RSPCA WA Chair Lynne Bradshaw AM wrote to the WA Minister for Agriculture Alannah MacTiernan last week to voice our concerns about an application to the federal regulator for exemption from animal welfare policy for a live sheep export ship to send 56,000 sheep into the searing heat of the northern hemisphere summer, where they will almost certainly suffer heat stress.

RSPCA Australia is making strong representation to the live export regulator nationally, to deny the exporter’s application for exemption.

The export company, Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading, trading as RETWA in Australia, sought an exemption from the federal regulator to export the sheep after the welfare deadline has passed. New animal welfare regulations, which came into effect in March, 2020, ban the export of live sheep to the Middle East between 1 June and 14 September for animal welfare reasons. 

RSPCA WA is concerned about the future of the 56,000 sheep which are being held in a Baldivis feedlot after a COVID-19 virus outbreak aboard the live export ship Al Kuwait, which is currently docked in Fremantle.

The Federal Government’s own reports indicate that, over this period, even with lower stocking densities and better ventilation on board, sheep will almost certainly be exposed to unacceptable levels of heat stress. 

The exporters have applied for the exemption in the knowledge that the sheep will face extreme heat and humidity on board at this time of year and will almost certainly suffer from heat stress on the two weeks plus voyage. 

The ship arrived in Fremantle on Friday 22 May to load the sheep for export to the Middle East, within only a few days of the new deadline preventing the export of sheep into the northern summer coming into effect on 1 June.

When some of the crew tested positive for COVID-19, the ship was unable to load the sheep and depart within the safe time limit to ensure the welfare of the animals on board during the journey. 

For almost two years, since shocking footage of Australian sheep suffering and dying aboard the Awassi Express became public in April 2018, RSPCA and our supporters pushed hard for new measures to prevent sheep suffering from heat stress when exported into the northern summer.

Those new measures have only been in place since March and already this exporter wants to get an exemption from having to comply. RSPCA WA is gravely concerned that an exemption could even be considered by the Federal regulator, especially as the WA Minister for Agriculture is reported as saying there is adequate local capacity to handle the 56,000 sheep here under Australia’s animal welfare regulations.

The granting of one exemption could encourage further unacceptable risk-taking behaviour by export companies in the expectation that they too can be given an exemption when something goes wrong.

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