Ludwig defends sheep exports in face of slaughter claims

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has defended the live export trade in the face of reports that Australian sheep have been clubbed, stabbed and buried alive during a brutal culling of animals in Pakistan.

As fresh calls are made for the trade to be phased out and banned, Mr Ludwig says the live export trade is an important trade and new animal welfare controls are working

Speaking on ABC radio this morning, Senator Ludwig described the killing of Australian sheep — reports say the animals have been clubbed, stabbed and buried alive — as an ‘‘appalling circumstance’’ and an  ‘‘unbelievable incident’’.

He said the agriculture department, which is also the live export regulator, would investigate all allegations.

He commended exporter Wellard for telling Australian officials that it had lost control of the supply chain — exporters must maintain animal welfare from farm to slaughter under new rules established after cruelty in Indonesia last year — when local officials forced them off the feedlot so it could begin the cull.

Animal rights activists, Labor backbenchers, independent MPs and the Greens have all said the Pakistan case is a further example live exports cannot maintain animal welfare and should be shut down. But Senator Ludwig said the system was working.

The Karachi edition of The International News reports a video has emerged showing Australian sheep being killed in a brutal and inhumane way.

Exporter Wellard has seen the film and confirmed sheep have been killed in an unacceptable manner after its staff were forced off the feedlot.

The report by M. Waqar Bhatti reads: ''Like a giant mass of wool, bloodied and filthy, they lay in trenches - slit open, stabbed or clubbed to death, while many still wriggled with some life left in them, soon to be buried alive.''

Senator Ludwig told ABC's AM program: '‘The system of regulation works, because what we can do with the supply chain we can identify breaches, we can identify mistakes and deal with that through the regulator.

‘‘What you do have where there is an appalling circumstance, like this, the regulator can investigate that, can hold the exporter to account.

‘‘It is the responsibility of the exporter to manage the sheep throughout the supply chain.’’

Senator Ludwig said Pakistan had always been a reliable market and live sheep exports.

The sheep arrived in Karachi earlier this month, after being given a clean bill of health by Australian and Pakistani officials. They had been stranded at sea for two weeks after Bahrain rejected them because some had the common scabby mouth disease.

Despite Pakistani government officials saying the animals were healthy, local authorities said they were unfit for human consumption, claiming the animals had salmonella and anthrax and that the 20,000 sheep must be culled. A court injunction halted culling, but up to 7000 have been killed. The court is due to hand down its decision as early as today.

The International News report says the video shows animals being clubbed, stabbed ''callously'' and buried alive in trenches dug at the importer's farmhouse in Razzaqabad.

''The people killing the animals or throwing them into the trenches were not wearing any protective gear whatsoever, even though the animals were being culled on the basis that they were suffering from a 'contagious disease','' the report says.

Wellard confirmed animals had been killed in ways outside strict new animal welfare standards.

''We are concerned by the Sindh Livestock Department slaughter method because it is inconsistent with Wellard's animal welfare ethos and our multimillion-dollar annual investment in improving animal welfare. Because they had been removed from the site by police, Wellard and PK Livestock staff were unable to prevent the cull from occurring,'' a spokesman said.

Australia exported 2.45 million sheep last year, worth $328 million last year, none went to Pakistan — nearly one million went to Kuwait.

Shadow Agriculture Minister John Cobb called on Senator Ludwig to do more to resolve the Pakistan crisis.

‘‘The Minister needs to urgently resolve this issue through strong personal representations with the appropriate Minister in the Pakistan Government.  That may mean jumping on a plane and going over there if that is the only way to resolve this,’’ Mr Cobb said.

The International News report quotes Wellard managing director Stephen Meerwald saying: ''I have watched the video and let me tell you that ever since I have seen those gruesome visuals, I haven't eaten or slept. Regardless of whether they were healthy or not, the way they were killed or buried alive is neither humane nor Islamic.''

The agriculture department says it will investigate sheep being killed outside of the approved channels.

Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said the incident showed the unacceptable risks associated with the live export trade. She said it was clear Pakistan was not willing to comply with Australia's strict new animal welfare rules and the country should be banned from the trade.

Industry and the government have condemned the brutal culling, while Labor backbenchers Kelvin Thomson and Melissa Parke and the Greens have reiterated that animal welfare and live exports do not mix.

Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie asked how much more evidence was needed before the government agreed to meaningful reform.

''Or is the reality that it doesn't give a toss about animal welfare or the overwhelming public concern with the industry?'' Mr Wilkie said.

The ALP MPs have both called for an independent office of animal welfare.

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