EXPORTER measures to improve welfare standards for live sheep shipments into the Middle East have been dismissed as misleading by animals rights group Animals Australia.
In a statement yesterday, Emanuel Exports, said it had taken decisive steps in the past week to uphold welfare standards and mitigate the risks of exporting sheep to the Arabian Gulf during the Northern Hemisphere summer.
Calls for an end to the live sheep export trade has escalated since the release this month of whistleblower footage of distressed, dying and dead sheep in Emanuel Exports shipments, including images from the August 2017 voyage of the Awassi Express in which about 2400 sheep died off Qatar.
Emanuel director Nick Daws said the Awassi Express tragedy in August last year has been “heart-breaking” for the company and he apologised to producers and the broader community for the outcome in Qatar.
In 2017, Australian sheep exports totalled 1.95 million sheep, worth A$249 million (FOB). Western Australia supplied 1.65 million of that, worth A$207 million. Of the national total in 2017, Emanuel Exports purchased, prepared and exported 1,384,860 sheep, representing 71 percent of all sheep exported, the company said.
He said the company’s large industry presence meant it had a unique role in maintaining an ethically viable trade, “and we’re committed to taking proactive steps to ensure the sustainability of our industry.”
However, Animals Australia’s lead investigator Lyn White said Emanuel Exports isn’t fooling anyone with their “crocodile tears”.
“Hundreds of thousands of animals have perished on their vessels over the years from heat stress and other causes.
“Millions of sheep have suffered terribly and survived only to be subjected to brutal deaths in importing countries,” she said.
Mr Daws said Emanuel shares the determination of industry, producers and the Federal Government that the conditions experienced in Qatar in August 2017 are never repeated. Emanuel’s forthcoming Middle East shipments will designate Kuwait as the first discharge port.
“This practice, which was prevented by geopolitical tensions in the Gulf last year, is a significant welfare safeguard.
“The dry climate of Kuwait, where up to half of the sheep in Gulf shipments are delivered, means we will discharge a large number of animals in conditions where moisture build-up is negligible,” Mr Daws said.
Mr Daws said Emanuel’s agreement with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources that sheep on Gulf consignments be loaded at 17.5pc below the stocking density required by the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock was also critical.
“Lighter stocking and discharging at Kuwait first means that en-route to Qatar, sheep can be spread out more because the stocking density will be about 50pc of the rate required by ASEL.
“This is critical because of the unique humid summer conditions that can be experienced in Qatar, which can increase the chance of heat-related welfare risks, especially when Qatar is the first discharge port,” he said.
“These measures go directly to the factors which lead to last year’s tragic, high-mortality voyage.”
The exporter is also 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.
Mr Daws said Emanuel has also taken action to respond to Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) breaches reported last week, namely the mishandling of sheep in Qatar and supply chain leakage in Oman.
“Working with our in-market consultant and the importer, an improved raceway leading to the Qatar facility was constructed within a day and further animal handling training was provided,” Mr Daws said.
The two facility employees guilty of welfare breaches were removed from the site and reprimanded. The facility remains closed to Australian sheep while an audit is completed.
“Furthermore, Emanuel will cease supply to Oman and will not resume supply until we, as the exporter, are confident that improved market systems are in place to uphold ESCAS requirements,” Mr Daws said.
Exporter measures will have “no significant impact”
However, Ms White said the exporter was still trying to mislead producers.
“What they are proposing will have no significant impact on the welfare of animals.
“They have been in this game long enough to know that but, as always, they are relying on the fact that no independent person can test their claims or hold them to account,” she said.
She said the company accepts suffering as part of its business model and only now that it has been caught out and the business is under threat, are its directors indicating any willingness to change.
“That animal suffering couldn’t motivate this, but potential loss of profits can, reveals the shameful culture of this company.
“Any examination of this company’s history reveals that they are unfit to hold an export licence and unfit to have custody of animals,” Ms White said.
“If any other Australian was responsible for such animal abuse – a court would order that they never be allowed to have custody of animals again.”
Ms White said Emanuel Exports was among exporters who actively opposed any reduction in stocking densities over the years to maintain profit margins despite the known serious animal welfare implications of over-crowding.
“That they are attempting to send more sheep into the furnace of the Middle East summer speaks both to their arrogance and their ruthless disregard for the welfare of animals.
“Good luck convincing an outraged Australian public that putting 30,000 rather than 60,000 sheep in harm’s way is an acceptable mea culpa,” she said.
“Emanuel Exports hopes we will swallow that this was just one catastrophic shipment.
“37 times since 2005, over 1,000 sheep have died on shipments under the control of these directors,” Ms White said.
“The only difference now is that the world has a window through which to see the suffering that they have been prepared to inflict.”
Port rotation not a factor – White
Ms White said an Animals Australia examination of the high mortality heat stress shipment reports between 2006 and 2017 showed that port order was not a factor.
“Heat stress deaths often commence as soon as the ships enter Middle East waters, when vessels will always be fully loaded.”
She said Kuwait has often been the first discharge port.
“Reports reveal that deaths on ships rose prior to and then on arrival in Kuwait, and then also continued at high levels despite tens of thousands of sheep being offloaded in Kuwait.
“Other shipments where the first port of call was Oman, Bahrain, or Qatar – also had high mortality spikes after this first port of unloading – despite less sheep being on-board during this section of the voyage.”
Ms White said the Al Messilah, on which over 3000 sheep died in July 2016, had rapidly escalating daily deaths upon entering the Persian Gulf, three days prior to docking in Qatar, where the deaths continued. She said 854 sheep died just in the three days prior to arrival in Qatar – all occurring in the lower Persian Gulf.
Ms White said moving remaining sheep into vacated space is often impractical or contra-indicated if they are already heat-affected. Sheep are loaded in consignment batches and moving remaining sheep might be avoided by on-board vets to avoid further deaths of weakened sheep.
Stocking density is “only an exacerbating factor”
Ms White said extreme heat and humidity events cannot be accurately predicted and can occur across the entire Middle East region each year.
“Regardless, and most importantly – stocking density is only an exacerbating factor and if ambient and deck conditions exceed the heat stress danger threshold it is no longer relevant; even lightly stocked sheep will suffer and die.”
Ms White maintained that even at the stocking density that has been forced on Emanuel Exports by the department, all animals will still not have ready access to food and water nor have room to lie down and rest.
Qatar and Oman breaches extensive
Ms White said the breaches in Oman were extensive, with more than 1200 Australian sheep being sold by 19 different vendors outside of approved supply chains.
“There is one primary abattoir in Qatar and after all these years of Emanuel supplying sheep to them, terrible handling practices were occurring.”
Ms White said the 42 proven ESCAS breaches by Emanuel companies since the introduction of ESCAS shows that this company does not have adequate control of its animals once delivered into these countries.
“Each time a non-compliance with ESCAS is proven against them, they undertake to tighten their in-country processes.
“We have been hearing and reading of these impotent attempts for five years now, and yet they still have a license to export.”
Animals Australia said it had created a website www.livesheepexport.com.au to enable sheep farmers to view footage from recent live sheep voyages. The Australian Livestock Exporters Council also this week released photos and details of upgrading measures at the Qatar abattoir.