THE fate of close to 60,000 sheep remained in doubt this week as the live export industry faces uncertain times.
In a week of turmoil, the Federal Government suspended the export licence for Emanuel Exports last Friday afternoon – leaving about 60,000 sheep that were due to be exported stranded in the company’s Baldivis depot.
The suspension came three days after its office was raided by Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) animal welfare officers who were seeking documentation to help in the State Government’s own investigation under the Animal Welfare Act 2002.
Emanuel Exports is the largest sheep exporter in Australia and is under investigation for the Awassi Express incident in August 2017 where 2400 stock perished due to heat stress on the way to the Middle East.
Further compounding the issue WA’s second largest exporter of sheep, Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) decided last week not to trade during the northern summer months due to the new allometric stocking rate instituted by the Federal Government during that period, which would make it unviable for the company to export.
LSS has decided to take its trade to South America for the next few months where regulations are less restrictive – it will then reassess if it is worth continuing to trade in Australia.
This leaves the WA sheep industry without two of its biggest purchasers of sheep for live export currently operating in the market.
While the independent regulator issued Emanuel Exports’ licence suspension, much anger has been directed at WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan, who ordered the raid on the company’s West Perth office.
She has been accused of interfering in the Federal Government investigation and going beyond her portfolio and powers, by other Ministers and State farming organisations WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA).
Despite all the industry outrage and calls for her to step aside, Ms MacTiernan this week brushed off the criticism and appears determined to phase out the trade.
She welcomed the Federal Government’s action to suspend the live export licence, although she said it was a month too late.
“For many months we have said the elements that have undermined the industry’s credibility should be brought to account,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“We believe the decision vindicates the work we have been doing to find alternative markets to supply during the Middle Eastern high summer.
“It was always going to be unsustainable to allow ships to go to the Middle East in the northern high summer months.
“We again extend our offer to work co-operatively with the Federal Government in our respective investigations into animal welfare issues relating to live sheep exports as well as in finding other ways of providing sheep meat to the Middle East.”
On Monday afternoon Ms MacTiernan held a snap press conference where she said it was the Federal Government’s lack of action over the past seven years to address the export issues that had got the industry into the current situation.
She said former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was to blame for not ensuring the industry was regulated and exporters were held accountable for their actions.
“From the very outset we have said to the Federal Government – ‘please learn the lesson of 2011’, and the lesson was not that you don’t take action, but you don’t take action in a way that leaves thousands of animals trapped in the supply chain,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Which is why we wanted a decision made two months ago that we wouldn’t be taking animals into the northern summer.
“I absolutely reject that suggestion that we are having it both ways – we understood the lesson of 2011.”
In another strange twist to the saga, Ms MacTiernan seems to believe she should now be in charge of brokering deals on the sale of the stranded sheep, saying on Monday that she had been in contact with “major WA meat processors” which had offered to work together to take on the 60,000 sheep – although Farm Weekly understands that she has not engaged with Emanuel Exports directly to see if that would even be an option for them.
“WA meat processor, Fletchers International has confirmed to the State Government that it is willing to purchase the 60,000 sheep stranded in a local feedlot, and is working with other local processors to take on additional sheep in coming months,” she said.
However, if Fletchers International did purchase the sheep they would have to be driven from Perth to the Narrikup abattoir at a cost and then fed in a feedlot for four weeks to fatten up while Fletchers undergoes its annual maintenance program.
Beaufort River Meats and WAMMCO are also closing in the next week to undergo scheduled maintenance, because this is the usual time that processors have a lull in the market.
Ms MacTiernan brought together WA meat processors a few weeks ago to discuss capacity during the northern summer months – and “they made it clear they could increase their capacity,” she said.
“While the short notice provided by the Federal Government before suspending Emanuel Exports’ licence has created challenges, processors have indicated that they can take on the sheep left stranded in a local feedlot,” she said.
But there is also a possibility that Emanuel Exports may still be able to export the sheep through another licence holder.
Farm Weekly understands that Emanuel Exports would prefer to export the sheep as its client in the Middle East is expecting the sheep, and negotiations are underway with another exporter to take the sheep within the week.
In a statement released last weekend, Emanuel Exports director Nicholas Daws said the company had been advised the export licence would remain suspended pending a full review of its response to a recent show cause notice.
It is believed the Perth-based company has engaged its lawyers and has been given about 14 days from the time of suspension to respond to allegations, after which they could be back in business.
Mr Daws said Emanuels would co-operate fully with the DAWR in its review.
“It is not appropriate to provide any further public comment until the Department has completed its review,” Mr Daws said.
The immediate reaction was concern and uncertainty from producers who have been preparing sheep to export – and now have less competition in the market – which has already seen a drop of $20-$30 per head for some lines.
Parts of WA have also been suffering dry seasonal conditions more so than others, and fears are that they may have to shoot their stock if they are unable to source enough feed to carry them through, or find an alternative market.
With Emanuel Exports and LSS out of the market people looked to other exporters to take up the slack, but Wellard said its ships were engaged in overseas markets already and it was unlikely that it would re enter the live sheep trade under the current situation.
Fletchers International was contacted for comment.
WITH 40 years experience transporting livestock, Stockhaul WA owner Mark Fleming has significant concerns about the future of the live export trade.
Farm Weekly caught up with Mr Fleming on Tuesday at the Muchea Livestock Centre, from where he carries sheep for regular customers each week.
He said Stockhaul was 95 per cent focussed on the transport of sheep across the State and the removal of the live export trade would have considerable ramifications on the company.
“Twenty per cent of our business would disappear overnight and some carriers would be even more involved in it, so there would be a significant effect,” Mr Fleming said.
“Most people that are livestock carriers, a certain percentage of their business would be aligned to live export.”
Mr Fleming said while recent vision of sheep suffering on board an export vessel was unacceptable, it was not a true reflection of the trade.
He said it was not in the interests of exporters, producers or transporters to mistreat animals.
“Their regard to welfare is as high as anyone else’s is because it’s their livelihood,” he said.
Mr Fleming said over-regulation of the trade could have a similar effect to the completing banning of it, and it was important that excessive red tape was avoided within in the industry if it was to continue.
“You can over-regulate and if things like loading densities become too stupid, industry won’t be able to survive anyway because costs will just become horrendous,” Mr Fleming said .
“They’re already fairly dear now, so it makes it difficult.”
He said it was now a matter of “wait and see” as to how developments within the live export trade unfolded, and the flow-on effects that would transpire and affect transporters.