Australian Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called the deaths of thousands of sheep aboard a livestock ship sailing between Perth and the Middle East “just total bulls#*t” and “disgusting”.
The comments were made last week when the shipping company that owns Awassi Express, Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT), which operates in Kuwait as Al Mawashi, submitted its report into an incident last year that led to the deaths of 2,400 sheep aboard the ship.
Whistle-blower footage aired by Australia’s 60 Minutes suggested the sheep had been ‘slow cooked to death’ in extreme heat conditions. The programme shocked the Australian public and led to calls for a ban on the trade of livestock between Australia and the Middle East.
Littleproud has asked for further information from the shipping company as the Australian government prepares to ban two-tier livestock vessels from exporting from Australia by 2020, but has insisted he does not support calls for a total ban on livestock exports.
"We'll never ban it, we'll continue to support it," he said told ABC.net.au. "I invested $2.3 million into dehumidifiers, into doing a trial with dehumidifiers to be able to prove to the regulator and to industry, who put a self-imposed ban for three months, that we can invest in technology to prove that we can do it all year round and that investment is about to start, with the first trial to start within the next couple of months."
Steven Bolt, a merino breeder two hours outside Perth told ABC that these efforts, as well as other regulatory changes like sheep density, had already vastly improved the mortality rate on livestock exports.
"The reduction in stocking density on the ships has been the most significant change that's been made," he said. "That was a regulatory change and we're achieving 99.7 [per cent] success rate on sheep arriving in the Middle East in fantastic condition."
For perspective, that’s a 90% reduction on the number of sheep that died aboard the Awassi Express.
For animal rights campaigners, however, even a mortality rate of 0.003% is still to high (on a shipment of 63,000 sheep that would mean 189 dead).
Depending on the outcome of the upcoming federal elections in Australia, the export of live sheep to the Middle East may be discontinued altogether.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has promised to phase out the industry in five years if the Australian Labour Party is able to form a government.