The Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) have made some major commitments (18 April 2018) to drive major cultural change and improve animal welfare transparency and accountability within the livestock export business community. This includes: 

Support for an independent observer under the direction of the regulator to travel on voyages to the Middle East in the 2018 Northern Hemisphere summer
Reduced stocking density and additional animal welfare safegaurds and indicators during the Northern Hemisphere high summer period
Establish an Inspector General for the Welfare of Inspected Animals, potentially as an extension of the role of the current Inspector General of Biosecurity 
Progress and uphold the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) to apply responsibility for welfare across international supply chains
Continue to work closely with the Minister for Agriculture the Hon David Littleproud MP as the responsible Minister for the regulator (the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources)

We asked CEO of ALEC, Simon Westaway for his insight into the recent spotlight on the live sheep trade, what it means for the industry and what action ALEC are taking.

Read on for more information and follow ALEC on Twitter for real time updates on how they are progressing their commitment to the industry.

Q&A with ALEC Chief Executive Officer, Simon Westaway

1. The Animals Australia footage in question is centered around a particular voyage from Australia to the Middle East in August of 2017, in which 2400 sheep died. Can you tell us about how this compares with standard mortality rates and how the ALEC works to decrease these statistics?

The 2400 sheep which died in 2017 voyage represented 3.79 per cent of the total consignment. The 3.79pc mortality rate is extremely high and not in line with accepted industry standards or regulatory thresholds.

In 2017, 12,377 sheep died in transit out of a total 1.74 million head exported from Australia – recording a mortality rate of 0.71pc. The range of livestock mortalities since 2010 has been between 0.6-0.9pc and is trending down, but our industry is determined to achieve better outcomes.

2. What are the risks of exporting livestock to the Middle East and how does the industry work to manage these?

Exporters work with DAWR to manage the recognised risks associated with exporting to the Arabian Gulf in the Northern Hemisphere summer due to the seasonal heat and humidity. This includes industry’s heat management model, which has helped further reduce mortalities and heat related welfare risks by loading vessels in line with seasonal conditions.

Furthermore, vets and accredited stockmen are on board all long-haul shipments, including those to the Arabian Gulf, to work with the vessel’s livestock crew to manage welfare risks.

3. ALEC has since stated that livestock exporters know their performance is under scrutiny and the industry supports transparency and accountability throughout the trade. What is the feeling amongst the exporters since this footage was released and how can transparency and accountability be further improved?

Exporters are united in their determination and will be working with the Federal Government to strengthen transparency and reporting. ALEC has presented a range of steps to the Federal Agriculture Minister as part of its plan, which includes:

– Investigating the reduction in stocking densities for sheep to the Arabian Gulf during high risk periods such as the Northern Hemisphere summer
– More effective monitoring and recording of on-board conditions using technology to support Australian Government Accredited Veterinarians
– Additional independent on-board personnel, as deemed appropriate by the Federal regulator, and auditing of livestock infrastructure including ventilation and drainage
– Strengthening the policies, inputs, regulation and enforcement of the heat stress risk assessment model and its application by industry to better mitigate welfare risks
– Building greater scientific integrity into the way the well-being of livestock on-board is monitored by fast-tracking industry’s research into the development of animal welfare indicators; and
– Additional training and development for on-board vets and stockpersons

4. Some have called to stop livestock trade from Australia to the Middle East, what impact will this have on the industry and what actions are being taken to ensure this doesn’t happen?

In partnership with sheep producers and our overseas customers, exporters have built the live sheep trade over six decades. Today, Australian live sheep exports are worth $250m annually and are a vital part of the broader red meat industry and robust farm gate competition for livestock.

Australia is recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health as leading the global trade (of 100-plus exporting countries) for its regulatory standards and promotion of world’s best practice. That leadership role comes a significant responsibility to drive improvement in transport and international markets. We don’t meet that responsibility by stopping the trade.

5. We understand you have been liaising with Minister Littleproud and Hon Joel Fitzgibbon’s offices, can you tell us their stance on the export trade?
Minister Littleproud ordered a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources investigation into the footage and held subsequent meetings with various industry stakeholders, including animal welfare groups, producers and ALEC. This dialogue has continued in recent days.

The Minister also announced a review of the standards for the sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer. The review is expected to take four weeks to allow any recommendations to be acted on before sheep are sent to the Middle Eastern summer from Australia’s winter.

Shadow Minister Fitzgibbon said the footage highlighted the need for an Inspector General of Animal Welfare. At this stage Minister Littleproud or the Coalition Government have not responded to this.

6. How will the ALEC work with the Federal Government, to ensure welfare standards and outcomes align with community expectations and industry regulations in the future?

ALEC is engaged in direct and regular contact with Minister Littleproud and the Department of Agriculture & Water Resources to ensure meaningful reform arises from this episode. This includes the framework set out in our Six Point Plan. We are determined that community support and a sustainable long-term live sheep trade are achievable.

More broadly, ALEC will continue to work with other stakeholders, including producers, as the Federal review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock continues.