THE Western Australian sheep industry is markedly different to the industry in the east, due to climate, geography, size of domestic market, reliance on export and enterprise mix.
In recent years, travelling to Sheepmeat Council of Australia and Wool Producers Australia meetings, it is evident that eastern states sheep producers, let alone those not involved in the sheep industry, have little understanding of those differences.
Therefore, it is not surprising when Animals Australia sends media and Federal MPs an erroneous and inaccurate report stating that the live sheep export is of minor significance to WA sheep producers — $9million/year as opposed to the correct figure of $80-$150million/year — that such information is readily accepted.
WA sheep producers are appalled by the Animals Australia images. We put our faith in the Federal Government to regulate and monitor the live export industry and feel we have been let down by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the exporters, yet we are the ones who will bear the significant impact if the trade ceases.
The likes of Sussan Ley, Bill Shorten and Peter Small cannot even be bothered to contact someone in the west to determine the actual facts involved and the ramifications of closing the industry. Being preached to by the ill-informed, self-appointed “wise men of the east” makes dealing with this issue all the more difficult.
The global live export trade is enormous with millions of animals transported by road, rail, sea and air around the world, with Australia being a significant player in the trade. Australia’s reputation for setting animal welfare improvement mechanisms is world-renowned – just look at ESCAS, ASEL and the new LGAP system. Any claims contesting this are ludicrous and should be challenged.
While there is some international focus on Australia, it is debatable how significant the impacts, if any, would be to our agricultural industry. A fair percentage of the world’s population would struggle to find Australia on a map, let alone be concerned about the Australian sheep live export trade.
The idea that Australian sheep farmers see ourselves as the “sole custodians of animal ethics” is ridiculous and uninformed. The future of the industry does not rely on the argument that “if we don’t supply the sheep someone else will”. It hinges on the ability to demonstrate that sheep can be transported and slaughtered humanely in the Middle East without the risk of the “heat smash” event that occurred on the Awassi Express. It is possible to do this. Exporters such as Wellards have invested significant capital into new, purpose-built ships. The Federal Government regulator must do the job we entrust it to do by working with the industry to constantly update, monitor and enforce regulations.
The current campaign by Animals Australia and the RSPCA is relevant to all farmers. If they succeed in having the sheep live export industry banned they will move onto cattle live export, mulesing, long distance road transport, unsupervised lambing, horse sports and many more. As we have seen with greyhound racing and with cattle live export, animal activist groups work with a willing media to present a graphic, one-sided portrayal of an industry in a concerted campaign.
If you, the farmers of the eastern states, stand by while animal liberation activists take down the Western Australian sheep industry, then who will be left to support you when they come to take down your industry. We need Australians who understand the importance of agriculture to implore their Federal Members of Parliament to inform themselves about the issue and not just accept the distortions and falsehoods of animal rights activists.
Steve McGuire, Kojonup, Western Australia.
Steve McGuire, how long does it take (35 years-plus) to get this industry right? We in the eastern states, or city folk, as we are so often called, are not blind and deaf to this ugly cruel industry. Having lived in Portland, Victoria, for most of our adult life witnessing literally millions of sheep exported to the Middle East, and knowing their fate, enduring the journey and ultimate inhumane slaughter on arrival at these barbaric countries. My husband was the last manager of AMH in Portland and sadly watched the decline of the processing plant, which left the township as a ghost town, having supported the locals and businesses there for decades.
The stench in this small town before leaving the port was terrible and knowing what these poor sheep would endure through this journey. This was over 25 years ago and this live export industry has just continued to thrive with their inhumane and unethical standards during this time.
Thank god for Animals Australia and RSPCA because not only do they enlighten the public of what a barbaric trade this is, but they expose these export companies to farmers, who are very aware of what they are exposing their livestock to. Government fails to provide any reassurance of improving this industry in any way. What possible reasons and excuses can be made for continuing this cruelty? Surely regulated abattoirs can be established and markets for chilled and frozen meat supplied in abundance. Where is the compassion?
Patrick Francis unwittingly proves my point, his “obvious” analysis of WA sheep industry is wrong. If he bothered to talk to someone in the sheep industry in WA he would discover that.
I am well aware that many sheep farmers in the east have had enough of the live export scandals and as it does not affect them and are happy to see it close. My point is make your decision based on fact not on assumptions and propaganda.
