The RSPCA has expressed grave concerns with the Australian Government’s decision yesterday to slash the prohibited northern summer period for live sheep export, which will see thousands more sheep placed at unacceptable risk of heat stress on long voyages to the Middle East from as early as this May.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has been considering winding back the northern summer prohibited period for live sheep export – a move the RSPCA has warned against and a move that nearly 8 out of 10 Australians do not support.
But yesterday, almost two months before the Department’s review is due to be finished, it announced eleventh-hour changes to the regulations that reduce the prohibition dates, previously implemented to improve animal welfare, by a further 14 days. This overall reduction in prohibition dates enables Australia's live export industry to export more sheep in the hot northern summer period.
RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell said this last-minute move meant that thousands more Australian sheep will be placed at unacceptable risk of heat stress in as little as seven weeks’ time.
“Australian sheep will be sent on these hot, high-risk journeys amidst increasing climatic conditions because the Department and industry say they want to gather more data on animal welfare, but all the data and evidence is already there - it's just being dismissed,” said Mr Mussell. “Live export does not enable the most basic of animal welfare needs.”
“The animal welfare science is very clear that sheep suffer on board these long, hot voyages to the Middle East, and their basic welfare needs cannot be met onboard these vessels. Sheep on live export ships do not have easy access to food and water, adequate space to lie down and rest at the same time, a place to toilet away from the pen they stand and sleep in, or fresh ventilated air..
“It is deeply concerning that not only is the Department winding back the prohibited period, and exposing more sheep to these unacceptable conditions – but that it is subverting the review period and taking these steps months before its review report is completed.
“It’s also very worrying that these regulations have been put in place now, on the eve of a federal election being called – when Parliament may not sit again for months and so may not have the chance to scrutinise these last-minute changes."
The RSPCA has long called for an extended prohibition period ahead of a complete phase-out of the live export trade. In the meantime, it has again requested that the Department secure evidence on the future climatic temperatures that sheep will be exported in, as opposed to retrospective climate data on which the Department has based its changes.
“Let’s not forget the history here. The northern summer prohibition – which was never enough to begin with – was put in place because of substantial community pressure following the horrific scenes on board the Awassi Express. Recent independent polling has confirmed that nearly 8 out of 10 Australians want the current prohibition maintained or increased, and two-thirds want to see an end to live export altogether.
“Not only have the community’s expectations and the scientific evidence been once again ignored, but with this move, the Department is demonstrating that it is incapable of adequately regulating the industry while supposedly protecting animal welfare. This validates the RSPCA’s long-standing call for independent oversight of animal welfare at the federal level.
“The Government must listen to the science, the community — and respect its own consultation process — and put a stop to this short-sighted, premature and unacceptable move.”
Authorised by Richard Mussell, RSPCA Australia, Canberra