LIVE exporting company Wellard says its battle to defend 11,500 Australian sheep from being culled in Karachi, Pakistan, has been completely “exhausted”.
Wellard issued a statement on Saturday saying the culling process had resumed, despite an out of court agreement being reached on Friday to process the sheep humanely at an Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) approved facility.
Wellard expected the cull to be completed on Saturday, with the livestock authorities responsible assuring the importing company PK Livestock it would be carried out according to World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) standards.
However it was unable to verify the humane processing because Wellard and PK Livestock staff were “forcibly removed from the facility”.
“After months of battling in court and at diplomatic levels; after managing to prove that the sheep were healthy and fit for human consumption; and despite one of the biggest efforts the industry has ever mustered to defend animal welfare, Wellard and PK Livestock have been unfortunately subject to an event outside their control,” the statement said.
“Everyone in Wellard is devastated because 11,500 animals, that the entire world knows are healthy, will be culled.
“This is a first for the industry in more than 40 years of operation.
“PK Livestock has offered the use of its modern, OIE-complaint facility to the Sindh Livestock Department for the cull to assure the welfare of the animals and the safety of the operators - but it appears that its offer has not been accepted.”
Wellard said company’s exports to Pakistan would remain suspended because they could not accept placing animals into states where animal welfare outcomes failed to meet standards that the company demands.
“It is unfortunate this issue has undermined 20 years of incident-free livestock exports to Pakistan,” the statement said.
“Instead, we will continue to work with other markets where there are no risks of such events and which share our commitment to world class animal welfare standards.”
Wellard said it was grateful for assistance from the Australian Government, Wellard staff in Pakistan and PK Livestock “during what has been the most challenging and continuously changing situation we have been faced with in more than 30 years exporting livestock”.
At the weekend, the Federal Agriculture Department said it was working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian High Commission in Pakistan to confirm information relating to the culling.
The cull contravened the agreement reached on Friday to hand control of the animals to representatives of Wellard for humane processing, which was reached after the Sindh High Court received test results from the Pirbright Institute reference laboratory in England confirming the sheep were fit for human consumption.
Wellard self-reported the loss of control of their supply chain in Pakistan when local Sindh authorities entered the facility and commenced culling of sheep, claiming they were diseased.
It’s understood staff members from Wellard and PK Livestock were ordered off the premises at gunpoint by Pakistani authorities at the time.
The Court ordered the cull to be stopped on September 22 while the test results were gathered.
The Agriculture Department is conducting a full investigation of non-compliance under ESCAS.
The Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) and Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) condemned the action to cull healthy Australian sheep, contravening the negotiated agreement between the importer and the Sindh Livestock Department.
ALEC and SCA issued a joint statement saying they had hoped that the Pakistan High Court process, which determined the sheep to be healthy and fit for human consumption, would allow the sheep to be processed in OIE and ESCAS compliant facilities.
“Instead, it appears that the local authorities have ignored the legal agreement and chosen a completely unacceptable and unnecessary cull with little regard for the animal’s welfare and Pakistan High Court processes,” the statement said.
“We totally deplore this turn of events in what is an isolated incident to one particular market.
“In light of the above, we welcome exporter Wellard’s decision that no further shipments of Australian sheep will be sent to Pakistan for the foreseeable future.
“Australian and Pakistan staff of both the importer and the exporter have put their lives on the line to care and protect the sheep.
“No reasonable person could have foreseen the events which have transpired in Pakistan and these events are clearly a force majeure on the ESCAS.
“Australia remains the only country amongst over 100 livestock exporting nations that regulates the animal welfare of livestock destined for export from paddock to point of processing and industry continues to back ESCAS which is delivering substantial animal welfare improvements in traditional export markets.”
Animals Australia Campaign Director Lyn White was “horrified” the cull of 11,5000 Australian sheep had recommenced in Pakistan.
She said it again proves that once animals our outside of Australian control “there is nothing we can do to prevent horrendous treatment”.
Animals Australia said the incident had been a complete debacle from the beginning, with the animals already enduring a month at sea after Bahrain ignored their MoU obligations and refused to unload them, amid claims of scabby mouth disease.
Ms White said Pakistan was a “fast-tracked solution” so Wellard could avoid a PR disaster when the sheep were rejected by Bahrain.
She said Pakistan doesn’t have a track record importing sheep from Australia and the country wasn’t even approved to take Australian sheep when these animals left Fremantle in early August.
“Nearly half of the consignment of 21,000 sheep is already dead or missing,” she said.
“Media reports from Pakistan revealed that sheep had been clubbed, stabbed and buried alive during the initial cull of the animals a few weeks ago.
“Exporters take this risk every time they export live animals from Australia because we have no control over their treatment in importing countries.
“This is why Australians and animal welfare groups are appalled by this trade and will continue to demand that it ends.”