WAFarmers has strongly reiterated the importance of upholding live sheep export standards by only using the best vessels during the northern hemisphere summer conditions, and by holding the regulators to account.
The comments come after the release of the WAFarmers live export recommendations, released last month.
“The conditions on the Awassi Express last year were absolutely unacceptable, and when this is in conjunction with both sub-standard animal welfare mechanisms and high-stress weather conditions, the need for reform is made more immediate,” WAFarmers President Tony York said.
“As an industry, we urge that only ships and carriers with the best possible animal welfare delivery mechanisms, coupled with the best track records, are used to transport into high risk areas.
“Australia has the ability to transport animals in modern ships with much higher animal welfare abilities than what the 60 Minutes footage portrayed.
“If we can get all of these points and recommendations to align, plus have some further improvements, there should be no reason why animals cannot arrive safely and in the best possible condition.”
Mr York said live export animal welfare was paramount and that while the government of today cannot take the full blame for past breaches, it has the power to ensure welfare standards and protocols are enforced properly.
“This is not just about export operators; government regulators must step up and take responsibility for live sheep export issues,” Mr York said.
“Current and previous regulatory bodies have clearly neglected their obligations under ESCAS and ASEL.
“We gave government the tools and expected that they would uphold the standards and commitment that we and our community expect.
“We, as everyone else in our community, do not want to see this situation repeated; it is time that all due resourcing is put back into the industry that much of Australia’s wealth and reputation was, and still is, built on.”
“Federally, there has been around $40 million stripped out of resourcing for agriculture over the last 15 years or so, and for an industry that contributed three per cent to the 2016-17 GDP, something has to give if that level of cuts is to continue.
“ESCAS, ASEL and LGAP are all systems that have been developed by industry, using industry finances in an attempt to ensure world-leading animal welfare standards.
“It is time more resources and care are put back into the system so we can effectively support our agreements to help other countries meet their food sustainability ambitions for their people.”
WAFarmers Livestock Section President David Slade said many politicians were being influenced by the emotional aspect of the issue.
“There are backbenchers and some others within the political arena that are acting irresponsibly by being led only by the emotive,” he said.
“They are being held to blackmail by individuals and minorities trying to capitalise on personal agendas, rather than constructively ensuring standards are adhered to.
“If this was truly about animal welfare for all animals, they would want Australia involved and continuing to lead the way in changing mindsets and activities in the trade areas we currently supply.”
Mr York said Australian systems had achieved many of the vast improvements seen in the marketplace over the last 10 to 15 years.
“There have been processes of education and regulatory reporting introduced that have forced cultural change in relation to livestock handling, welfare and slaughter; systems such that are not recognised, let alone adhered to by other international exporters that would fill the void if Australian sheep were not available,” he said.
Both Mr York and Mr Slade highlighted the importance of this market to the economic wellbeing of regional Western Australia as a whole.
“If the trade was to end, we believe there would be around $80 to 150 million of directly related income removed from the regional Western Australian economy, but that is the tip of the iceberg,” Mr York said.
“The flow-on effects when that kind of money disappears out of communities as fragile as some towns in WA are, would be devastating as it would see loss of population, resources, community connection and eventually, death of those communities.
“People not directly related to these towns or these conditions often don’t see the issue and have no respect for how difficult it is for people to stay when there is no work, no doctors, no supermarket or no school.
“When rural communities lose support infrastructure, it does not mean farmers can all just move to the city and do something else – food still needs to be grown, sheep still need to be shorn and fattened. The work still needs to be done; it cannot be performed elsewhere.
“The welfare issue is something we all agree on, it has to change. The economics of what it will mean for far more individuals than just the export operators is something we would ask people to consider. There will be the ability to take up some of the animals meant for live export in the killing and processing works locally, but not all, and certainly not immediately.
“No matter what we do with live export, the sector will need time to make adjustments, and during that time surely we can consider what further improvements we can make to the live export process.
“What we would ask first is that all consideration is given to the Federal McCarthy review that is due in the coming weeks.
“We ask that regulators step up their activities and hold operators and themselves to account, and we ask that operators make the improvements required to keep the trade and stop the cruelty.
“In turn, we expect our membership, non-members and the supporting industries to improve their selection activities to ensure only the correct animals are put forward for export.
“If we all do our part, the welfare issues can be addressed and in doing so, the financial security of regional WA can be guarded again, at least in the short term.”
All media requests must be directed to WAFarmers Media and Communications Officer Melanie Dunn on (08) 9486 2100 or [email protected].