As many of you are aware, live animal transport (live export) is one of our major hates and something we have been involved with for decades; personally acting as investigators into this sordid business – https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/about-us/ – thus we feel that we do have experience in; and feel we have some degree of knowledge to talk about this trade.
After the two articles we have reproduced from ‘the conversation’ which you can read below; with further links in the articles; we have reproduced a few links specifically relating to our own work monitoring sheep exported live from Romania (EU) to the Middle East. We published updates every day of the position of the vessel on its shipment, along with conditions and temperatures for the sheep which were clearly outside of EU regulation 1/2005 on the so called ‘Protection’ of animals in transport.
As we have said many times before, the EU regulation is just a smokescreen behind which all the authorities and regulators can hide, whilst really doing nothing. As always, in the end it is the animals that suffer terribly.
Regards Mark (WAV).
Here are just a few of our recent posts relating to Romanian sheep being exported to the Middle East in extreme temperatures:
New findings show Australian sheep face dangerous heat stress on export ships
May 4, 2020 8.50pm BST
It’s been almost three years since thousands of Australian sheep died during a voyage from Australia to the Middle East. My group’s new research provides insight into the heat stress faced by sheep exported in recent years and casts further doubt on the industry’s future.
We found sheep experienced heat stress on more than half of voyages to the hottest port in the Middle East, Doha, over three summers from 2016 to 2018.
This is the first time the extent of heat stress in live sheep exports from Australia has been quantified, and the findings do not bode well. A federal government ban on exports during the Northern Hemisphere summer is already hurting the industry. And COVID-19 looks likely to affect the annual Hajj pilgrimage and Eid al-Adha religious holiday, when our sheep meat is in high demand.
The future of Australia’s live sheep export industry appears bleak. Sheep farmers would be wise to seriously explore alternatives.
Severe heat stress exposed
Australia to the Middle East is one of the world’s longest sea transport routes of live sheep for slaughter, usually taking about 20 days.
The welfare risk to sheep from heat stress is highest on voyages departing Australia in our winter, and arriving in the Persian Gulf in the Northern Hemisphere summer.
In April 2018, whistleblowers released video footage filmed the previous year showing shocking live export conditions on the Awassi Express ship. More than 2,400 sheep died on the voyage from Fremantle to the Middle East.
The footage triggered public outrage. As part of its response, the federal agriculture department established a committee, of which I was a member, to assess the heat risk facing sheep exports to the Middle East.
The committee recommended measures to ensure sheep experienced heat stress on fewer than 2% of voyages. Subsequent research by my group would reveal just how far the industry is from that target.
The federal government granted us access to temperature and mortality data from 14 voyages from Australia to the Middle East in May to December, between 2016 and 2018.
We wanted to know at what temperatures the welfare of the sheep began to be affected by heat stress.
To determine this, we analysed so-called “wet bulb temperatures” on the sheep decks. This measures not just air temperature but water vapour, which affects the levels of heat stress actually experienced at a particular temperature.
Wet bulb temperatures typically increased from 20℃ to 30℃ during the 14 voyages in the Northern Hemisphere summer. Ten out of 14 ships stopped at Doha in Qatar, the hottest of the four Gulf ports. There, daily maximum wet bulb temperatures from July to September exceed 27.5℃ half the time, at which point heat stress in sheep increases.
The wet bulb temperatures at Doha exceeded 32.2℃ 2% of the time, at which point sheep deaths are more common.
Ships docking at Doha sit in the sun for about a day and a half while some sheep are unloaded, exposing those left on board to high temperatures.
The ban is not enough
The federal government recently banned sheep exports to the Middle East between June 1 and September 14 this year, due to heat stress risks. Shipments to Doha are banned from May 22 until September 22.
The government has argued that a longer ban would have too great an impact on the industry. But our results show mortality increases during voyages from September to November, compared with May. This suggests more sheep will die as a result of the shorter ban.
The government introduced other measures this year to try to improve sheep welfare on ships.
First, it will require temperature data to be recorded at two sheep pens per deck. However my group has shown this does not produce representative results.
Read more: Grattan on Friday: Live sheep exports tarnish Australia’s reputation and should be stopped
Second, sheep can be unloaded at no more than two ports. But our results suggest that it is not the number of ports that influenced sheep deaths, but whether sheep were kept in hot conditions on board at Doha.
The COVID-19 pandemic has struck a further blow to sheep welfare. The federal government requires that animal welfare audits are conducted at holding facilities in the destination countries. But quarantine requirements have made these checks difficult.
It’s also worth remembering that heat stress is not the only challenge sheep face en route to the Middle East. They usually have very little space and likely get stressed by ship motion.
A double whammy
The Australian live sheep export trade has declined from about 7 million per year in the late 1980s to about 1 million per year now.
Australia has recently been unable to meet the Middle East’s demand for sheep meat – a problem the industry blames partly on the export ban. Middle East buyers are increasingly turning to the horn of Africa, Europe and Asia.
Compounding this, COVID-19 looks set to force the cancellation of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia culminating in Eid al-Adha – a sheep-eating festival usually celebrated by millions of Muslims.
