Live sheep export prohibition reduction an unacceptable risk

RSPCA Australia has warned against reducing the current prohibition on live sheep exports to the Middle East during the northern summer – a move currently being considered by the Federal Government

The Government is reviewing the regulations on live sheep export by sea to, and through, the Middle East during the hot northern summer – regulations that were put in place after scenes from the Awassi Express aired on 60 Minutes in 2018 – and is proposing an overall reduction in the duration of the prohibition

If approved, the reduction would mean that tens of thousands more sheep every year will be exported in extreme heat, including to Kuwait, Qatar, and Red Sea destinations (which together, represent more than 85% of Australian live sheep exports to the Middle East).

RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell said that reducing the northern summer prohibition would be an unacceptable risk to Australian sheep who are vulnerable to heat stress.

“These are some of the hottest times of the year,” said Mr Mussell.

“Live sheep suffer on board live export vessels, but we know that they especially suffer during voyages to, and through, the Middle East during the hot northern summer, due to the substantial risk of heat stress.

“The northern summer prohibition – which currently spans from 1 June to 14 September – was never enough to begin with. Live export should be phased out altogether, but at the very least the prohibition needs to be extended from 1 May to 31 October to cover the hottest parts of the year.

“Instead, the Government is proposing to reduce the prohibition period even further to some destinations and increase the heat risk threshold that sheep will be exposed to. If approved, these changes would indicate that government and industry are stepping back from prior commitments to improve animal welfare in the sector. 

“The community hasn’t forgotten the Awassi Express, where thousands of sheep suffered severe heat stress on board one of these vessels and Australians saw the horror of live sheep export on TV screens.

“Australians were outraged, and it’s because of the significant public pressure on the Federal Government that we saw a northern summer prohibition finally put in place.

“But now, the Government wants to reduce that prohibition period. This is despite animal welfare science, a lack of robust data, and evidence that the future climate is predicted to be hotter, more intense, and more variable.

“We call on the Government to not reduce the northern summer prohibition, and instead extend the period and work towards an end to live sheep export altogether.”

The RSPCA will be making a submission to the Government’s review, and encourages all Australians who care about this issue to do the same. Details of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s draft report, as well as how to make a submission, are available on the Department’s website.