The West Australian farming industry says it has several responses to the 60 Minutes expose of animal cruelty on board live exports from WA.
Farmers are ready to enter into negotiations with the government to incorporate the proposed summer ban on live exports into their business model.
A sheep farmer from Kojonup and Chairman of the Sheep Industry Leadership Council, Rob Edgerton-Warburton, says he doesn’t think there would be too much protest from farmers if sheep weren’t sent during those times because they ultimately rely on the trade and therefore want the best standards.
“We’re quite disappointed that the industry that we fund to look after this, hasn’t been looking after us if this is what’s been going on,” Mr Edgerton-Warburton says.
WA Farmers president Tony York says the industry could cope with a short-term suspension.
“In three years’ time by making plans to wean customers as well as suppliers away from being dependent, it could work, but you need the time to adjust so that it is an option,” Mr Edgerton-Warburton says.
Although the farming community may be open to a short-term summer ban on the live exports, they do warn that a complete ban would have devastating effects on the agricultural community of WA.
WA Farmers president Tony York says: “We have already had consequences five or six years ago when there was a ban on live trade for six to eight months and it had a devastating impact on many individuals in farming operations, some people go broke.
“They have their business farming model dependent on supplying live trade so there is always that risk that some producers will not be able to adapt in time to make up their losses.”
The farming industry has also warned State and Federal governments against making hasty decisions based on what they say is an isolated incident.
Sheep Industry Leadership Council chairperson Mr Edgerton-Warburton says he doesn’t think it is fair to take terrible footage from one incident and paint the whole industry with the same brush.
“That is not the a typical live export voyage. I don’t think we can look at that and then snap to a decision and say we’ll change everything now,” Mr Edgerton-Warburton says.
“It does us no good at all to let things build up and have politicians feel like they have to make rash decisions, we want good outcomes, we don’t want decisions made hastily that might be quite disastrous in the long term.”
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But WA farming representatives have shut down suggestions of potential replacements for the live export trade.
Ideas put forward by animal activist groups include freezing meat and export it, or even flying commercial amounts of sheep to markets.
WA Minister for Agriculture and Food Alannah MacTiernan has also proposed onshore meat processing as an option rather than live exporting, alongside her proposed summer ban on live exports leaving WA.
According to Rob Edgerton-Warburton these are not viable options as the middle eastern clients require live meat for religious and cultural purposes.
“In religious festivals, they slaughter a lot of animals and they need to do it live so I guess if we’re not going to supply them they’re not going to stop doing the trade,” he says.
“It’s just going to come from somewhere else. If Australia decided to not do it, then no one from Australia is regulating the trade, you can rest assured that what you saw on that voyage, no other country even investigates it.”
He suggests that the lack of refrigeration and electricity in these areas is also a reason why live exporting is in such demand.
Alannah MacTiernan says the Federal Department of Agriculture is also to blame.
“The Federal Government needs to seriously consider if and how basic animal welfare requirements can be met when taking sheep on voyages from the Western Australian winter to the height of Middle Eastern summer,” Ms MacTiernan says.
Farming representatives say they also feel betrayed.
“After that live export ban they brought in ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System), live exporters had to jump through enormous amounts of paperwork and hoops to make a single voyage happen,” Mr Edgerton-Warburton says.
“It’s quite alarming to see this appear when as farmers we were quite confident that this sort of activity was behind us.”
The Department of Agriculture implemented the ESCAS in 2011 to combat animal welfare, control through the supply chain, traceability of supply and to impose independent audits.
Mr Edgerton-Warburton says once the Federal Agricultural department completes inspections of the boat, and issue permits, they are wholly responsible for it.
Although many representatives from the farming community in WA are disturbed by the incidents that occurred last year, and have many questions about the failure of the Federal Government to prevent it, there are also potential solutions being discussed.
WA Farmers president Tony York says the federal minister will be looking to representatives in the farming industry and everyone in the supply chain for suggestions.
“We will certainly be looking for complete transparency so that we can absolutely see what’s going on, on the supply line and on the ships on a constant basis, that is obviously not been happening,” he says.
Listen to the full interviews with Mr York and Mr Edgerton-Warburton here: