exports cease permanently.”
“As part of our immediate response, those responsible for the harrowing conditions revealed to all should be prosecuted,” Ms Ley said.
“Certainly any farmer treating stock this way would be hauled before the magistrate in record time.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said since receiving new information, including video footage, from Animals Australia, the department has been investigating the actions of all parties involved in this matter.
“Investigations take time and must be conducted appropriately.
“The department will consider additional conditions on voyages for this exporter in the interim,” the spokesperson said.
Animals Australia today said it has written to Mr Littleproud expressing concerns about the appointment of Dr McCarthy to single-handedly manage the review.
“Only someone at arm’s length of this industry could deliver a truly independent assessment of this trade,” Animals Australia’s Lyn White said.
Animals Australia said Australia’s chief veterinary officer should be jointly conducting this review.
As the current vice president of the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) and soon to be president, Australia’s chief vet understands Australia’s obligations under OIE guidelines – the body that sets global animal welfare standards, Animals Australia said.
“As the evidence from five routine sheep shipments to the Middle East has revealed, Australia’s live sheep trade is consistently breaching OIE guidelines, which Federal live export regulations are expected to ‘meet or exceed’.”
“The OIE Standards clearly state that sheep should not be shipped in extreme weather conditions,” Ms White said.
“There is nothing more extreme than sea temperatures of 38 degrees, outside air temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s and the suffocating heat and humidity deep in the hulls of live export vessels.”
Animals Australia said it was important to note that while a lot of discussion has centred on the August 2017 Awassi Express shipment when more than 2,400 sheep died, on all voyages between May and November, sheep were severely impacted by heat stress.