Live export laws: the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture

The Secretary of the Federal Department of Agriculture is responsible for ensuring that the health and welfare needs of animals will be met and maintained throughout the live export voyage, and that regulations will be adhered to.

Unless the Secretary is satisfied that requirements will be met, he has the regulatory obligation to refuse an export permit.

Evidence provided from five routine sheep shipments to the Middle East shows extensive breaches of regulations resulting in systemic animal suffering.

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LAST UPDATED: 17 April 2018

The regulatory obligations

The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) acts as the regulator for Australia's live export trade. The Secretary of DAWR is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).

The Federal government's 'Australian Position Statement on the Export of Livestock' cites that standards should reflect community expectations and State and Territory legislation, including Animal Welfare Acts.

Under Section 3 of the Australian Meat & Livestock Industry (Standards) Order 2005 the holder of a livestock export licence must not export livestock except in accordance with ASEL.

The Secretary is also responsible for approving or refusing individual export permits.

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Evidence of routine breaches onboard live export ships

For the first time in the live sheep export trade's history, vision has been made available from a series of sheep shipments from Australia to Persian Gulf countries between May and October 2017.

In total, across these voyages, over 4,000 sheep died, including more than 2,500 animals from heat stress during an August shipment to Qatar and Kuwait.

The evidence across five routine shipments reveals that exporters and shipboard conditions are breaching international standards (World Organisation for Animal Health — OIE), ASEL and the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002.

Sheep on export ship

The sick and the dying

ASEL STANDARD 5: ONBOARD MANAGEMENT OF LIVESTOCK

5.1 Guiding principle

Onboard facilities, management and husbandry must be adequate to maintain the health and welfare of livestock throughout the sea voyage:

5.2 Required outcomes

1) The voyage is completed safely.

2) Adequate livestock services are maintained throughout the voyage.

3) Onboard care and management of the livestock is adequate to maintain their health and welfare throughout the voyage.

S5.7 Any livestock identified as being sick or injured must:

(a) be given prompt treatment;
(b) be transferred to a hospital pen, if required; and
(c) if necessary, be euthanased humanely and without delay.

OIE CHAPTER 7.2. TRANSPORT OF ANIMALS BY SEA

7.2.5. Planning the journey

8. Ability to observe animals during the journey

Animals should be positioned to enable each animal to be observed regularly and clearly by an animal handler or other responsible person, during the journey to ensure their safety and good welfare.

7.2.9. Travel

2. Sick or injured animals

a) Sick or injured animals should be segregated.
b) Sick or injured animals should be appropriately treated or humanely killed, in accordance with a predetermined emergency response plan.


Heat stress

Deaths on live sheep shipments have historically increased significantly during the months from May to October when sheep are exported from Australian winters to the high heat and humidity of Middle Eastern summers. Admissions by the live export industry that mortalities can double or even triple in certain climatic conditions were first made in 1985.

In high humidity, the manure pad will melt and become boggy, covering animals in a 'faecal jacket'. This exacerbates heat stress in sheep, results in decreased levels of hygiene, increased levels of infection, and increased ammonia emissions causing health risks to both livestock and crew.

OIE CHAPTER 7.2. TRANSPORT OF ANIMALS BY SEA

7.2.5. Planning the journey

2. Preparation of animals for the journey

c) Extreme weather conditions are hazards for animals undergoing transport and require appropriate vessel design to minimise risks. Special precautions should be taken for animals that have not been acclimatised or which are unsuited to either hot or cold conditions. In some extreme conditions of heat or cold, animals should not be transported at all.

4. Vessel and container design and maintenance

e) Vessels should have adequate ventilation to meet variations in climate and the thermo-regulatory needs of the animal species being transported. The ventilation system should be effective when the vessel is stationary.

7. Space allowance

b) the amount of space required, including headroom, depends on the species of animal and should allow the necessary thermoregulation.

7.2.8. Loading

2. Facilities

b) Ventilation during loading and the journey should provide for fresh air, and the removal of excessive heat, humidity and noxious fumes (such as ammonia and carbon monoxide). Under warm and hot conditions, ventilation should allow for the adequate convective cooling of each animal. In some instances, adequate ventilation can be achieved by increasing the space allowance for animals.

