This is the first column in PowerTorque from the new Executive Director at the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, Rachel Smith, and it’s tackling the issue of the live export of livestock, where animal welfare is a critical consideration for livestock transporters.
As we have seen is with the announcement by the Government to commence phasing out Live Sheep Export by sea, the public is increasingly aware of animal welfare issues and are willing to take collective action should they feel determined to do so.
Animal welfare issues are front and centre in the day-to-day life of a livestock transporter. Livestock transporters are highly skilled operators who possess advanced driving, animal welfare and animal handling skills. Animal welfare is critical to their job.
In 2017 when the spotlight was shone on live sheep exports out of WA, mortality rates were 0.71 per cent this rate has continuously fallen to where it sits now at 0.14 per cent. This can be attributed to a variety of measures including having vets and animal health specialists on board and sailing only during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. These improvements have demonstrated that sheep can continue to be transported by sea, safely and humanely.
The value of the live sheep export industry to Australia cannot be understated. In 2022, Australia exported 524,908 sheep valued at $82m, with the vast majority exiting Western Australia. Historically, live exports support more than 13,000 jobs in Australia, with wages in excess of $1b annually, and the vast majority of jobs being in rural areas. Independent research has shown that sheep saleyard prices would be around 18% lower without an export market. Anecdotally, there are reports that the price per head of sheep has dropped 50 per cent since the announcements alone.
ALRTA is strongly opposed to the intended phase-out of live sheep exports by sea. Not only will road transport businesses be negatively affected by any decision to terminate live sheep exports, there will be an economic ripple effect right across the Australian domestic sheep market, and dependent rural and regional communities.
Animal welfare issues and management are present in all areas of the livestock supply chain, regardless of the mode of transport. ALRTA has been working with MLA to review the ‘Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines – Land Transport’. This is a critical piece of work that is intended to have positive impacts on animal welfare during transportation.
As an industry we know that factors such as time off feed and water and loading density play a significant role in the safe transport of animals from farms, feedlots and saleyards to farms, feedlots, saleyards and processors.
The review of the Guidelines will take into consideration the larger size of animals to minimise over crowding and ensure safe conditions for animals being transported. This combined with the recent work ALRTA undertook to develop the Effluent Code contributes to animal welfare and safety.
ALRTA members and the livestock transport sector continue to prioritise animal welfare, demonstrating the social licence to operate. This can be attributed to proactive steps that industry has undertaken, which are looked at favourably by the broader community including Livestock Assist program in partnership with NTI. These important programs support positive public perception and improved animal health outcomes.
Through continued collaboration and commitment to working with all players in the animal transport supply chain the livestock sector continues to deliver safe and humane animal welfare outcomes.
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