23 October 2023

RSPCA WA is refuting recent claims1 by industry and some individual producers that the planned live sheep export phase-out is responsible for current low sheep prices.

RSPCA WA Chair Lynne Bradshaw has described the claims as misleading and says they’re not supported by available industry data.

Meat and Livestock Australia data forecasts that in 2023, Australia’s sheep flock and its breeding ewe numbers will reach their highest levels since 2007,’ Mrs Bradshaw said.

‘You don’t need an economics degree to know that high sheep numbers can drive down sheep prices as supply outstrips demand. This is a much larger contributor to current low prices than a live export phase out which won’t take effect for several years.’

‘There are also concerns about drought across many parts of Australia, leading to producers trying to sell off their flock. This also inflates supply and depresses prices.’

RSPCA WA says prices have been falling for a while.

‘Australian saleyards transactions data for sheep show a steady decline in the average price per kilogram carcass weight in all states between July 2021 and September 2023 (Figure 1). That means a drop in sheep prices has been a trend from before the phase out advisory panel was formed - indeed even before the current Government was elected.’

In its submission to the phase out panel, the RSPCA called for time to be given for farmers to transition to alternative markets.

‘We’ve called for a phase out period of less than three years to enable time to increase the workforce, boost the onshore infrastructure to support increased domestic processing, and adapt to the growing chilled and frozen sheep meat market. These measures would foster improved animal welfare by processing sheep onshore, as well as supporting WA’s sheep industry to transition to a more humane and sustainable market pathway.

Research shows that public support for a phase out is strong across Australia, including in WA, and in both rural and urban areas.

RSPCA's own consumer sentiment data, which spans more than a decade from 2009-2023, also shows that public concern for live export has been consistently increasing and remains consistently high.

‘Independent polling conducted by McCrindle in May 2023, shows 71 per cent of West Australians support the Australian Government’s policy to phase out live sheep export - 72 per cent in metro areas and 69 per cent in regional areas,’ Mrs Bradshaw said.

‘With a Federal Government that is prepared to assist farmers in a transition, industry bodies would better serve their members by providing them with evidence to support informed decisions on the market alternatives to live sheep export and helping them progress to a more sustainable business model to future proof their businesses, rather than scaremongering in the media.’

1 Articles here and here.

Figure 1. Quarterly average saleyard price per kg carcass weight for sheep between July 2021 and September 2023, by state. Source of data used to make graph: National Livestock Reporting Service via MLA website (accessed 21 September 2023).