THE live export industry will be under more pressure if the recommendations of the draft report on heat stress risk in live sheep exports to the Middle East are accepted.
The draft report, which was put together by the independent Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA) Technical Reference Panel, was released last week by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and is open for public submissions.
The HSRA panel recommended an animal welfare focus “using the heat stress threshold to assess the risk of heat stress occurring in the various categories of sheep shipped from Australia, rather than assessing the risk of mortality”.
It recommended that the “wet bulb temperature (WBT) welfare limit for a standardised shipper sheep is 28 degrees Celsius” and that “the model should use a 98 per cent probability that the deck temperatures the sheep would be exposed to during a planned voyage, would remain at or below the WBT welfare limit”.
The executive summary of the report said the WBT welfare limit was recommended to be 28oC for “a standardised Merino wether sheep of 56 kilograms adult, body condition score 3, zone 3, winter acclimatised and recently shorn”.
“It is recommended to be used prospectively in planning voyages as a limit, whereby there would be a 98pc probability that the deck temperatures the sheep would be exposed to during a planned voyage would remain at or below the WBT welfare limit.”
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) has expressed its concern about the “science” that the recommendations were based on and will submit a response during the public submission stage of the process, which is open until the end of January 2019.
PGA president Tony Seabrook said that wet bulb temperature alone would end the trade as the temperature could reach 28oC in Fremantle before livestock were loaded.
WA-based Australian accredited veterinarian Haydn Roeger said he was “perplexed” by the need for the additional regulations to the live export trade having seen “people bleeding big time” from the “socio economic effect” of the changes made to the industry so far.
Dr Roeger said the impact had been felt by truck drivers, shearers, producers and exporters and would get worse if the trade was phased out.
He called on all live export industry stakeholders to enter a submission to the report to ensure that their voices were heard and common sense could prevail.
Dr Roeger said there should be a “full investigation into Animals Australia” if what former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said recently under parliamentary privilege was accurate – that the whistleblower had been paid to create the footage aired on TV.
He didn’t see the need for any additional regulations after the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council imposed a three-month moratorium on live export during the northern hemisphere summer, starting on June 1, 2019.
Dr Roeger said the moratorium was a good move if it kept the trade open.
The 63-year-old has worked on live export vessels for years and said he had never encountered a situation like what happened on the Awassi Express in August last year.
“There have been heat events that we have managed and always had a successful voyage,” Dr Roeger said.
He said he had recently completed a voyage onboard the Anna Marra (Awassi Express) and had no issues.
“I’m perplexed by this, I believe it has gone too far,” Dr Roeger said of the increasing regulations.
“To have a successful voyage you really need to have your finger on the pulse of everything on board.”
Dr Roeger said moving the trade from mortality reporting to be more animal welfare based would be difficult because “people think differently to one another”.
What one observer thought was proper care and procedure might not be the same standard as another,’’ he said.
“No one wants welfare issues on ships.
“You are stuck out there (on the ocean) and you do your best.
“I’ve had sheep on wet bulbs above 28-30oC and there hasn’t been major issues with them.
“Some animals will make adaptive measures.”
Dr Roeger said there had been situations where the heat was rising and to influence that the vessel had “zig-zagged to reduce the wet bulb by 3oC”.
“I’ve done that,” Dr Roeger said.
“It’s a preventative measure that enabled us to still present a good cargo at the end.”
The HSRA panel also recommended that the “base space allowance for sea voyages should be determined by the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock and then adjusted according to the HSRA”.
“Environmental conditions in the destination ports (should also) be taken into account and recognise the ongoing need to measure and record environmental conditions accurately and at a sufficient number of relevant locations on board vessels to provide transparent monitoring and protection of livestock welfare,” the HSRA panel said.
Work on a new approach to heat stress risk assessment for the live export of sheep to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer was a recommendation from Michael McCarthy’s review.
The department convened a technical reference panel to test Mr McCarthy’s recommendations, with expertise across the animal welfare, heat stress and animal science fields, along with an Australian Maritime Safety Authority representative.
Submissions to the draft report will be analysed by the panel in finalising its report and recommendations to the department.
The aim is for new HSRA settings to be implemented in 2019 – before the next northern hemisphere summer.
Whether the report makes a difference to the way livestock will be exported in the future still remains to be seen after ALEC announced its moratorium on live sheep exports to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer in response to heat stress risk concerns.
That move would negate much of the work being done.
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said calm and decisive action, based on science was required to reset the industry and part of the government’s response was scientific analysis of animal welfare standards.
Mr Littleproud said the “sheep export industry and ship owners had not been proactive enough in dealing with this in the past and must now commit to investment in better technology to keep the industry sustainable”, such as “to dehumidify their boats”.
“Exporters have significantly gained financially in the past from this industry and it’s now imperative they reinvest back into their industry immediately,” Mr Littleproud said.
Mr Seabrook asked why exporters would invest in an industry that was being over regulated and may not have a future because of it?
ALEC said it was consulting with sheep producers and other supply chain stakeholders following the release of the draft report.
ALEC would examine the details of the proposed HSRA and work with its partners in the supply chain to produce a comprehensive response.
“It is very clear that the draft HSRA, as it stands, would have a significant impact on Australia’s sheep industry, especially in WA,” ALEC said.
“With regard to industry reform, exporters, producers and other supply chain stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the Federal government’s imminent release of the updated Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).
“The updated ASEL, alongside HSRA requirements, will provide much needed certainty regarding the practical and commercial parameters on which the livestock export industry will operate in the future.
“In the meantime, exporters will continue to make significant investments in technology to monitor and manage welfare risks, reflecting the care we have for the animals in our supply chains, while working hard to maintain a commercially viable trade.”
WAFarmers president Tony York said the organisation was concerned that some of the heat stress modelling assumptions used in the report may have skewed some of the findings.
“More work needs to be done before the industry can accept any final recommendations,” Mr York said.
“Since April, a whole raft of new conditions has been put in place as a result of the McCarthy and Moss reviews and these new measures have proven effective as reported by independent observer reports.
“The trade will also be implementing new standards as a result of the review into the ASEL, which will complement the welfare improvements already in place.
“WAFarmers believes these measures have proven sufficient to allow the trade to continue whilst further welfare assessments are conducted.
“It is clear that the draft HSRA report suggestions will have significant impacts on, not only the live sheep trade, but will have flow-on effects to other industries.”
Mr York said WAFarmers would continue to engage with the trade to analyse the outcomes of the initial HSRA report and would be providing a comprehensive response in late January.
“Our response will advocate in the best interests of WA sheep producers and the animals they produce,” Mr York said.
“It is important to get these parameters right, as once these are ascertained, the industry can employ new technologies to ensure the continuation of the trade for all livestock, given the importance of multi-species shipments.”
The RSPCA said it welcomed the “long overdue acknowledgement of the scientific evidence regarding the inevitable heat stress experienced by sheep during the Middle Eastern summer months”.
“The recommendation to shift the HSRA model from one based on animal mortality to one based on animal welfare will have significant consequences for the trade’s viability with the likely cessation of the May to October summer trade,” the RSPCA said.
“The RSPCA has long maintained that if the live sheep trade was forced to reconcile its practices with basic animal welfare standards it would no longer be viable.
“This report is another significant step towards the live sheep trade’s inevitable end.
“There is no future in live sheep export – sheep producers and farming groups must act now to prepare for business beyond this cruel trade, rather than fighting against the inevitable.
“The RSPCA continues to urge the government to face up to this reality and assist producers with an ordered phase-out of the trade.”