THE Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) has hit back at Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud after he publicly demanded a response to concerns of inaction over animal welfare improvements dating back to 2003.
ALEC chairman Simon Crean responded to the letter that the minister published in a statement prior to Christmas, saying the minister had resisted engagement to find a way forward for the live export industry as well as correcting his “inaccurate” statements.
Mr Crean didn’t let Mr Littleproud off lightly, saying since he was “appointed Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, apart from one heated exchange, you have resisted my many attempts to engage with you, both on progress and the way forward”.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook has said he has also experienced heated moments with the minister at times, due to a lack of face-to-face engagement with the industry and not being available.
“Now in the interest of securing the viability of the trade, I am pleased that you have finally agreed to meet and discuss our reset and the way forward,” Mr Crean said.
But in the wake of this year’s election and the Australian Labor Party’s position to phase out live sheep exports has thorough engagement been left too late?
Mr Littleproud had asked ALEC how quickly new technology could be installed on live export ships ahead of the northern hemisphere summer – even though ALEC said it was imposing a moratorium on exports to the Middle East during that time.
He also accused ALEC of not doing any “work on the solution” to research undertaken into heat stress models.
Mr Crean said animal welfare was the highest priority area for the organisation and that was why “through LiveCorp, (ALEC) commissioned research in 2015 on the development of animal welfare indicators, including those directly associated with heat stress, and that work is ongoing”.
“This work was commissioned following receipt of reports on improving industry’s social licence in 2013 and 2014,” Mr Crean said.
“This work has included extensive literature and community research and has already moved to trialling.
“While the distressing events of the Awassi Express indicate that further work must be done, this has been an ongoing part of ALEC’s business and assertions that the work is simply a reaction to industry incidents is inaccurate.”
Mr Crean went on to say that the Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA) Technical Reference Panel’s draft report would make the industry unviable, while questioning the panel’s make-up.
He said one of the Guiding Principles of the HSRA Technical Panel was to “be cognisant of the government’s policy that supports a sustainable livestock export trade”.
“We submit that the draft recommendations render the trade unsustainable,” he said.
“We note that the subject of heat stress risk is extremely complex, with the current HSRA model being developed from the combined expertise of animal behaviour and welfare experts, engineers, statisticians, regulators and practitioners.
“We note that the Technical Reference Panel only contains animal welfare expertise (and a representative from Australian Maritime Safety Authority) and one of the panel members is closely associated with groups opposed to the trade.”
Mr Crean said the work that had been done “has shown that heat stress can be monitored and can be managed by industry – this is why we have supported a shift to animal welfare indicators rather than mortality”.
“Because of this ongoing research, ALEC is deeply concerned over the content of the HSRA Technical Reference Panel’s draft report referenced in your letter,” Mr Crean said.
“The draft recommendations contained in this report, if adopted, will result in the end of the live sheep trade, with the potential for severe contagion to cattle.”
Mr Crean said the end result of the draft report would be “a threshold/risk setting that is impossible to meet”.
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“The panel seems to have ignored evidence, including from Australian Accredited Veterinarian reports, and those from independent observers, that for a large part of the year sheep on voyages to the Middle East suffer no overwhelming serious discomfort at wet bulb temperatures of 28 degrees,” he said.
“A closure of the sheep trade, as a result of the panel’s report, will have an enormous impact on producers, particularly those in WA, a source of extreme concern to ALEC.
“Of equal concern is that new animal welfare benchmarks in the report, which are unprecedented globally in terms of their requirements, will have implications over time for domestic sheep production practices and management of both heat stress and cold stress – standards cannot be introduced in one section of the supply chain without implications for all sections when root causes are the same.”
He said the statement that “little investment has been made by industry voluntarily and any investment in research that is underway has occurred only after the Awassi Express incident” was inaccurate.
“Since 2013, the industry has invested heavily in animal welfare research, as well as training for industry participants both domestically and in-market, technologies that improve animal welfare, investment in new vessels and enhanced infrastructure on vessels.”
Mr Crean said ALEC would be responding to the HSRA draft report as well as making a “supplementary submission to the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) review”.
Submissions to the draft report need to be in by the end of the month.
Mr Littleproud said that his office had met with ALEC “numerous times this year” and that “ALEC has twice lodged last minute drop in requests which couldn’t be accommodated due to other commitments in the diary”.
“I’ve also met with exporters including recently in WA,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I share ALEC’s concern about the future of the live sheep export industry which is why I hope they work with me and grasp the urgency of this situation.”