ASEL STANDARD 5: ONBOARD MANAGEMENT OF LIVESTOCK

5.1 Guiding principle

Onboard facilities, management and husbandry must be adequate to maintain the health and welfare of livestock throughout the sea voyage:

5.2 Required outcomes

1) The voyage is completed safely.

2) Adequate livestock services are maintained throughout the voyage.

3) Onboard care and management of the livestock is adequate to maintain their health and welfare throughout the voyage.

5.6 Standard for onboard management of livestock

S5.6 e) Ventilation must be monitored regularly each day to ensure adequate thermoregulation of the livestock


Stocking density

Sheep are confined in pens for up to 25 days onboard live export vessels. Despite this, permissible stocking densities were not determined by welfare requirements, rather by how many animals can fit into a pen.

According to the Federal Department of Agriculture, '[e]ach animal must have access to food and water on demand and enough space to lie down.'

As a result, current standards do not allow sheep the room to lie down and rest during long voyages, nor do they provide ready access to food and water. Standards are in breach of international (OIE) guidelines (which Australian standards are said to meet) and contrary to the required standards in the Australian government's 'Position statement on the Export of Livestock'.


OIE CHAPTER 7.1. INTRODUCTION TO THE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ANIMAL WELFARE

7.1.4. General principles

4) The physical environment should allow comfortable resting, safe and comfortable movement, including normal postural changes, and the opportunity to perform the types of natural behaviors the animals are motivated to perform.

OIE CHAPTER 7.2. TRANSPORT OF ANIMALS BY SEA

7.2.9. Travel

1. General considerations
d) Adequate access to suitable feed and water should be ensured for all animals in each pen.

OIE CHAPTER 7.2. TRANSPORT OF ANIMALS BY SEA

7.2.5. Planning the journey

7. Space allowance
b) Each animal should be able to assume its natural position for transport ... When animals lie down, there should be enough space for every animal to adopt a normal lying posture.

8. Ability to observe animals during the journey
Animals should be positioned to enable each animal to be observed regularly and clearly by an animal handler or other responsible person, during the journey to ensure their safety and good welfare.

ASEL STANDARD 5: ONBOARD MANAGEMENT OF LIVESTOCK

5.1 Guiding principle

Onboard facilities, management and husbandry must be adequate to maintain the health and welfare of livestock throughout the sea voyage:

5.2 Required outcomes

1) The voyage is completed safely.

2) Adequate livestock services are maintained throughout the voyage.

3) Onboard care and management of the livestock is adequate to maintain their health and welfare throughout the voyage.

S5.5

All livestock on the vessel must have access to adequate water of a quality to maintain good health and suitable feed to satisfy their energy requirements, taking into consideration any particular needs of the livestock species, class and age.

Stocking density

Ewes and lambs

ASEL STANDARD 1: SOURCING AND ON-FARM PREPARATION OF LIVESTOCK

S1.11

Ewes with a weight of 40 kg or more and all does (goats) must only be sourced for export as slaughter and feeder animals if they have been pregnancy tested by ultrasound within 30 days of export and certified not to be pregnant, by written declaration, by a person able to demonstrate a suitable level of experience and skill.

OIE 7.2 TRANSPORT OF ANIMALS BY SEA.

7.2.7. Pre-journey period

3. Fitness to travel.

c) Animals that are unfit to travel include but may not be limited to:
vii) pregnant animals which would be in the final 10% of their gestation period at the planned time of unloading.

ASEL STANDARD 1: SOURCING AND ON-FARM PREPARATION OF LIVESTOCK

S1.11

(a) all female Damara sheep breeds sourced as feeder or slaughter must be pregnancy tested within 30 days of export by ultrasound and certified not to be pregnant, by written declaration, by a person able to demonstrate a suitable level of experience and skill.

The birth of a lamb at sea usually leads to the lamb dying from difficulty in finding the mother, infections from the environment, trampling by adult sheep in the crowded pens, or they may be euthanased by the onboard vet to prevent the added complication of a shipment's rejection and further suffering for the entire consignment.Dr Lynn Simpson, former live export veterinarian

Granting and refusal of export permits

Under the Export Control (Animals) Order 2004, the Secretary of DAWR must refuse to grant an export permit if the travel arrangements for the livestock are not adequate for their health and welfare, or if he cannot be satisfied that ASEL has been or will continue to be complied with. On the basis of evidence across five routine sheep shipments, the Secretary should not be granting exports to the Middle East.

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