Industry united in condemnation: NFF

Melissa Williams and AAPCountryman

The considerable crisis enveloping the live export industry deepened this week, as footage of the recent cull of 21,000 sheep in Pakistan was aired on the ABC's Four Corners.

The report sparked renewed calls from animal welfare groups and the Australian Greens to ban the trade that underpins the WA sheep market.

Exporters have been bearing the brunt of the fallout from the Pakistan incident, including mounting pressure from groups within Australia to halt the export of live animals, combined with trading difficulties on the back of a high Australian dollar and compliance costs for shipping animals under new export regulations.

But WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman John Edwards said it was business as usual for exporters and they would ride out these latest attacks on the trade, which were based on information that had been publicly available for the past two months.

"Four Corners was a Clayton's analysis - the analysis you are having when you are not having an analysis," he said. "It was a biased and flawed report."

Mr Edwards said live exporters would continue to drive a push for animal welfare improvements in the trade and ensure there was as much rigour as possible in the system.

Animals Australia provided Four Corners with sheep slaughter footage that was filmed in Karachi during September.

It said what happened to these sheep, imported by PK Livestock in Pakistan from exporter Wellard, highlighted the failure of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) and the fact that when things went wrong there was little Australia could do.

ESCAS regulations were introduced in response to Animals Australia's 2011 footage provided to Four Corners, exposing brutal mistreatment of Australian cattle at several abattoirs in Indonesia.

Greens Senator Christine Milne said the Pakistan footage was similarly shocking, showing Australian sheep being buried alive, and should convince the Australian public to help end live animal exports.

She said the Greens had a Bill in both houses of parliament to ban the trade and called on the public to campaign their local members on this issue.

The Greens' Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012 was debated in the Senate this month.

However, at that stage, the Bill appeared destined to fail a future vote in the Senate - the date of which remains unclear.

RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neil also backed calls to halt live exports, saying the trade was not worth the risk and was inherently cruel.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has defended the trade and ESCAS live animal export regulations, saying the brutal images from Pakistan were distressing but the situation was unprecedented.

He told Four Corners that exporters applying for export permits needed to satisfy the Government that they had control throughout the supply chain and the Pakistani incident would be fully investigated by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

This will include checks on whether Wellard breached ESCAS.

"We look forward to its report to see what happened and how it can be avoided in future," Mr Ludwig said.

"The industry has recognised that the Pakistani market for sheep should be stopped."

Mr Ludwig said the Australian Government could not guarantee what happened in Pakistan would not happen again, but if an exporter did lose control of its supply chain - as occurred with Wellard - the regulatory system was in place to assess what happened and correct it.

He said there could be potential for additional conditions on export licences or other appropriate action as a result of the Pakistani incident.

"In this case a guarantee of control in the supply chain was shown to be impossible for Wellard when the police moved in, took control and oversaw a brutal slaughter of the sheep," he said.

"What is important is that we have put in place a supply chain that assures animal welfare. I said at the start of this system that there would be potential for mistakes and slips."

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said the Agriculture Minister's comments that 'everything was done by all parties involved to protect the sheep from hardship' had become increasingly unbelievable.

"We need to end the live export trade," she said. "The Government has admitted that this (type of incident) could happen in any of the countries where we export livestock from this country."

Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson, who has been a vocal opponent of the live trade, also rejected the Agriculture Minister's assurances and this week called for Wellard's licence to be suspended.

"So far, there's been no action taken to penalise exporters over this debacle, and there was no action taken to penalise exporters over a previous case where some 37 breaches of the licence conditions were detected," he said.

"It's not good enough to call this an isolated incident. We have had cattle in Indonesia, breeder cattle in Turkey, sheep in Egypt, the Cormo Express (and) now sheep in Bahrain and Pakistan."

Heads of the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC), Sheepmeat Council of Australia and Cattle Council of Australia this week wrote to all members of parliament to assure them they were doing all they could to ensure animal welfare was protected in the trade.

NFF president Jock Laurie said the livestock industry was united in its condemnation of how the Australian sheep were treated in Pakistan, but the ESCAS had led to greater animal welfare protections.

"Australia is lifting animal welfare standards across the world to a level that has not been seen in many countries," he said. "What we've got to do is continue down the path of improving the system, and making sure that we're delivering better welfare standards right across the world."

Mr Laurie urged the community not to rush to judgements about the live trade until a formal investigation had taken place.

He said the industry had placed a self-imposed suspension on exports of sheep to Pakistan and Bahrain while an investigation into the slaughter was completed.

Mr Laurie said Wellard had to meet the industry standards to get a licence to export and should be allowed to keep exporting until the investigation was concluded.

The NFF has started a campaign urging the public to show their support for the live export trade, arguing that animal welfare standards in other countries would decline if Australia pulled out of the industry.

The NFF also rejected suggestions from the Greens and Australasian Meat Industries Employees Union that boxed and chilled meat could replace livestock exports by 2014.

ALEC chief executive Alison Penfold said an export ban to Bahrain - a major trading partner for Australia - was the right thing to do, despite its impact on local sheep producers.

"Banning live export outright is not the answer and could do more harm than good. There is a real and genuine reason why having us in the marketplace does improve animal welfare," she said.

It is understood Prime Minister Julia Gillard met her Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Summit in Laos this week and raised the issue of how the Wellard sheep in Pakistan were treated.

It was reported that Pakistani leader Raja Pervez Ashraf agreed to Ms Gillard's request for an investigation.

In the meantime, it has been revealed that Elders has a shipment of 2000 breeder cows - sourced on the east coast - heading to Pakistan.

Mr Ludwig said he was satisfied DAFF had carried out all of the due diligence for the export of the cows.

"Breeder cattle are quite expensive animals to begin with," he told Four Corners. "They are also likely to end up within local herds and be well looked after - they have a long productive life."

Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White questioned why the cattle would be sent to Pakistan before the investigation into the Wellard sheep was concluded.


Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails