More than 50 farmers attended the first morning of the watershed case to support the accused exporter.
Livestock industry representatives anticipate that the trial result could have serious implications for the Australian livestock industry and its farmers.
Many believe the case outcome has the potential to shut down the live export trade ‹ something they say the State Government did not consider when it recently amended the Animal Welfare Act.
State Government prosecutors have alleged that sheep on the MV Al Kuwait were not provided with the correct feed material for such a journey, with no hay or chaff on board for sheep that fell ill.
The prosecution also alleged the timing of the journey and the age and weight of some of the sheep contributed to the mortalities.
Prosecutor Barry King said heavier and older sheep exported in the second half of the year were more susceptible to illness because they had come off richer pasture and had a higher weight-loss.
Mr King said the main causes of the mortalities were the age and weight of the sheep and the bacterial infection Salmonellosis.
WAFarmers meat section president Mike Norton said the case could prove pivotal to the continued viability of the live export industry.
³It is a very technical case and it will test the Animal Welfare legislation and how it applies to the handling and transport of livestock,² Mr Norton said.
³This case is in regard to shipping, but who is to say it won¹t be applied to road transport of stock, feedlotting and even extend to on-farm practices in the future.²
Mr Norton said the interpretation of the Animal Welfare Act was the main area of concern.
³It will come down to who is responsible in the management and handling of livestock and how far through the chain of command it extends,² he said.
³The outcome of this case will really set a precedent for the handling and management of all livestock in all scenarios in the future.²
Mr Norton said the way the legislation was written and interpreted needed reviewing.
³At the moment there is too much ambiguity within the legislation because all states operate under different acts,² he said.
³It is crucial to bring it all under a federal banner and put uniform standards and codes in place so everyone works under the same legislation.
³Currently state law contravenes federal law, which is an unworkable situation.²
Mr Norton said the State Government needed to bring the WA Animal Welfare Act into line with the rest of the country.
³Presently everything relies on interpretation of the judiciary which puts the state in a ludicrous position and leaves farmers and live exporters with nothing but confusion,² he said.
³Without the live export industry we would see the WA livestock market collapse, there are not enough abattoirs in WA to support a domestic market here and the only other alternative is to truck sheep to the east, a practice that would probably also attract scrutiny from animal rights groups.²
Pastoralists and Graziers Association meat and livestock chairman Tim D¹Arcy said it was a scandal that while many producers were fighting to save their properties from the spate of bushfires that flared last week, the livestock industry was under attack by state bureaucrats.
³Bureaucrats and lawyers have spent several years working with the Animal Welfare Act to increase their powers and are demon-strating an almost obscene haste in testing these new powers against one of our major livestock exporters,² Mr D¹Arcy said.
He said bureaucrats and their supporters in the animal rights lobby refused to accept that without the capacity to successfully ship millions of sheep and hundreds of thousands of cattle live from WA in the past 12 months, many of the animals would have perished on farms from drought, fire or flood with owners helpless to prevent it.
³All producers are questioning why the State government is so keen to undermine the live export industry in this way, forcing Emanual Exports into a costly and potentially devastating defence of previously approved procedures,² Mr D¹Arcy said.
³The critical future impact of this case is demonstrated by the fact that it has attracted the solid backing of the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund.
³Producers throughout Austra-lia see this action as a blatant test of strength by a State government showing its readiness to pander to the animal rights lobby before protecting the vital interests of WA¹s livestock producers.
³It is an action that ignores the massive advances being made by the live export industry to im-prove its procedures at home and within the markets of its overseas consumers. We must now wait and see how WA¹s justice system interprets new laws introduced under pressure from a minority group that is openly hostile to our industry.²
The trial is set to run for a week.