MacTier­nan live sheep in­ter­ven­tion would risk WA in­dus­try

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE - Nick Evans, Jenne Bram­mer and Cally Dupe

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.”

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