“New findings show Australian sheep face dangerous heat stress on export ships” by Clive Phillips, was published in The Conversation and subsequent publications last week. I do not wish to draw unnecessary attention to the article; however, I strongly believe a response is necessary.
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, as I will detail below, and conclusions need to be made based on the dedicated and professional work of the stock hands and veterinarians that accompany these voyages.
Clive Phillips used outdated data to justify his arguments, and pre-dates the reforms under which industry currently operates.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substantially more room onboard and the industry led introduction of a self-imposed summer moratorium the data used is obsolete. 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.
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. COVID-19 will and has resulted in some changes in our global markets, like our domestic markets with meat being supplied directly to homes or a meat pick up service being offered. Audits are and will continue to occur remotely while export destinations adapt to the biosecurity laws, with the priority being to uphold the wellbeing of our livestock and people during the pandemic.
The pandemic is not something that should be used for political leverage, it is a time for industries to work together. All industries are experiencing a period of adjustment right now. 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 examining heat stress risk arrangements for the export of sheep to the Middle East (the HSRA Review). 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.
The Technical 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. Australia’s farming community reacted accordingly in rejecting those recommendations. The article’s conclusions read as pre-disposed and his advice to producers that the trade is finished and that producers need to adjust is gratuitous at best, and I am confident it will be rejected by producers.
I joined the Australian Livestock Exporters Council at the beginning of 2019 and since commencing, I am 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. 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.
Mark Harvey-Sutton is the CEO of the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC), a member-based, peak industry body representing Australia’s livestock export sector which contributes over $1 billion in export earnings annually while employing 13,000 mainly regional Australians.
* Live sheep and cattle vessel’s first voyage with new owner lauded Sheep Central here.
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