THE fate of 11,500 Australian sheep stranded in Pakistan has been determined with an out-of-court agreement reached between the importer and Pakistani authorities, ensuring the sheep are processed humanely.
The original shipment of 21,000 sheep became embroiled in controversy after being redirected from Bahrain to Pakistan last month following an extended delay in unloading, which angered animal rights groups.
Bahrain quarantine officials rejected the shipment on quarantine grounds, reportedly due to the presence of scabby mouth disease – but testing on arrival in Pakistan cleared the sheep of any ill-health concerns.
However, Pakistani authorities seized control of the shipment by gunpoint and culled about 7600 sheep. Pakistani media outlets reported inhumane methods were used in the brutal cull, which reignited nationwide calls for a total ban on live exports.
A court injunction was imposed to protect the remaining sheep from further harm while independent authorities in England conducted diagnostic analysis.
Testing conducted at Pirbright Institute reference laboratory proved the sheep were free of infectious diseases and posed no threat to human or animal health.
Yesterday, the Sindh High Court adjourned its hearing into an application by the exporting company Wellard and the importing company PK Livestock to overturn the cull order issued by the Sindh Livestock Department.
The Court was due to reconvene today to either rule on whether the sheep would be processed for human consumption or the controversial cull would continue.
Ahead of the ruling, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s CEO Ron Cullen said whichever way the court ruled animal welfare must be “first and foremost” in considerations.
Wellard issued a statement today saying they had been informed that PK Livestock had now negotiated an agreement with the Sindh Livestock Department and the Federal Quarantine Department of Pakistan.
The agreement will guarantee the humane processing of 11,500 Australian sheep in compliance with World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) standards.
Wellard said the agreement would form the basis of further detailed negotiations and ensures PK Livestock and Wellard retain care and control over the sheep.
The agreement also ensures the sheep will be processed through a modern, Australian designed, HACCP-accredited, ISO 9000-accredited and World Animal Health Organisation-compliant abattoir at PK Livestock, which is Australian Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) accredited.
PK Livestock has agreed to drop its Sindh High Court action while the final agreement is negotiated. The sheep will remain in the care of PK Livestock and Wellard until the agreement is finalised.
Speaking from Pakistan, Wellard executive director Steve Meerwald said a negotiated agreement which guaranteed that the sheep would pass through PK Livestock’s modern, ESCAS-accredited abattoir provided the best animal welfare outcome.
“The welfare of the sheep, which we have fought so hard to get back in our possession, has to be the number one priority and a negotiated agreement achieves that goal,” he said.
Wellard said it would provide more information once the final agreement is negotiated.
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Alison Penfold said she was satisfied with Wellard’s statement that the remaining 11,500 Australian sheep in Pakistan would now be treated humanely.
Ms Penfold said she would not be making any further comment on the issue, unless any new information came to light.
But Animals Australia spokesperson Lisa Chalk said the outcome of the court case was irrelevant.
Ms Chalk said the Australian sheep were going to be slaughtered inhumanely in Pakistan “one way or the other”.
“This just adds to the list of animal welfare disasters that this industry has been responsible for,” she said.
“And we must not forget why this happened in the first place: Pakistan was a fast-tracked solution so this exporter could avoid a PR disaster when these sheep were rejected by Bahrain.
“With half of the animals now dead or missing, the only positive here is that the ordeal for the rest of them is almost over.”
Earlier this week, Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) president Ian McColl said industry had voluntarily suspended sheep exports into Pakistan and Bahrain – but there had been little or no activity in Pakistan for a considerable time.
“Wellard were looking at doing some business in that market, but that won’t be happening until we get better assurances in place,” he said.
Last week, SCA vice president and WA sheep producer Jeff Murray said the controversy had caused sheep saleyard prices to drop dramatically over the past two months, when supply to Middle East markets became insecure.
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