Hold on killing rejected sheep

Melissa Williams and AAPCountryman

An injunction has been granted to prevent a state veterinary department in Pakistan destroying 21,000 Australian sheep that were caught up in live trade disruptions in the Middle East this month.

On Tuesday it was understood the sheep were still being held in a feedlot in the southern Pakistan port city of Karachi after being unloaded in that market two weeks ago.

This followed the rejection of the Wellard shipment in its original destination market of Bahrain because of claims some animals were infected with scabby mouth.

Wellard was advised on Monday that a state veterinary department in Pakistan had issued orders that prevented the Australian sheep from entering the consumer supply chain and required the sheep to be destroyed.

Wellard said it was unclear on what animal health grounds the orders were enacted and the orders conflicted with previous advice from regulatory authorities that blood tests taken from the sheep were either still being analysed or confirmed the sheep were free from disease - and were therefore safe for human consumption.

_Countryman _ understands an injunction was granted on Monday night to prevent the sheep being put down. The sheep are now owned by the PK Livestock Meat Company and reported to be worth $1.31 million (130 million Pakistani rupees).

PK Livestock Meat Company owner Tariq Butt said provincial authorities had ordered the culling of the sheep earlier this week on the basis of reports from a single laboratory.

It is understood the company has been holding urgent meetings with the local government in Karachi to resolve the issue and the Association of Pakistan Meat Exporters and Processors has reportedly called for further testing and a third party investigation.

Wellard said the sheep were physically inspected by Pakistani veterinary health officials on arrival two weeks ago and approved for import.

The sheep were also assessed and approved by the Federal Government as meeting export animal health protocols, cleared for export by AQIS and the vet on board the Ocean Drover had reported no problems with the consignment.

"We are not sure what is going on, as the sheep are healthy," Wellard managing director Mauro Balzarini said in a statement.

"They are from healthy Australian flocks that feed Australian and international consumers with chops and roasts on a daily basis with no risk to human health.

"Previous tests have demonstrated that the sheep are healthy and free of disease and that sheep from the same consignment were accepted without issue in other markets (Qatar and Oman).

"We have senior people in Pakistan at the moment and are working with the Australian Government and Pakistani authorities."

Wellard's empty Ocean Drover ship is now in transit back to Australia to prepare another load but it is understood the company will continue to work with PK Livestock Meat Company to help sort out the situation in Pakistan.

It is understood the Bahrain and Pakistan importing companies were approved under the Australian Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

Australian live export protocols require exporters to have 'back-up' orders in place should a foreign port reject a shipment.

As per that requirement, Wellard was able to divert the Ocean Drover shipment from its destination in Bahrain to an alternative buyer in Pakistan when Bahrain refused to unload the sheep.

One report out of Pakistan this week said the Australian sheep consignment in question had tested positive in Pakistan for salmonella and actinomyces.

But the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) said the sheep were healthy on departure from Australia and met Pakistan's animal health requirements for imported sheep.

"The welfare and animal health of the sheep was closely monitored by a DAFF-accredited veterinarian on board the vessel and no major disease issues were reported," a DAFF spokesman said.

The same ship that carried the sheep to Bahrain and Pakistan had earlier unloaded animals from the same consignment at Muscat in Oman and Doha in Qatar without incident.

Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Alison Penfold was unavailable for comment when _Countryman _ went to print, but told ABC Radio early this week that Australia simply did not export diseased sheep.

"There are other issues running that are out of our hands and beyond our control," she said. "That's something that we're not in a position to deal with.

"We take our exporting job very seriously."

The Pakistan Daily Times reported on Tuesday that Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had directed the Sindh Government to hold an inquiry into the importing of infected sheep and identify the persons responsible for "this illegal act".

He directed the inquiry findings be provided within seven days.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails