The implementation of a new law that would have reduced the number of cattle permitted on live export ships sailing from Australia has been put on hold.
- A change to animal welfare laws that would mean fewer livestock on vessels has been delayed
- Exporters and former Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie have questioned the science behind the new rules
- · The RSPCA has rejected those concerns, saying the “science is clear”
Days before new animal welfare laws were expected to come into effect, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has changed the rules to allow exporters to continue to load cattle at existing stocking densities.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment said Mr Littleproud had decided to make last-minute amendments that would be in place until April 30 next year.
The decision comes after changes to the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) were announced in April following a Federal review sparked by footage of the Awassi Express carrying dead and distressed Australian sheep to the Middle East in April, 2018.
The new ASEL stocking density rule was expected to come into effect on November 1 and would have required more space to be provided for each head of cattle exported.
The ABC understands the changes announced today only relate to cattle and do not include sheep.
The Australian Livestock Exporters Council said the changes amounted to a 17 per cent increase in the space allocated for cattle.
In the case of exports to Indonesia, for example, a vessel that would typically carry 5,000 cattle would be reduced to carrying 4,300.
The Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association (NTLEA) told ABC Rural the reduced stocking density rules had been “tweaked” and would not apply during a trial period.
NTLEA chief executive Will Evans said the reprieve would allow exporters to prove that current stocking densities were delivering good animal welfare outcomes.
Mr Evans said the industry had been told by the Government that the new stocking rate would not be imposed for at least six months, and exporters that maintained low mortality rates would be allowed to continue to export at a higher stocking density.
“It’s essentially an audition period,” Mr Evans said.
“Those exporters who have a rolling average of 0.1 per cent mortality rate or lower will be able to maintain the [current] stocking density.
“But those who don’t will need to go to the new ASEL 3.0 stocking densities.
“So for the next six months, you’ll be able to maintain access to current stocking densities.”It gives us a period to prove what we’re saying is true.”
ASEL 3.0 changes coming to live export industryDownload 4 MB
Bulk of recommendations to be adopted
Despite the last-minute change to stocking densities, Mr Evans said other significant changes to the way live animals were shipped under ASEL would commence as planned on November 1.
“Out of the 49 recommendations, one of those was about stocking densities,” he said.”The other 48 recommendations are coming into effect next week. “So there will be changes to how many stockmen are on vessels, changes to bedding, changes to the time we have cattle in registered premises.
“It’s an enormous regulatory change that’s coming in next week, it’s the biggest regulatory change to the industry since [the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System] in 2011.”
Cattle exporters had previously suggested introducing the changes would cost the industry as much as $40 million a year.
Former minister questions science
At a Senate Estimates hearing last week, former Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the new ASEL stocking density was based on “loose science”.
Speaking to officials from the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment, Ms McKenzie said the change would mean as many as 130,000 fewer Australian cattle were sold into South East Asia.
“There isn’t a robust body of science available to us right now to be making these decisions,” she said.”[The standards are] not fit for purpose, for our industry, our place in the world, our markets.” The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has lobbied for an end to the live export trade, described Ms McKenzie’s appearance at Estimates as disappointing and feared a potential policy shift.
“The science is clear around stocking density reduction for cattle on these voyages,” RSPCA spokesman Jed Goodfellow said.
“This is simply about giving animals a little bit more space so they can lie down during the voyages, which sometimes take over two weeks, to give them further space to access food and water troughs.
“I hope Minister Littleproud will stand strong on these reforms that he himself has overseen and introduced.”
Mr Littleproud’s office has been contacted for comment.