Saudi live sheep trade resumption a(nother) disaster in waiting

The Australian Government’s plan to re-open the live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia is bad news for the welfare of Australian animals, likely to damage Australian farming’s international reputation, and is a grave risk to the integrity of our animal welfare export assurance scheme, according to the RSPCA. 

Live sheep have not been exported to Saudi Arabia for almost a decade because the Saudi Government refused to comply with Australia’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), which was introduced in 2011. 

But the announcement today by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud of “a new pathway” for live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia raises urgent questions around what has changed, and if Australia’s animal welfare assurance requirements – much lauded by government and industry – will be compromised. 

RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said that re-opening the live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia was extremely risky and yet another animal welfare disaster waiting to happen.  

“Sheep on long-haul voyages to the Middle East are always at high risk of suffering and death,” said Dr Goodfellow. “But on top of that, the trade to Saudi Arabia is particularly problematic due to the heightened political sensitivities and the government’s long history of rejecting shipments on a whim. 

“This could lead to another disaster like the infamous Cormo Express in 2003, where Saudi Arabia rejected a shipment at the last minute based on claims of a disease outbreak, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and resulting in the tragic death of around 6,000 Australian sheep. 

“Just last year, Saudi Arabia rejected a shipment from Sudan resulting in approximately 3,000 sheep dying of hunger and thirst, allegedly due to concerns over quarantine procedures.    

Dr Goodfellow said the Australian Government needed to explain to the community what deal had been done, and what measures have been put in place to ensure there wouldn’t be repeats of the many past disasters. 

“The Saudi Government has been concerned about ESCAS regulations impinging on its sovereignty for years, but now suddenly, the trade is opening back up again. Any watering down of the system or exemptions for Saudi Arabia would be the first step in bringing the whole scheme undone.  

“The Australian Government is flirting with yet another live export disaster with this decision. It looks like a high-risk attempt to prop up a trade that’s in terminal decline.  

“It’s well recognised the future for Australian sheep farmers is meat exports, where the animals are humanely slaughtered on Australian shores in Australian facilities, providing a much-needed economic boost to rural and regional communities,” said Dr Goodfellow.