Life on the land in Australia

Live exports regulator weeps while detailing conditions that led to 2,400 sheep deaths

The assistant secretary of the agriculture department, Narelle Clegg, breaks down while describing ‘dreadful’ footage

Narelle Clegg was questioned about how the agricultural department conducted investigations following a mass death event such as that on the Awassi. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The assistant secretary of the agriculture department, Narelle Clegg, broke down during a Senate investigation hearing while describing the conditions on a live export ship that led to the deaths of 2,400 sheep.

The sheep began to die on day 15 of a voyage in August to the Middle East on the Awassi Express after a sudden spike in temperatures, Clegg said. There were 900 sheep deaths in just one day and hundreds more in the ensueing days. Distressing footage of the conditions on board the ship were released in April.

“There was so much footage of empty troughs – it was dreadful,” Clegg said through tears.

Clegg was questioned about how the department conducted investigations following a mass death event such as that on the Awassi, including what information was requested by investigators from the exporters.

Clegg said the department looked at any reports available from veterinarians or stockmen aboard the ship, the original application for export and evidence about whether the voyage was prepared for properly.

“The cause of death was heat stress,” she said, adding that no regulations had been breached.

She also said the vet on board euthanised as many critically unwell animals as possible, according to regulations. But she could not say how many of the dead sheep were euthanised and how many died directly from heat stress.

The deputy chair of the rural and regional affairs and transport committee, the Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan, put it to Clegg that it would be relevant to know if a vet would have euthanised more animals if they had more resources & or time.

“What this incident shows, particularly the video footage, it shows the inadequacy of the information we’re asking the vets to provide,” Clegg said.

Bur Labor senator Lisa Singh told Clegg it showed “the inadequacy of the department as an independent regulator”.

Clegg responded: “It may well be, that’s your view.”

Sullivan also asked Clegg if the temperatures during the voyage were foreseeable.

Clegg said soaring temperatures in the region where the sheep had died at the time of year the ship had taken its voyage were expected. But those days in August when those high temperatures may occur were not foreseeable, she said.

“The heat stress risk assessment model is meant to evaluate that risk and set a stock density for that risk,” she said. “The model uses the average temperature of the month.”

Clegg also said the count of animals on board a vessel was not always accurate and there were often discrepancies between the numbers recorded at different ports, adding it was something the department could address in the future.

“I think technology has moved on a lot and it will be something we focus on more accurately,” she said.




Henry Sapiecha

May 24th, 2018

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