ARE EWE KIDDING?
MacTiernan live sheep intervention would risk WA industry
Farming groups have told WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan to butt out of the live sheep export debate, saying her intervention would risk bans on other WA products in the Middle East.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook told The West Australian that Kuwaiti buyers had indicated they would snub WA as a source of packaged meat in retaliation if the live trade from WA was disrupted, putting not only live exports at risk but also part of the State’s $440 million chilled meat industry.
Ms MacTiernan said yesterday that WA farmers may need to wear a ban on live exports during the northern summer to restore confidence in the industry and prevent a permanent ban.
She was responding to the release of a review of the trade by Federal counterpart David Littleproud, which adds restrictions to sheep numbers on export ships, but stopped short of ordering a ban during summer.
“The failure to really accept the science about the problem of the high summer is not in the long run going to help our farmers. In the long run this is going to feed the cause across Australia for a ban on this trade,” she said. But Mr Seabrook said Ms MacTiernan should take a back seat, because intervention could have wider ramifications.
“I’ve been told by Kuwaiti buyers that there is a very good chance of retaliation if there’s a summer ban, to our
chilled meat trade and other agricultural exports,” he said. “As you’d expect if you threaten a major trading partner’s food sources.”
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade figures show the live animal trade to Kuwait was worth $70 million last financial year, and chilled meat was worth $59 million.
Although Mr Littleproud’s response will allow the trade to continue, farmers are still likely to take a financial hit.
Industry sources say the new density restrictions, which reduce the number of sheep on vessels by up to 30 per cent in summer months, are likely to add about $20 a head in costs.
Unless buyers are prepared to accept a price rise, producers — who receive $100 to $120 a head for the animals — are likely to take the biggest hit from the rule changes.
The new rules were welcomed by industry, but condemned by the RSPCA and animal welfare groups.
RSPCA chief science officer Bidda Jones said only a complete ban on live exports would stop the suffering of sheep.
“It’s frankly extraordinary that this review will allow May to October voyages to continue, taking winter acclimatised animals into temperatures of more than 40 degrees, and humidity of up to 80 per cent,” she said.
“There’s no stocking density limit that can protect sheep in those kinds of conditions.”
WAFarmers president Tony York said he accepted the industry still had a lot of work to do to restore public confidence, after the release last month of shocking vision of the condition of sheep on a voyage from WA, in which 2400 animals died.
“Overwhelmingly the growers will be pleased to know there is still a pathway going through the next four to six months, in terms of the summer trade. The market is still going to be there and we are hopeful that can stabilise the livestock market,” he said.
But Ms MacTiernan said the State Government would still look to push ahead with restricting trade in hot months, using WA animal welfare laws.
“I know WAFarmers and PGA will believe today what they have had is a victory,” she said.
“But I suspect it will be a Pyrrhic victory because it will do nothing to assuage the concern in the public about this trade.”