Halting the live sheep boats cut sheep deaths and cost $150m

THE COST OF DISRUPTIONS: Halting the live sheep trade for lengthy periods in 2018 and 2019 cost the industry almost $150 million according to a new report.
THE COST OF DISRUPTIONS: Halting the live sheep trade for lengthy periods in 2018 and 2019 cost the industry almost $150 million according to a new report.

A new report claims major disruptions to the live sheep trade in 2018 and 2019 cost the industry almost $150 million.

Based on modelling of a 12 month trade versus actual numbers exported, it was estimated the industry nationally lost $83.6 million because of the three-month ban in 2018 and $65.8 million due to last year's almost four-month moratorium.

The report said the moratorium from June to September 22 to avoid the worst of summer conditions in the Middle East was flagged in advance which allowed more time for planning.

WA farmers' share of that revenue loss was estimated to be up to $15 million in 2018 and up to $12 million in 2019.

The investigation was done by Mecardo's Matt Dalgleish, Olivia Agar and Robert Herrman for LiveCorp and Meat & Livestock Australia and involved interviews with more than 60 participants along the supply chain.

LiveCorp CEO, Sam Brown, said while the industry's future was dependent on getting animal welfare right and demonstrating its continued improvement, it was also important to understand how changes affected the economic wellbeing of the full supply chain, particularly regional communities.

"Exporters introduced the moratorium to manage the risk of heat stress during shipments into the northern summer. They knew it would have a financial and social cost to everyone in the supply chain but also knew it was vital to de-risk the trade in response to community concerns in order to maintain the benefits of the industry for the rest of the year," he said.

The trade was halted in late June, 2018, after a public and political uproar when distressing footage taken on a live sheep boat, the Awassi Express, in 2017 was aired on television.

After a review of the trade the federal Department of Agriculture introduced a number of measures to reduce heat stress and deaths on sheep boats including lower penning densities, independent verification of air turnover within pens, compulsory automated watering systems on live carriers and the introduction of independent observers to travel on all ships.

A self-imposed moratorium on the trade was introduced last year for almost four months from June 1 to further reduce the risk of heat stress and deaths on live sheep ships and to protect the future of the trade which is of vital importance to WA farmers and regional economies.

"Interviews with farmers highlighted the importance of having live exports available in WA as a risk management measure," Mr Brown said.

"Without it, they will be forced to shift into more cropping or cattle-focused enterprises which decreases the diversity of their incomes."

"The income of other participants such as shearers, livestock transporters, veterinarians, fodder manufacturers and livestock agents was affected to varying degrees, depending on what proportion of their income was derived from live exports and whether alternative options existed during the moratorium.

"In many cases, there was also a social and emotional impact on both workers and their communities. Some had to squeeze 12 months of work into eight months, leading to massive stress followed by periods of unemployment."

Last year's moratorium was the last straw for livestock transport operator, Andy Jacob, who moved his business to Victoria.

The report also showed mortality levels on live sheep shipments in 2019 were half the five-year average for each month which was put down to changes to shipping practices during and since 2018.

"Mecardo interviews show there's widespread concern within WA's sheep industry that ongoing uncertainty, instability and negativity regarding the trade will see the continued loss of support services," Mr Brown said

  • The report Impact of the live sheep export trade's self-imposed moratorium and regulatory changes can be found on the LiveCorp website (www.livecorp.com.au).