Business

Sheep deaths spark live export ban call

An ethical fund has called for an end to live sheep exports but the WA farming industry says the business is too important to halt.

The deaths of 2,400 sheep on a live export ship has led to renewed calls for an end to the live export trade but farmers say the trade is too important to warrant a halt.

The sheep died from heat stress on the MV Awassi Express, a ship used by Western Australia-based Emanuel Exports, during a voyage between Australia and Qatar in August 2017.

The Nine Network's 60 Minutes program has aired whistleblower video footage from the ship, showing distressed sheep struggling to breathe and dead animals being thrown overboard.

Australian Ethical Investment, a fund manager that specialises in environmental and socially responsible investments, says the Emanuel Exports case is not the only instance of cruelty exposed in live exporting.

"Realistically, we think there definitely can be a stop to live exporting, and it's clear there should be," the head of ethics research at the fund, Dr Stuart Palmer, said on Monday.

"We've got thriving export markets for our processed agricultural products already - we don't need to export live animals."

Dr Palmer said unless regulators are on live export vessels to ensure compliance with animal welfare laws, it is impossible to ensure that regulations are met.

"In any case, no amount of regulation can make the marine transport of animals safe or humane, especially over such great distances," Dr Palmer said.

He said the live export trade signals that Australia will sell anything to make money and this damaged Australia's reputation for selling high-quality, safe products and potentially jeopardised all export industries.

Farmers lobby group WAFarmers condemned the circumstances that led to the sheep deaths on the MV Awassi Express but said the export of live animals is critically important to Western Australia's farming industry.

WAFarmers livestock president David Slade said any farmer or grazier would be sickened by the MV Awassi Express footage, and there is strong industry support for ensuring that animal welfare standards are maintained.

"It enables large numbers of high-quality animals to be sold for prices that allow a long-term, sustainable and healthy production model," WAFarmers said in a statement on Monday.

"Whilst areas of society will say the live export business is not critical to the health of the rural economy, in Western Australia this is not the case."

Western Australia makes up about 75 per cent of the live export trade from Australia, or about 1.4 million head of sheep annually but WAFarmers says the live export trade allows for a sustainable lamb industry to supply the domestic Western Australian market.

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