The RSPCA has expressed utter disbelief that the federal Department of Agriculture has backflipped on its decision to prevent the export of 50,000 sheep into the searing heat and humidity of Kuwait during the prohibited period of the Northern Hemisphere summer.
In a surprise decision, the Department today announced they have granted an exemption to allow the COVID-19-affected Al Kuwait to commence loading for a departure to Kuwait this Wednesday, 17 June.
The RSPCA is gravely concerned that the previous evidence-based decision of the so-called ‘independent regulator’ within the Department of Agriculture has been so completely overruled.
The new decision, which represents an extraordinary about-face and allows the voyage to go ahead at a later and even riskier time, was signed off by the Deputy Secretary of the Department.
The Department has issued a Public Statement of Reasons based on the same material facts of the original decision, but placing greater focus on the potential financial impacts to the exporter, RETWA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT).
Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said, “This exemption indicates that the government has swung the risk pendulum back in favour of economic interests over animal welfare.
“The risks to the health and welfare of the sheep which were key to the previous decision have not diminished – in fact, they increase every day as temperatures in the Middle East rise.”
The Department claims that further reductions to stocking density of 10% will now mitigate such risks, but when introducing the new regulations prohibiting exports during the Northern Summer, the Department concluded, “If ambient temperatures are very hot, as occurs from June to mid-September (inclusive) in the Middle East, no amount of additional space will allow for metabolic heat loss.”
“This decision means sheep will be exposed to an even greater degree of suffering, in return for financial gain for one of Australia’s most notorious live exporters,” said Dr Goodfellow.
“The public can have no faith in the Department to drive progress or improvement to this industry, let alone enforce its own regulations, when it is so clearly compromised by external influences.”
While the RSPCA sadly accepts there is now little hope of saving these sheep from inevitable suffering, we urge the Minister of Agriculture, David Littleproud, to intervene and, at the very least, ensure there is an Independent Observer to oversee the loading and monitor animal welfare on board this vessel.
Independent Observers were introduced by Minister Littleproud to provide “truth and proof” on what occurs onboard live export vessels, but have subsequently been removed due to COVID-19 concerns.
“To allow this voyage to go ahead is a tragedy; to do so with no independent eyes onboard to report on the welfare of the sheep goes against everything the Minister has previously committed to, and will irrevocably undermine public confidence in the regulator,” Dr Goodfellow said.