Australia’s new heat stress test may bring end to sheep exports to Middle East

New draft rules on sheep exports from the Australian government could bring total end to livestock trade with Middle East.
Temperatures on livestock ships trading between the Middle East and Australia typically exceed 40 degrees, causing sheep to die of heat stroke.
Temperatures on livestock ships trading between the Middle East and Australia typically exceed 40 degrees, causing sheep to die of heat stroke.

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The live sheep trade between Australia and the Middle East is on the brink of eradication, after the Australian government released a new test for measuring animal welfare standards on board live exports ships to the region.

The draft advice released by the government recommends temperatures on board live export ships to the Middle East reach no higher than a wet bulb temperature of 28 degrees, which is significantly lower than the 45 degrees typically recorded during the Middle East summer.

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The report added that under the new model "it may not be economic to export sheep to the Middle East during the northern summer, leading to a cessation of trade during this period", according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Its recommendations would see a regulatory cessation of shipments to the Middle East between May and October, with substantial restrictions in other months," the report said.

Australian animal welfare groups, such as Animals Australia and the RSPCA have said that the report “confirms what live exporters have known for decades, that shipping Australian sheep across the high heat months in the Middle East results in egregious suffering” and is "another significant step towards the live sheep trade’s inevitable end".

The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council said the review would have "significant impact on Australia’s sheep industry, especially in Western Australia".

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"There is no future in live sheep export - sheep producers and farming groups must act now to prepare for business beyond this cruel trade, rather than fighting against the inevitable," the RSPCA said in a statement.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud insisted he supported a sustainable live export industry and said it was up to exporters to make their trade viable.

"It is clear the sheep export industry and ship owners have not been proactive enough in dealing with this in the past and must now commit to investment in better technology to keep the industry sustainable," he said.

"Other industries have done this in the past like the implementation of sow stalls in the pork industry, so the live sheep export industry and ship companies need to invest similarly in new technologies to dehumidify their boats,” he said.

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"Exporters have significantly gained financially in the past from this industry and it’s now imperative they re-invest back into their industry immediately. ”I therefore expect the industry to start to show some leadership in greater investment in animal welfare standards," he added. 

The draft advice was a result of the government's review into the live export trade following the Awassi Express disaster, when footage emerged earlier this year of thousands of sheep dying in searing heat. Final rules are expected by January.

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