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RE: Offloading of animals from the MV Bahijah

The RSPCA is very pleased to hear reports that many of the animals confined to the Bahijah for 38 days appear to be in “good condition”, with no current evidence of “significant” animal welfare issues.

We note the animals have been described as showing “mild signs of disease” and that their condition has never been described by the vets as “exemplary” or “excellent" as characterised by some pro live export lobbyists.

Our key concern and priority has always been, and remains, the welfare of these animals.

We note that in the time, at least 5 cattle and 60 sheep have died either on board or shortly after being offloaded.

We understand the animals are now being transferred to a feedlot where they will again be confined, mixed with unfamiliar animals and standing on a surface of wire and concrete. After facing the additional stress of offloading and road transport, the sheep will then need to receive any necessary veterinary treatment and may need to be shorn. Ewes with unidentified early pregnancies before boarding will now be progressing and cannot be re-exported. The animals will then be re-transported and re-loaded, adding significantly to the sustained and cumulative stress.

It is nonsensical to describe this experience as sufficient “rest”. Furthermore, there is no scientific backing, evidence or precedent to inform the period of “rest” the animals might need to recover sufficiently from this ordeal, to be able to cope with another live export journey.

It is therefore very, very difficult to see how the Department could possibly see fit to find these animals suitable to be re-exported under a new permit – let alone via an extended and unprecedented journey around Africa.

[The DAFF Statement of Reason says, "the department had never previously approved a 60-day duration journey, for either cattle or sheep."]

Common sense must prevail here. These animals have suffered enough. The only conscionable thing for the exporter to do is to allow a safe, secure and humane solution to be found as soon as possible and as close as possible to their current holding location.

This is another sad episode in the dark history of live animal export from Australia, and highlights that no amount of regulation can fix the inherent risks to animals in this trade.

RE: DAFF publication of its Public Statement of Reasons

Late last year, we formally warned the government and industry of our concerns regarding the risk of disruption to live export journeys (and the animal welfare consequences of such disruptions) due to escalating conflict in the Middle East.

If these very reasonable and well-informed warnings had been heeded, this entire fiasco could have been prevented.

The publication of a statement of reasons such as this in live sheep export is completely unprecedented, and we take it to reflect both the high level of public interest as well as the complexity and volatility of the situation.

The statement clearly outlines a period of 19 days (from 12 January), during which the Department was forced to repeatedly seek and chase-up the insufficient information being provided by the exporter.

On 28 January the Secretary issued the exporter with a notice of intent to refuse the new export permit, following advice received from its own Animal Welfare Branch.

From the first formal correspondence from the RSPCA (on 31 January), the correct decision was made within 5 days (5 February). The Secretary correctly characterises this correspondence from the RSPCA as “expressing concern for the health and welfare of the livestock in the consignment”.

It was the exporter that chose not to follow their own contingency plan.

It was the exporter that acknowledged the risk that animal could be rejected in Israel.

The exporter’s own plans highlight the risk of foot/hoof injury, lameness, poor pad conditions, heat stress and stocking density – the exact risks raised by the RSPCA.

The Secretary notes the “risk that the livestock would not show signs of animal welfare concerns until they were offloaded and transported to the relevant quarantine facility in Israel” — this is also consistent with the concerns raised by the RSPCA.

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