AUSTRALIA’S peak farmer body has defended Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt as frustrations mount over perceived delays in approving the re-export of sheep and cattle aboard Israel-owned vessel MV Bahijah.
The live export regulator – the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry — is continuing to evaluate an application from an Israel company Bassem Dabbah to re-export about 14,000 sheep and some cattle aboard the vessel.
The vessel has been off Fremantle in Western Australia since 29 January after being recalled to Australia on 20 January due to tensions in the Red Sea.
The exporter has been allowed to take on essential provisions and veterinary assessments have indicated there are no signs of significant health, welfare or environmental condition concerns with the livestock on board.
The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry held a press conference this afternoon to explain the vessel’s situation and the current assessment process, but no decision on the re-export application is expected today.
Frustration at the time being taken by DAFF to decide on the shipment’s future prompted a WA farmer call for the resignation of federal Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt.
No NFF support for Watt’s resignation
However this prompted National Farmers Federation president David Jochinke to strongly support the oversight and processes of Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Beth Cookson.
“The NFF does not support calls for the Minister for Agriculture’s resignation.
“In fact, we hope this situation demonstrates how robust Australia’s live export system is with animal welfare at the forefront,” he said.
“The situation surrounding the MV Bahijah livestock vessel is an extraordinary and complex situation that must carefully consider the health and wellbeing of the animals, Australia’s biosecurity status, export legislation and international trading partners,” Mr Jochinke said.
“There are processes that must be followed and external complexities that must be considered, but we must now see a timely resolution to this matter.
“In light of misinformation being purported, it is however especially important to highlight key facts with respect to animal welfare arrangements on the vessel.”
He said DAFF has advised that the exporter’s registered veterinarian has remained on board the vessel throughout the entire time and the department has engaged two veterinarians who have inspected the livestock and vessel. Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Beth Cookson, is closely monitoring the situation and has advised “the livestock are in good condition and have appropriate care and supervision,” Mr Jochinke said.
WAFarmers Livestock Council president Geoff Pearson said the vessel might have to unload up to 500 cattle and possibly no sheep to achieve regulated stocking density if approved for a return voyage to Israel via South Africa.
DAFF Adam Fennessy secretary said after standing offshore yesterday evening and replacing the animal bedding, the vessel has returned to port and is berthed in Fremantle.
“The vessel is taking on further provisions today, including additional fodder and fuel.
“The exporter’s registered veterinarian remains on board and continues to report daily on the health and welfare of the livestock,” he said.
“My department continues to assess the application to re-export the livestock provided by the exporter.”
Mr Fennessy said the regulator has an obligation to consider all relevant information, from a range of sources, on complex issues relating to export legislation, animal welfare considerations and the requirements of our international trading partners.
“It is a complex process, and this is a unique situation.
“We are doing everything we can to resolve the situation and we will continue to release information and respond to inquiries until that time,” he said.
“I recognise the strong public interest in this issue, and I’d like to reassure everyone that we are working towards a resolution as quickly as possible.
“There should be no doubt that Australia’s biosecurity and the health and welfare of the livestock onboard are our highest priorities,” Mr Fennessy said.
DAFF said the exporter’s registered veterinarian remains on board the vessel and will continue to report back to the department daily on the health and welfare of the livestock.
Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Beth Cookson, said it was good to see that the MV Bahijah was able to resupply essential provisions.
“This is an appropriate and prudent measure to continue to maintain the welfare standard for the livestock onboard.
“It is also good practice that the vessel continues to perform its routine cleaning, as it is this evening, to wash decks and provide dry and insulating bedding material for the animals.”
Welfare of livestock and crew is SPA’s priority
Sheep Producers Australia chief executive officer Bonnie Skinner said the SPA’s priority is the welfare of the livestock and crew currently on the live export vessel MV Bahijah.
“The two independent vet reports and comments from Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer indicate that the livestock have no significant health, welfare, or environmental condition concerns, consistent with all reports received to date.
“The statement confirmed that the exporter’s registered veterinarian also remains on board the vessel and continues to report back to the department daily,” she said.
“The department continues to work closely with the exporter to determine the best outcome for the livestock and to uphold Australia’s biosecurity.
“Sheep Producers Australia will be continuing discussions with the department around the management of the vessel and are receiving daily updates and awaiting a decision to be made.”