25th mar 2018
A leading Australian animal welfare organization has expressed grave concerns over the health and welfare of sheep if live exports to Saudi Arabia recommence. News reports last week speculated that trade to the nation could begin in July this year.
Live sheep have not been exported to Saudi Arabia from Australia since the introduction of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) in 2012. Under ESCAS, Australian livestock exporters may only export live animals to markets that meet specific animal welfare standards, with exporters allowed to retain control over the livestock to the point of slaughter to ensure the standards are met.
The Saudi Arabian Government refused to accept what it regarded as a compromise to its sovereignty and switched to sourcing live sheep from nations such as Jordan, Ethiopia and Sudan, where no such welfare standards are set.
RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist and Strategy Officer, Dr Bidda Jones, has indicated that a “special agreement” may have been made that could undermine animal welfare.
Jones says that sheep traveling on long-haul voyages during the Middle Eastern summer are at high risk of suffering and dying from heat stress. She notes that 3,000 sheep collapsed and died in heat wave conditions on a July voyage to the Middle East in 2016 and a further 2,400 died en route to the Middle East in August 2017.
Saudi Arabia’s climate is characterized by high temperatures during the day and low temperatures in the night. Monthly average temperatures in summer can exceed 40oC (104oF).
“Government records show that in the past five years, 62,279 sheep have died on journeys to the Middle East. We should be doing all we can to avoid these journeys, not adding to them,” she said. “It’s well recognized the future for Australian farmers is meat exports, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t process these animals humanely in Australia, providing a much-needed economic boost to rural and regional communities,” she said.
According to a 2016 Australian Farm Institute report, Somali, Sudan and Romania are the main competitors that Australia faces in supplying live sheep to the Middle East. Since the introduction of ESCAS, Australia supplies only around 40 percent of the live sheep imported by these nations.
It’s not clear how Saudi Arabia’s reported concerns about ESCAS would be addressed, and the RSPCA has previously flagged the any watering-down or exemptions for Saudi Arabia to ESCAS regulations would be the first steps in bringing the entire scheme undone.
However, a spokesperson from the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council said that Australia was prioritizing the re-opening of the market in a way that upholds Australian welfare requirements.