No assurance for welfare or disease control for Saudi market: RSPCA

Australia’s leading animal welfare organisation has expressed grave concerns over the health and welfare of sheep to be exported to Saudi Arabia under a secretive new proposal revealed this week.

News reports this week indicate live exporters have struck up a deal with Saudi Arabia, and live exports of Australian sheep could commence again from July this year.

Live sheep have not been exported to Saudi Arabia from Australia since the introduction of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) in 2012, after the country refused to comply with Australia’s regulations.

It’s not clear how Saudi Arabia’s reported concerns about the Australian Government’s ESCAS regulations impinging on its sovereignty have been addressed.

“Before the trade was halted in 2012, Saudi Arabia has previously rejected numerous entire shipments over disease concerns,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist and Strategy Officer, Dr Bidda Jones.

“The system has not changed – there is still no reliable process in place to individually check sheep for disease before they leave for the Middle East and the risk of another major incident remains very high,”

Dr Jones also said the sketchy details available of the proposed ‘special agreement’ revealed an alarming but predictable lack of basic understanding or concern for animal health and welfare by the exporter.

“Sheep traveling on long-haul voyages during the Middle Eastern summer are also at high risk of suffering and dying from heat stress”, said Dr Jones.

“The alleged exporter, Emanuel Exports, already has a terrible public record on animal welfare,” said Dr Jones.

“This includes 3,000 sheep that collapsed and died in heatwave conditions on a July journey to the Middle East in 2016, and a further 2,400 that died en route to the Middle East in August 2017, and which prompted an investigation by the WA Government,

“Government records show that in the past five years, 62,279 sheep have died on journeys to the Middle East. We should be doing all we can to avoid these journeys, not adding to them.

“It’s well recognised the future for Australian farmers is meat exports, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t process these animals humanely in Australia, providing a much-needed economic boost to rural and regional communities,” she said.

The RSPCA has previously flagged that any watering-down or exemptions for Saudi Arabia to Australia’s ESCAS regulations would be the first steps in bringing the entire scheme undone.