WEST Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back says it is “high time” Greens’ Senators, animal activists and others give acknowledgement to livestock producers and exporters for their work to improve animal welfare standards over the years.
“Are those standards at 100 per cent? No, they are not,” the former veterinarian said.
Senator Back said if Australia ever abandoned the live export trade, not only would the meat industry suffer financially, but also “a decline in animal welfare standards” would be the “inevitable outcome”.
“I say, and will go on saying, that, of the 109 countries that export live animals around the world, there is only one country that has ever invested, and continues to invest, time, money and people in improving animal husbandry, animal welfare, nutrition, housing, transport and other standards in those markets and that country is Australia.”
Senator Back made the comments when delivering the half-yearly report on livestock mortality rates for live exports at sea from January 1 to June 30, 2013.
“I comment once again on the excellence of the figures that have been presented to us in the report,” he said.
Senator Back said of 440,000 cattle exported in that time-frame, there were 500 mortalities (0.12 per cent) indicating the cattle survived their journeys in condition “as good as or better than when they left Australia's shores”.
He said of the 805,000 sheep exported, the mortality rate was 9800 (1.12pc), which was “higher than you would normally expect”.
“There was one particular incident in September in the Gulf where the vessel, as I understand it, ran into a most unusual high humidity period for a couple of hours,” he said.
“At different times I have read - although I never experienced this when I was a veterinarian on live sheep ships - about that type of circumstance, but prior to that and after that the mortality levels have been very low.
“If you remove those (anomalies), we are back down to 0.7pc, which I think is a remarkable statistic and speaks to Australia's excellence over the last 40 years in leading the world in the transport of livestock to the points of export, transport on vessels, transport to feedlots, behaviour, nutrition and husbandry at ports.
“Unfortunately, during the bushfire season here in Australia during January, on one day alone we lost 7000 sheep in a bushfire in one of our southern States.
“Australia has always and, regrettably, will always face those sorts of events.
“It is the resilience of our producers, the excellence of our exporters and, I dare say, the excellence of our regulators who oversee this process that drive the improvements that always go on.”
Senator Back also reported that Australia was responsible for almost uniquely supplying sheep and therefore sheepmeat to 700,000 refugees currently moving across Syria’s troubled borders.
He said the number of refugees displaced by the “atrocities going on in Syria” at the moment was approaching 1 million.
“It is my understanding that meat forms about 18 pc of the accumulated foodstuffs for those people,” he said.
“This country can be very proud that, as a result of the long-term contracts we have had, as a result of the excellence of the stock that leave this country and are transported and arrive in those destinations - in this case Jordan and its associated Gulf states - we are playing our role in providing foodstuffs.
“Should anyone say, 'Surely we could send this meat frozen or chilled,' I would dare say that, with the standard of infrastructure in the refugee camps supporting some 700,000 to 1 million people, refrigeration would not be high on the priority list.”