Tour a first for WA live export industry
Desperate to repair its tattered public image after the Awassi Express scandal, Western Australia's live sheep export industry has thrown open its doors to media for the first time.
There was widespread outrage last year after footage was broadcast of thousands of sheep dead, dying and suffering in sweltering and filthy conditions on the Middle East-bound ship chartered by Perth-based Emanuel Exports, which lost its licence.
After the regulator imposed changes on the sector, including a 17.5 per cent reduction in stocking densities, the industry slapped a three-month moratorium on itself, suspending sheep shipments to the Middle East during the northern summer, commencing June 1.
It is now in the midst of a PR blitz, creating a group called "The Sheep Collective" consisting of WA sheep producers, transport and feedlot operators, exporters and importers, which recently gave members of parliament a tour of the Al Shuwaikh.
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It was the media's turn on Friday and in a WA first, reporters and camera operators got on board the Al Messilah while sheep were being loaded.
Shipboard veterinarian Renee Willis said the stocking density change was the most significant improvement.
Previously, the animals had little room to move.
"I think that has changed the behaviour of the animals on board the ship, definitely," Ms Willis said.
She said the moratorium was also "a huge step forward" that would make a big difference to animal welfare standards.
"This industry is under the microscope," Ms Willis said.
"There have been a lot of changes made continually throughout the industry and definitely, when there are crisis periods, that's a time for making as many changes as we can."
Farmers Federation national president Fiona Simpson was at the tour and said it was the first time she had been on a live export ship.
She told AAP she'd consider travelling to the Middle East to see one arrive after the journey from Australia, which takes two to three weeks.
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