Sheep Live Export

Page last updated: Friday, 2 August 2019 - 11:49am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Frequently asked questions 

How many live sheep does Australia export?

In 2017, 1.7 million sheep were exported live from Australia. The value of live sheep exports was A$203 million in 2016/17. Western Australia contributed 85% of live sheep exported from Australia. 

In 2018, 1.2 million sheep were exported from Australia (provisional figures).  The value of these exports was A$158 million.  This is a reduction from 2017 of over 35% due to the bans/restrictions imposed from June to November 2018. Western Australia contributed 81% of the live sheep exported from Australia.

What countries does Australia export live sheep to?

In 2017, the three largest markets by volume were Kuwait (34%), Qatar (33%) and Jordan (10%). Australia exported live sheep to 8 countries, most of which are in the Middle East.

Australia exported live sheep to 15 destinations in 2018 with 95% of exports going to the Middle East.  The biggest markets (by volume) were Qatar (30%), Kuwait (23%) and Turkey (18%).

How many sheep are exported per voyage?

The total number of head per journey depends on numerous factors such as the vessel used, whether or not cattle are also on board and the time of year. Each vessel has a different carrying capacity due to the size and lay out of the vessel but some vessels can carry up to 85 000 sheep.

Irrespective of the vessel used, the exporter must comply with the stocking densities specified in the ASEL (November to April inclusive) and as recomended in the McCarthy review from May to October (inclusive).

How long is the journey?

Depending on the destination, route taken and vessel, an average voyage to the Middle East departing from Fremantle takes from three to five weeks.

Do Middle East importing countries also take Australia’s boxed meat?

Yes. Sheep meat (lamb and mutton) is exported to the Middle East as both chilled and frozen product. It is exported either by sea or as air freight.

Lamb is generally a preferred product in chilled form and mutton is preferred as frozen product, which reflects its lower value.

Chilled mutton exports to the Middle East have increased over the last two years. Between 2015 and 2016 they have increased 33% and a further 32% in 2017.

Who is in charge of regulating the live export industry in Australia?

The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) oversees and regulates the Australian live export industry but there are a range of responsibilities for regulation of the industry by other authorities including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development.

DAWR administers the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

What role does the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development play?

Livestock sourced for export must also meet all requirements under relevant state and territory animal welfare legislation.  The Western Australian Government through DPIRD is responsible for administering the Animal Welfare Act 2002 in WA and ensuring regulations under this Act are met. This jurisdiction extends to 200 nautical miles offshore.

What role does the Australian Maritime Safety Authority play in live exports?

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is responsible for the inspection of selected foreign flag ships to monitor their compliance with safety and environment protection standards, including safe carriage of livestock as cargo.

The obligations for loading and transporting livestock from Australia are set out in the Navigation Act 2012 and designated marine orders, in particular Marine Order 43 (Cargo and cargo handling - livestock) 2006. Marine Order 43 specifies the requirements for issue of an Australian certificate for the carriage of livestock (ACCL).

Marine Order 43 imparts a number of obligations on vessels carrying livestock that are required before, during and after a livestock voyage, including:

  • notifying AMSA in writing of the intention to load livestock;
  • making a written report to AMSA on completion of a livestock voyage, other than a short voyage which is less than 24 hours.
  • notifying AMSA expediently when the mortality level for a species of livestock carried is exceeded, or expected to be exceeded.

What are the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL)?

The ASEL represent the basic animal health and welfare requirements for the conduct of the livestock export industry, which the Australian Government requires the industry to meet.

When must sheep mortality limits be under ASEL?

The ASEL defines the levels for reportable mortality by species on a voyage or air journey as the percentages listed below:

  • sheep: one per cent (implemented from the McCarthy review)
  • goats: two per cent
  • cattle and buffalo on a voyage < 10 days: 0.5%
  • cattle and buffalo on a voyage > 10 days: 1%
The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources undertakes an investigation into livestock reportable mortality incidents to try to determine the cause of the mortalities and recommend future corrective action.

What is the difference between the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS)?

ASEL and ESCAS are both administered by Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. The ASEL represent the animal health and welfare standards for livestock export industry. The ships master reports compliance with these standards at the end of each voyage.

ESCAS is an assurance system for export supply chains and is concerned more with the destination after shipping. It is based on four principles:

  • Animal welfare: animal handling and slaughter in the importing country conforms to World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) animal welfare recommendations
  • Control through the supply chain: the exporter has control of all supply chain arrangements for livestock transport, management and slaughter. All livestock remain in the supply chain
  • Traceability through the supply chain: the exporter can trace all livestock through the supply chain
  • Independent audit: the supply chain in the importing country is independently audited.

Why was the McCarthy review commissioned and what are the key changes?

The McCarthy report was commissioned by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to assist in the development of a new regime for the operation of this trade in the northern hemisphere summer. Dr McCarthy recommended that this period comprise May to October inclusive. The report contains 23 recommendations, some of which have been implemented immediately while others, such as those relating to modification of the heat stress risk assessment, are undergoing further research and consultation with industry and animal welfare experts.

One of the significant changes to the regulation of live sheep during the period May to October is the use of an allometric model to determine stocking density. An allometric model takes into account several factors, including size and shape of body, physiology and behaviour. Using this approach means a decrease in the stocking density on board a vessel by 11 to 39%.

The full report and the DAWR’s response to the report is available online

 What other reviews are relating to live export are in progress?

A range of live animal export reform initiatives are underway, all led by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. These initiatives are designed to increase transparency and provide assurances of the regulation of the live export trade.

The review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) began in January 2018.  The review was undertaken by an independent Technical Advisory Committee. The ASEL standards ensure livestock are fit for export and help manage the risks to animal health and welfare during the voyage. The committee has finished its review and further information can be found here

A review of DAWR’s capability and culture in the regulation of live animal exports has been completed and the findings are available here.  The purpose of this review was to:          

  • assure government and the Australian public that exporters meet high animal welfare standards; and
  • identify regulatory and investigative improvements that can be made.

Certain recommendations made in the McCarthy report are subject to further research and consultation with industry and animal welfare experts.

One key recommendation relating to modifications to the current heat stress risk assessment is currently being reviewed. The department has established a technical reference panel to advise on the development of a welfare-based approach to heat stress risk assessment. Further information on the heat stress risk assessment can be found here.