AR-News: Sheep onboard a national shame
wolffnm at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 23 08:27:33 EDT 2003
Sheep onboard a national shame
By Michelle Grattan
September 24, 2003
The MV Cormo Express has become the Tampa of the live
sheep export trade. Unable to land at their
destination of Saudi Arabia, more than 50,000
Australian sheep, loaded in early August, yesterday
remained in search of a third country to take them for
money, or free.
Their sorry tale - seven weeks on the sea so far,
rather than a fortnight's trip - has raised fresh
questions about Australia's billion-dollar live animal
export industry, which regularly causes thousands of
deaths and inflicts suffering that would not be
In the face of this, what does Agriculture Minister
Warren Truss say?
He quotes the on-board vet, saying the sheep - apart
from about 3800 that have died - have put on weight.
As the RSPCA's Hugh Wirth says, it makes it sound like
they're "enjoying some Mediterranean cruise". They
might be getting heavier, but it is not because
they're living comfortably or normally.
The Government refused to say where the ship was -
until the media found it near Dubai - claiming
publicity doesn't help the hunt for a country to take
Nor did it want to give mortality figures, fearing it
would get locked into running a daily death watch.
Releasing figures was left to the ship's owners.
Truss has also condemned "unsympathetic reporting of
the issues. For commentators, reporters or animal
liberation activists to paint the situation in any way
that is likely to undermine the confidence of
potential buyers is not helpful to the welfare of the
Is he serious? Is he really saying yet another cruel
disaster in the livestock export industry should be
It is not as though this is an isolated incident, as
shown by a glance through the October 2002 report from
Truss's Independent Reference Group on the trade.
Truss asked for more advice from this group - which
had recommended a much tighter regime more than two
years before - after a spate of bad incidents.
The mortality rates during seven voyages last year -
all but one to the Middle East - were: February, MV
Norvantes (bound for Jakarta) 99 cattle (8.5 per
cent); June, MV Becrux 880 cattle (44 per cent) and
1418 sheep (2 per cent); July, MV Corriedale Express
6119 sheep (11 per cent); July, MV Al Messilah 2173
sheep (3 per cent); July, MV Al Shuwaikh 5800 sheep (7
per cent); July, Cormo Express 1064 (2 per cent); and
September, Al Shuwaikh 2304 sheep (4 per cent).
The group saw these as "evidence of systematic
failures within the whole live animal export program".
It pointed particularly to shipments originating from
Portland, where the animals were poorly prepared for
It also said that while some reforms had been made
since its February 2000 recommendations, neither
industry nor the regulators had been ready for the
"cultural change" required. In other words, a lot of
feet had been dragged. When the sheep arrived, Saudi
officials claimed scabby mouth (against which sheep
are now twice vaccinated) was above the accepted limit
- a conclusion rejected by the Australian vet.
Tempting as it might be to look for a political
motive, there is no evidence of this. The Saudis have
a record of turning away shiploads. The live sheep
trade to Saudi Arabia resumed only in 2000 after more
than a decade's suspension by Australia; this had
followed shipments being refused on health grounds.
The great concern, on the Government's part, is that
if there is too much hoo-ha over these sheep, the
whole trade will be put in jeopardy. It is worth $200
million to Australia in exports to Saudi Arabia. It's
the risk of a dangerous backlash that's prompted the
Government to intervene in a private transaction,
frantically searching for a destination, even though
the sheep, with a Saudi owner, are no longer
Australian sheep but Saudi refugees.
Already exports to Saudi Arabia have been suspended
until this is sorted out. The Government couldn't
afford the spectacle of further ships drifting about.
There are now two issues: what should be done with
these animals? And, is this trade too inhumane to be
Wirth argues that the Government won't be able to find
a port for the sheep and it's impractical to bring
them home, so they should be progressively put down.
But the Australian Veterinary Association, in a rather
harrowing news release yesterday, said mass slaughter
could be "an animal welfare and environmental
disaster". "There will be thousands of litres of
blood", it said; animal rights groups "have not
considered that the sheep may have to watch the
slaughter, nor have they considered the welfare of the
people who would have to carry this out".
Both the Government and the industry argue against
putting down the sheep, still hopeful a destination
can be found. The Government doesn't want the sheep
repatriated, because it's a long voyage and there are
quarantine difficulties; the ship's owners have
canvassed the possibility of returning them to
Fremantle, although they'd much prefer to offload them
Greens senator Bob Brown yesterday called for the ship
to be ordered back at once, saying any quarantine
problems are Truss's. Meanwhile Australian authorities
are trying to continue negotiations with the
Pakistanis, despite their saying they won't take the
Animal rights advocate Peter Singer, who calls for
euthanasia in this case, insists the entire live trade
is a "disgrace" that should be stopped.
"It's a terrible ordeal for the animals at the best of
times. They have a nightmare voyage, and then they get
treated brutally after they land, as if they were just
sacks of wheat rather than living, feeling animals.
Every year or two, there is another major scandal . .
. The federal minister says that he will implement
reforms, but then . . . the same thing, or something
worse, happens again."
The RSPCA opposes the live export industry, but Wirth
recognises that neither side of politics will end it.
But he wants much more control over it.
So does the Australian public. Even if Truss can solve
the Cormo Express problem quickly, what has happened
in this and many other instances should weigh on our
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