Recent video footage of conditions faced by sheep during live exportation from Australia have further shocked the world. Their suffering and horrific deaths were indescribable.
Australia’s Department of Agriculture states that this footage “was deplorable and exposed unacceptable animal welfare”, and yet regardless, the Government has made it clear that its policy is to continue the trade.
A government-commissioned report, hiring live export affiliated veterinarian Dr Mike McCarthy, has been completed since the footage was aired, with the following major recommendations:
Stocking density to be reduced for sheep during the northern hemisphere summer by 11 to 39%, depending on the animal’s weight
Reassessment of the heat stress predictor to be based on animal welfare, and not the current blunt indicator of likelihood of death
Reportable voyage mortality percentage to be reduced from 2% to 1%
Automated water systems., and
Automated continuous environmental monitoring equipment to be installed on all ships.
Sadly, scientists and veterinarians have been offering these recommendations for many years. They were vehemently resisted by the live export industry and not implemented, despite overwhelming evidence of animal welfare benefits. This situation has enabled unacceptable welfare standards to be legally sanctioned.
Although this current review could implement potential animal welfare safeguards, it is overdue by at least four decades. It fails to recognise that by 2018, whilst the export meat trade has grown, the live animal export trade has declined: only 6% of sheep exported from Australia are exported live. This is hardly a sound economic foundation for an industry.
This trade belongs in the past. It no longer has majority support from Australians, clearly indicating a lack of ‘social license’. In conjunction with new United Nations environmental initiatives regarding fuel emissions from ships, to be introduced in 18 months, this means the trade is likely to reduce substantially on a global scale. The impending UN regulations will result in many of the world’s older ships being scrapped due to inability to meet new emissions standards. It will be unprofitable for most ships to comply with both the UN initiatives and the McCarthy recommendations.
Furthermore, many animal welfare problems at sea simply cannot be fixed on a commercial level; these are inherent shipping risks such as mechanical breakdowns, extreme weather changes, risk of fire, capsize, rejections form foreign countries (as occurred with the Cormo express disaster), motion sickness, pressure sores, broken limbs and contamination of food and water sources leading to the rapid spread of Salmonellosis.
Sentient advocates that the time is overdue to ban this trade, with a transition to 100% chilled and frozen meat exports only. The evidence is clear, the science is clear, no further reviews are warranted.