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LIVESTOCK exporters have announced a self-imposed moratorium on live sheep exports to the Middle East during the next northern summer.

However it might be a case of ‘too little too late’ for Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who said “it would have been better if industry had shown leadership across a broad range of animal welfare matters some years ago”.

Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council announced the moratorium yesterday afternoon.

It would mean that from June 1 no shipments of Australian sheep will leave the country for the Middle East during what is recognised as the highest heat-stress risk period of the northern summer.

Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council’s Simon Crean said the moratorium would provide certainty to sheep producers who supplied the trade, and was just one initiative, which was part of wider ranging industry reforms.

Meanwhile a number of Bills have been introduced to Federal Parliament to completely ban live exports.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said it was important to respect Australia’s trading partners and “make sure we work through practical solutions to ensure their food security”. “We await the science regarding the head stress model, which we expect shortly.”

Mr Crean said the moratorium was intended to maintain and grow a “strong, viable nine-month-a-year live sheep trade” and secure “the future of Australia’s livestock export industry”. He said that while more than three-quarters of Middle East sheep voyages in the past seven years had recorded mortalities of less than one per cent, the majority of the 20 voyages when mortalities were above 1.5 per cent occurred in the June to August northern summer period.
“The live sheep trade to the Middle East needs to be reset,” Mr Crean said. “June to August sheep exports to the Middle East are worth $55 million per annum, so the moratorium will, without any doubt, impact farmgate returns. But this decision shows the genuine care exporters have for livestock — values we share with producers — and our commitment to the industry’s future.”

The moratorium will be enforced via ALEC’s newly established mandatory code of conduct.

Exporters say they will observe the moratorium while the industry develops new technology which could, in the future, address the heat risk challenges associated with shipments in June, July and August.

“Potential solutions being developed by the export research and development corporation, Livecorp, include improved detection and avoidance of temperature extremes, and on-board dehumidification,” Mr Crean said.

In addition to the moratorium, ALEC says sheep exporters have agreed to initiate a program of transparency and on-board monitoring, to be designed and developed by LiveCorp. The program will improve transparency and communication with producers with regard to on-board conditions and the performance of shipments.

In the seven years from January 2010 to December 2017, Australia’s live sheep exports to the Middle East contributed $2.06 billion to the Australian economy, exporting 16.6 million sheep over 258 voyages.