The processing sector in WA is theoretically capable of handling the numbers, but are struggling to find the labour required at the present slaughter level. There is nothing stopping them killing all the sheep turn-off now, they are just not willing to compete.
This whole situation is similar to the banking fiasco; the regulator is not doing its job. As Steve points out, there are new ships available which exceed the Australian Maritime Safety Authority standards, which are being undercut in price by these so called “rust buckets”, that are allowed to continue operating under the grandfathering provisions. Overall animal welfare in the world will diminish if Australia is forced out of the live export market.
According to a list of abattoirs that was obtained by me from the AMIEU (Australasian Meat Industry Employers Union), in 2017 there were 20 abattoirs operating in WA; from as far as Broome down to Esperance. And most of these abattoirs do their own processing, be it for the local or the overseas market. Farmers should be considering their future and support their local abattoir so that employment in this industry is full-time and not part-time, as it is at the moment for many abattoir workers.
In this article, Steve McGuire assumes that the people opposed to the live sheep trades are animal rights activists, the RSPCA and some politicians looking to score favour of electors. He fails to mention that there are many sheep farmers who would like to see the trade phased out as it has failed on welfare grounds and is an affront to the industry’s effort to present credible sheep welfare management to the general public. Steve and other farmers who argue for the trade to continue should lobby their state farmer organisations to run a referendum on the question among sheep farmers. The organisations should also survey WA’s abattoirs to find out if they have the capacity to process more lambs and sheep that would otherwise be exported alive. And at the same time, ask the abattoirs how many more people would be employed and the extra value returned in value-added sheep meat.
As for farmers relying on the live sheep exports for business survival, WA state farmer organisations should release data on how many farmers exclusively supply that outlet and what is the enterprise breakdown of WA sheep farming businesses. It is interesting that in ABARES 2014 analysis “ Live export trade assessment” the authors state: “In WA …production of shipping wethers, rather than prime lambs, is suited to crop-dominant farmers who prefer a sheep enterprise that requires less time and management (Kingwell 2011). Wethers have a longer selling window than prime lambs and, on average, have lower finishing costs, particularly in the face of varying seasonal conditions. …for specialist lamb producers (in WA) … live exports provide an outlet for lambs that could not be brought up to slaughter in their short selling window (Kingwell et al 2011).”
This report suggests that most live export sheep are the low-value left-over animals after crop farmers use them for stubble and weed control or from lamb farmers who don’t have the management to finish animals in time.
It is obvious WA farmers have the capacity to find alternative enterprises to live sheep trading. At the time of the collapse of the wool reserve price scheme in 1990, there were over 34 million sheep in WA. By 2012 the number had reduced to 15 million. What happened to WA farmers during this radical sheep flock decline? As for live sheep trade, it has declined from around 6 million in 2001 and 2002 to less than 2 million, around 80 percent of which are sourced in WA. Farmers changed their business enterprise mix and or management to suit the circumstances. They will do so again when live sheep exports are phased out.
Thank you Steve. We have been let down time and time again by regulators that seem ineffective and exporters that push the boundaries. However, this is no reason to close down an industry so important to the WA rural landscape. So many people are employed by the sheep industry and towns would be decimated by the loss of this important market.
I agree with Steve McGuire. Australian livestock producers are the only people who have invested money in the systems to improve this trade. The farmers are the innocent party in this and will be asked to pay a huge price for this if it is banned. Grossly unfair and inequitable. The ALP does not live up to the standards that they espouse and they are more than happy to discriminate against one section of the community to further their own political interests. If the Liberal Party go to water on this, the National Party should break the Coalition agreement. The animal activists are not well-intentioned. Their objective is to destroy the livelihoods of all livestock producers and they will do it one step and one industry at a time.
Jan Kendall is right. Australia is too far away from the Middle East markets. Just accept this fact and invest in on-shore kill/freeze.
It is a systemic failure. The Australian Veterinarian Association with 9500 members did a scientific review and said summer sailings to the Middle East between May and October could not be recommended. There is no humane way to export sheep such vast distances. Australia is too far away. Somalia and Africa are nearer the Middle East. They are poor and need this trade. Their sheep are more acclimatised. I’m from a farming background. This is an example where readjustment is necessary. Other sectors in agriculture have experienced this – dairying, wool, timber,etc