AVA continues to be the voice of animal health and welfare science in the live export debate

23 May 2018

Following its release of an in-depth submission, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) remains disappointed that the McCarthy Review along with the response of the Government and the Regulator, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), does not adequately guarantee stronger animal welfare provisions on future live sheep export voyages to the Middle East during May to October.

AVA President, Dr. Paula Parker, stressed that the role of the AVA in the current debate of live animal export is to provide scientific advice on animal health and welfare based on current literature.

“Our scientific literature review on heat stress and space allocation of sheep traveling to the Middle East in the peak heat season included four key recommendations,” she said.

  1. Trucks delivering sheep for export must be weighed dockside at embarkation, so total sheep weight can be allocated to total deck area. No more sheep should be loaded onto the ship when total space has been allocated./li>
  2. Aggregated voyage data, including key animal welfare indicators, can and must be measured and collated using up-to-date technologies such as blockchain, with that data made available to scientists so future research topics are not only based on sheep mortalities but also causes of morbidity during each voyage. Sheep must be individually identified with electronic ear tags to assist with data collection and for traceability.
  3. Space allocation per animal must be based on allometric principles and increased by at least 30% for sheep that weigh 40 to 60 kg (based on a k-value of 0.033). The typical sheep sent to the Middle East is an adult Merino wether in this weight range. This increase in space (k = 0.033) is the minimum amount needed to alleviate adverse welfare outcomes and must be implemented across all body weights and all months of the year.
  4. Irrespective of stocking density, thermoregulatory physiology indicates that sheep on live export voyages to the Middle East during May to October will remain susceptible to heat stress and die due to the expected extreme climatic conditions during this time. Accordingly, voyages carrying live sheep to the Middle East from May to October cannot be recommended.

“Recent publicity around the proposed Ley Bill has highlighted some of our scientific literature, in particular, the impact of heat stress on sheep travelling to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere heat season.

“With any disruption to the supply chain, our priority is to ensure appropriate plans are put in place to avoid any adverse animal welfare consequences.

“The AVA Policy on live export states that ideally animals are slaughtered as close to the site of production as practicable to minimise handling stress and ensure they are protected by appropriate and enforceable welfare and slaughter standards. Accordingly, we support measures that are aimed at further development of the boxed meat trade."

Dr. Parker said that where the Ley Bill proposes changes to trade policy outside of the peak heat stress time, the AVA recognises that changes to Australia’s trade policy can have effects on the Australian economy, international relationships and trade partnerships and that these considerations are outside the AVA’s core area of expertise.

“Our role is to provide scientific advice to ensure that appropriate standards are put in place and enforced wherever any trade occurs - so that the health and welfare of animals is the primary consideration.

“The AVA’s immediate focus is to continue working with industry, the government and the regulator to address the welfare of sheep exported to the Middle East during the peak heat season. For trade at other times of the year, the AVA will be providing advice on animal health and welfare science to the Australian Standards to the Export of Livestock (ASEL) review and the Moss review of the regulator,” Dr. Parker said.

For further information and requests for interviews contact the AVA media office on 0439 628 898 or media@ava.com.au.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is the only national association representing veterinarians in Australia. Founded in 1921, the AVA today represents 9000 members working in all areas of animal science, health, and welfare.