If you were sickened by the footage of abused and dying sheep on a live export vessel on 60 Minutes last night, rest assured that virtually nothing will be done to stop it. The company responsible has been getting away with it for years, and the department allegedly responsible for regulating it has done little.

Emanuel Exports is the company responsible for the vessel in the footage, the same vessel being held in Fremantle awaiting clearance for another live export trip. Emanuel has been responsible for the heat-related deaths of many thousands of live export sheep in 2016 and 2017. The live export trade has long known of the impact of heat stress on live export animals sent to the Middle East. In the dry words of a 2004 report:

animals travelling to the Middle East during the northern summer (May to October) experienced conditions over 30 °C wet bulb, often for sustained periods of several days, with nil or little diurnal respite. The air entering the decks can be hot and humid, and it can become worse with the addition of heat from the animals, so that animals further from the entry points can be subject to extreme heat and humidity…  the animals … have little opportunity to escape the conditions. Depending on the stocking density, there may be limited scope for behavioural modifications to decrease heat gain or improve heat loss.

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Emanuel Exports would know all about that, as would the Department of Agriculture, because for many years the company has routinely lost huge numbers of animals on its live export voyages to the Middle East. The six-monthly “Report to Parliament on Live-stock Mortalities During Exports by Sea” by Agriculture — assuming you can get the Department’s execrable website to download the reports — details the losses, year-in, year-out. July 2011, over 1000 lost on a 27-day voyage. 1200 lost in two voyages in November 2011. In April 2014, 440 on one voyage; 1700 in one voyage in July 2016. Agriculture says a 2% loss rate is acceptable for the live export of sheep, but Emanuel on some voyages can’t even meet that pathetic standard.

The live export industry and the government claim that animals are protected from distress via a Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, implemented after the 4 Corners live export story in 2011. That “requires exporters’ to have commercial arrangements with supply chain partners (i.e. importers, feedlots, abattoirs) in importing countries to provide humane treatment and handling of livestock.” Exporters complain that the ESCAS system is a costly burden and want it removed. Agriculture has found, time and again, “major” violations of ESCAS by Emanuel involving sheep it has transported ending up in market places across the Middle East rather than being slaughtered in accredited facilities, including a “critical” violation by Emanuel in late 2015.

These are only official findings. A 2015 senate committee inquiry heard more serious allegations against Emanuel: 

“Another example comes from Dr Tony Hill, as veterinarian on board the Emanuel Exports. He was required to falsify his mortality figures on the Al Khaleej. Up to 2,000 sheep died on the voyage but only 105 deaths were reported. He reported this matter to LiveCorp but it went no further and the director of Emanuel Exports was on the board of directors for LiveCorp.”

What action is taken by Agriculture beyond “investigating” and declaring Emanuel in breach of ESCAS? It certainly hasn’t prevented the department from continuing to licence the company for live exports — even when other companies in the trade complain about it. Indeed, as far as the government is concerned, Emanuel is a “success story” — a 2015 Austrade presentation lauds Emanuel for its “right mix of political and commercial connectivity, local representation & appropriate resources.” The company, by the way, is a Liberal Party donor in Western Australia.

This is consistent with Agriculture’s entire approach to animal welfare. As Crikey reported in December, the animal welfare standard-setting process in Australia has been corrupted by industry interests and Commonwealth leadership has been abandoned. That’s why, for all that the current Agriculture Minister, Nationals junior David Littleproud, might confect fury at the footage, there is no realistic prospect that the system will deliver an end to the disgusting treatment of live export animals.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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