Exports of live Australian sheep decried in animal rights report

Australia is the world's biggest exporter of live sheep and Middle East nations are the animals' most common destination.

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Preventing live Australian sheep from being transported to the Middle East will not have much of an impact on the farmers' income, a new report has found, bolstering a campaign to halt the practice. The news comes as Ramadan and Eid al Fitr - a popular time of year for such imports - approach, and meat sellers say many families will only eat animals they witness being slaughtered according to halal requirements. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia (RSPCA) commissioned the study, which shows that Australian graziers' viability would not suffer if they were not allowed to send live animals to the UAE and other countries in the region. Australian farming groups have long maintained that the live export trade is vital. They have rejected the findings of the report, compiled by the consultancy ACIL Tasman. Ahmad Abbas, the executive manager of the Abu Dhabi-based meat company Alyassat Trading Co, said Australian sheep dominated the local live-slaughter market. "Of course it would be a problem if it stopped, because 50 to 60 per cent of the origin of the meat is Australia," he said. "We also have meat from Brazil, India, China, Iran, Somalia and Sudan, but Australian meat is the most popular and well known." Australia is the world's biggest exporter of live sheep and Middle East nations are the animals' most common destination. The six GCC nations and Jordan make up the top seven consumers for the 4.2 million sheep the country sends abroad each year. Most of the exports occur around events such as Eid al Adha, the festival of the sacrifice that coincides with the annual Haj pilgrimage. But the practice has been heavily criticised by animal-rights groups, which say the sheep are subject to inhumane conditions in transit. About one per cent of sheep will die before reaching their destination. Mr Abbas said fewer people were opting for live Australian sheep, mainly because of the Dh550 to Dh620 cost for lambs and wethers, respectively, and are choosing frozen or chilled Australian meat instead. The RSPCA-commissioned report focuses only on Western Australia, the origin of up to 80 per cent of the sheep exported live from Australia. The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia has rejected the RSPCA report, with its livestock chairman Tim D'Arcy saying that the proposal would be "terminal" for the industry. jhenzell@thenational.ae