Industry update: live sheep export #6

Page last updated: Friday, 2 August 2019 - 2:42pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) continues to work with the WA sheep industry towards improved animal welfare outcomes for exported livestock and respond to changes in the live export environment. There have been a number of significant developments recently which impact the Western Australian sheep industry.

Export pause extended for 2019

The Australian Government Department of Agriculture has extended the prohibition on live sheep exports to, or through, the Middle East to 22 September 2019. The decision followed feedback from public consultation, including a submission from DPIRD, on preferred options for exports during September and October 2019.

Analysis of conditions indicated the risk of heat stress for voyages departing Australia in the first three weeks of September was comparable to, or higher than in June. September has historically experienced the 3rd highest average monthly mortality rates after July and August. On average, about seven per cent of WA’s live sheep exports to the Middle East are exported during September.

This decision only relates to 2019. Future regulation of live sheep exports to the Middle East will be decided following a Regulation Impact Statement process. More information is available from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture website.

Independent oversight of live animal export regulation

The Australian Government has also announced introduction of legislation to support the appointment of an independent Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports to provide an additional layer of accountability and oversight over the regulation of Australia’s livestock exports. Pending passage of this legislation, Mr Ross Carter will commence as the interim Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports.

The Inspector-General will oversee the Department of Agriculture’s regulation of live exports and will increase transparency of Australia’s livestock export management system. The main role of the Inspector-General will be to audit and review the systems and processes that underpin the regulation of livestock exports.

Heat Stress Risk Assessment

The Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA) Technical Reference Panel released its draft report in December 2018 for comment.  The draft report made eight key recommendations. DPIRD has examined the report and provided feedback and further recommendations. The Australian Government Department of Agriculture is currently considering the advice of the panel. The final report will be released as part of the Regulation Impact Statement process in the second half of 2019.

Review of Australian Standards for Export of Livestock (ASEL)

A comprehensive review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock is underway. These standards set requirements to ensure livestock are fit for export and help to manage the risks to health and welfare during the journey. DPIRD has provided feedback on the Issues paper and draft standards relating to both sea and air transport. The committee is now reviewing the standards for livestock exported by air and a final report is due in September 2019. 

Live Export Sheep Industry Reference Group

DPIRD is continuing to meet with its Live Export Industry Reference Group (LERG) to discuss the latest developments and guide the department’s activity to support the WA sheep industry. Producer representatives include Murray Hall of Brookton, Steven Bolt of Corrigin; and sheep industry representatives Bindi Murray, Peter Trefort and Dean Hubbard. 

The industry reference group met at the end of May to discuss the Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA) draft report, preview flock modelling work and discuss potential research and development priorities for DPIRD.

LERG has met with the Australian Government Department of Agriculture several times and facilitated discussion on the implications of animal husbandry with potential changes to the export of animals.  The reference group was invited to participate in the preliminary discussions on the structure of the Regulation Impact Statement that is currently being prepared.

Two members have also travelled to the Middle East to better understand the conditions, markets and infrastructure around WA markets for live sheep, lamb and mutton. Bindi Murray travelled as part of the Sheep Producers Australia tour in May and Steven Bolt was part of the Merredin Farm Improvement Group tour in late July.

With direction from LERG, the department has undertaken comprehensive flock modelling to predict the impact of changes in markets and conditions on the WA flock structure and turnoff. The modelling investigated increasing the proportion of wethers to breeding ewes from 7-15 per cent; changing the mating type of ewes to 50:50 Merino sires and meat sires or 65:35 to assess the impact on lamb slaughter, wool production and whole flock size over the next five to ten years. The full report Implications of management decisions on the WA sheep flock in response to changing markets is available on the website.

The next LERG meeting is expected to be in mid to late August and will include discussions with the Australian Government Department of Agriculture on the HSRA Regulation Impact Statement.

2019 Spring Season Challenges

With the late start to the season, many producers are only just finishing supplementary feeding for their lambing flocks and many are now assessing the likely spring pasture production.  Most of the agricultural area has low levels of Feed on Offer (FOO) and two thirds of the area has pasture growth rates of less than 20kg/ha/day.

An early finish to this season will bring challenges around ensuring pasture leaf area is as high as possible to capture spring growth before senescence. The department’s FOO and pasture growth rate maps can provide an overview of individual properties pasture production.

Planning early on stock numbers for summer is key, and although it is only August, assessing pastures and budgeting for grain and stubble reserves now will allow for better decisions.

Check the department’s website for information on dealing with the season and feeding or to view the FOO and PGR maps.

Animal cruelty charges

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has charged a Perth-based live export company and two Directors with alleged cruelty to animals under the State’s Animal Welfare Act.  The charges relate to the unnecessary harm caused or likely to be caused to sheep due to heat stress on a voyage from Fremantle to the Middle East in August 2017. A total of 2,400 sheep died throughout the voyage. The matter will be heard in court at a later date.

The decision follows a comprehensive 18 month investigation by compliance officers within DPIRD. This independent investigation looked into the operations of one exporter on one voyage and is not an investigation of the live export industry as a whole.