THE Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) has fired back at comments made by Queensland University professor Clive Phillips, who suggested that Western Australia sheep producers should look for alternative markets to the live export trade as its days were numbered.
Mr Phillips is a professor of Animal Welfare at the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics at the university and wrote an article published in The Conversation titled "New findings show Australian sheep face dangerous heat stress on export ships" published on May 5 and in subsequent media publications.
He is a scientific advisory committee member of Voiceless - an anti-live export advocacy group - and was appointed to the Technical Reference Panel during the Heat Stress Risk Assessment Review undertaken recently as part of reforms within the live sheep export trade.
In the closing remarks of his article professor Phillips said "some WA sheep farmers have seen the writing on the wall".
"In the short-term, some are turning to alternative livestock, such as prime lamb or beef cattle for domestic consumption or export as carcasses," professor Phillips said.
"This has the added benefit of keeping processing jobs in Australia.
"In the long-term, farmers would do well to look at the rising popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, and the threat to conventional meat production posed by 'clean' meat grown in labs.
"Some sheep grazing has already been replaced by cropping and this is likely to increase in future.
"There is no quick fix to the problems facing live sheep exports from Australia.
"The sooner we shift our economic reliance to more humane alternatives, the better."
ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said he didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to Mr Phillips' article, "however, I strongly believe a response is necessary".
Mr Harvey-Sutton said "the scientific field that considers the impacts of heat stress on animal welfare is inherently complex, which in turn gives rise to debate about the veracity of scientific conclusions".
"The current results speak for themselves and conclusions need to be made based on the dedicated and professional work of the stock hands and veterinarians that accompany these voyages," he said.
Mr Harvey-Sutton said the professor used "outdated data to justify his arguments and pre-dates the reforms under which industry currently operates".
"With, industry approved, significantly reduced stocking densities that provide exported sheep with substantially more room onboard and the industry-led introduction of a self-imposed summer moratorium the data used is obsolete," Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
"The results since the reforms speak for themselves.
"On the ship Al Kuwait's recently concluded maiden voyage, of the 60,183 sheep exported there were only 62 mortalities.
"This follows the excellent animal welfare outcomes achieved during shipments made in 2019, evidenced by the very low mortalities on these voyages."
Mr Harvey-Sutton said cultural heritage and religious requirements may not be top of mind for many Australians, "they are, however, part of the fabric of daily life in many other parts of the world, including the Middle East".
"Demand for live sheep is part of this and needs to be recognised and respected," he said.
"Food security and high quality protein has never been more important for our trading partners and the livestock export industry has the responsibility to meet their needs.
"While I do not know Clive Phillips personally, I do know that he is on the record as opposing the livestock export trade, even before his appointment to the Technical Reference Panel.
"I would welcome the opportunity to meet with him to discuss his article and bring him up to date on the current industry and how animal welfare is part of good business and remains an industry focus."
Mr Harvey-Sutton said the reference panel drew on a narrow range of scientific conclusions to justify an arbitrary measurement for assessing heat stress.
"The panel's recommendations were not only impractical for implementing on livestock vessels, they were impractical at all levels of animal production," Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
"Australia's farming community reacted accordingly in rejecting those recommendations."
He said Mr Phillips' conclusions read "as pre-disposed" and his advice to producers that the trade was finished and that "producers need to adjust is gratuitous at best and I am confident it will be rejected by producers".
Mr Harvey-Sutton said he joined ALEC at the beginning of 2019 and since commencing has been continually reminded of the past and incidents that have occurred during its history.
"While it is important to acknowledge the past, it is more important to learn from it and improve," he said.
"The live sheep export industry has listened and continued to improve, and it is time to start looking forward as Australian live exporters are global leaders in animal welfare, as cited by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
"I am proud to stand by the results the live sheep industry has achieved over the past 18 months and how it has pursued its reform agenda.
"I am confidently looking forward to the future of the industry.
"Why? Because so far, the results speak for themselves."