The double whammy will particularly hurt Western Australia, which in 2019 handled 97% of sheep leaving Australian ports.
If the festival is not cancelled, Australian sheep may be sent early to be stockpiled alive in the Middle East, to avoid the export ban. This would leave them exposed to the high temperatures the Australian government has sought to protect them from on ships.
Some Western Australian sheep farmers have seen the writing on the wall. In the short term, some are turning to alternative livestock, such as prime lamb or beef cattle for domestic consumption or export as carcasses. This has the added benefit of keeping processing jobs in Australia.
In the long term, farmers would do well to look at the rising popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, and the threat to conventional meat production posed by “clean” meat grown in labs.
Some sheep grazing has already been replaced by cropping, and this is likely to increase in future.
There is no quick fix to the problems facing live sheep exports from Australia. The sooner we shift our economic reliance to more humane alternatives, the better.
Read more: Can meat exports be made humane? Here are three key strategies
The ban on live sheep exports was only ever intended to be temporary. The Australian government enacted the ban earlier this year to prevent sheep from being shipped to the Middle East from the beginning of June through to September 22 – the highest heat stress risk period.
During this time, sheep are adapted to the cooler temperatures of a southern Australian winter. And for this reason they find it difficult to cope with the sudden increase in temperature and humidity as the transport vessels undertake the two week journey to the Persian Gulf region
This ban affected any voyages where the vessel would travel through waters in the Arabian Sea north of latitude 11°N at any time – effectively stopping the Middle East sheep trade as the entrance to the Gulf of Aden is at 12°N.
Why are Australian sheep shipped to the Middle East?
It seems outwardly strange to ship live animals (and their feed) across an ocean just for them to be slaughtered for meat shortly after arrival.
But there is a demand for live Australian sheep in the Middle East, which means it’s economically viable for exporters to ship animals from southern Australia, particularly out of Fremantle, but also from ports including Portland and Adelaide.
Read more: Government suspends licence of biggest live sheep exporter
Western Australian farmers received an average price of A$117 for each exported sheep during 2018, so the price of each sheep at the other end must be substantively greater.
There are significant animal welfare challenges in successfully live exporting sheep. Part of the problem has been that the location of the greatest concern for animal welfare is the Australian public. But the Australian public have no consumer power, they’re not the ones buying the sheep.
So, the Australian government has been required to “push” animal welfare requirements down the industry supply pipeline, rather than having these requirements being “pulled” through by market demand.
What we do not know is how the economics would change and whether additional market lines would open up for boxed meat – rather than live sheep – if the live trade were to be stopped.
Why was the ban put in place for the first time in 2019?
The ban was one of the consequences for the live sheep trade after disturbing video footage was revealed in April 2018. The graphic video showed sheep suffering and dying due to apparent heat stress on voyages from Australia to the Middle East.
The government immediately commissioned a review into the conditions for the export of sheep to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer.
Read more: Government to announce increased penalties for live sheep trade
That review made a number of recommendations, which were then implemented by the government, including increases in space allowance for sheep on board and independent auditing of ship ventilation systems. Government-appointed observers were also included on voyages, and the notifiable mortality threshold reduced from 2% to 1% of animals during a voyage.
Since government-appointed observers were included on voyages the notifiable mortality threshold on voyages reduced from 2% to 1% of animals.Trevor Collens/AAP
A key recommendation was that the regulatory framework should change from minimising mortality from heat stress to, instead, safeguarding animal welfare.
The government then commissioned further reviews to determine how to implement this recommendation, including an independent technical reference group.
This report was released on September 20, and the government has stated it will be used along with other information to determine the regulations for how (or if) live sheep shipments occur during the northern summer of 2020.
Are the changes sufficient?
The live export industry argues they have succeeded in making substantial changes to how it operates since the original footage was revealed in 2018.
Whether these will be sufficient to prevent further revelations of heat stress incidents or other adverse animal welfare outcomes remains to be seen.
Read more: Australia’s history of live exports is more than two centuries old
Including independent observers on voyages to keep an eye on animal welfare should increase the transparency of what happens to sheep during live export shipments. Although, there has been criticism of the delay in reporting from this initiative.
The new arrangements in place since 2018 and the temporary ban from June to September are unlikely to satisfy animal welfare advocates who are against live exports. On the other hand, the live export industry argues the sector is important for Australian livelihoods, including supporting sheep farmers.
What’s more, the current coalition government has repeatedly stated its commitment to maintaining a live export industry. Interestingly, the 2019 federal election was the first time there was a clear policy difference on the issue between the major parties, with the ALP committed to a phase-out of the live export sheep trade.
It will be interesting to watch whether this policy difference will remain after the ALP’s review of its 2019 election policies.
Read more: The ALP promises to phase out live sheep export
But in terms of what more needs to be done, it’s likely impossible for policy-makers to satisfy all parties in the live export debate.
New overarching standards for the export of livestock from Australia are scheduled to be introduced soon, covering more than just heat stress risk.
However, those who are against the trade in live animals are unlikely to be persuaded to desist in their efforts. A repeated history of damaging incidents and revelations serves as a reminder of what may happen again in the future if the industry does not get to grips with its animal welfare responsibilities.