Pakistan sheep cull report clears Wellard

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WARNING: Graphic images: Livestock exporter Wellard has been cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation into the cull of more than 20,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan, angering animal welfare groups.

Footage emerged in September last year of the sheep in a dusty Karachi feedlot, being stabbed, having their throats cut with blunt knives and being thrown into mass graves, with some buried alive.

The sheep arrived in Pakistan after being rejected in Bahrain because some had scabby mouth, which has little effect on a sheep's general health.

Fremantle-based Wellard then successfully asked the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to authorise the sale of sheep to Pakistan under its Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which was formulated in response to the 2011 exposure of cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs.

But further disease fears emerged in Pakistan, leading to the Karachi cull.

Wellard had proof the sheep were healthy but its staff, and the employees of importer PK Livestock, were forcibly removed from the feedlot.

After an investigation, DAFF concluded today that the handling and slaughter of the sheep was a serious breach of international animal welfare recommendations.

But it cleared Wellard, saying it complied with the conditions of exporting to Pakistan, except when risks to personal safety or intervention by local authorities prevented it from doing so.

"Intervention by the Pakistan authorities and accompanying armed police was beyond the control of Wellard and could not have been avoided through the exercise of all due care," DAFF said.

While DAFF said it "may require significant assurances to be satisfied" that any future bids to export livestock to Pakistan will not result in more animal cruelty, animal welfare groups were outraged.

Animals Australia, which obtained the footage of the cull, said DAFF had failed as the live export industry's regulator, questioning its independence and willingness to make the companies accountable.

It was shocking Wellard was considered blameless, Animals Australia said.

"It is obvious that Wellard's loss of control of their supply chain and resultant brutal cull of the animals was a direct result of Pakistan not being informed about the history of the shipment," campaign director Lyn White said.

RSPCA Australia agreed, saying there should have been repercussions for the exporter.

Wellard said it welcomed DAFF's findings.

"Wellard is pleased that DAFF found the company had complied with its regulatory requirements and could not have foreseen the events that occurred," chief executive Mauro Balzarini said.

"However, the sadness created by the events that occurred in Pakistan has not diminished in time and nor has our commitment to keep improving international animal welfare standards."

The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council said the industry had no intention of recommencing exports of feeder or slaughter livestock to Pakistan.

It recommended more diplomatic contact between the Federal Government and officials in importing countries, more effort by the industry to promote awareness of the high health levels of Australian livestock, and consideration of establishing a suitable third country for rejected shipments.

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