Federal Member for Maranoa and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called for an investigation.
Federal Member for Maranoa and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called for an investigation. Will Hunter

LIVE EXPORT: Ag Minister orders investigation

FEDERAL Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has ordered an investigation into the deaths of at least 2400 sheep en route to the Middle East.

It comes after Mr Littleproud was on Wednesday supplied graphic footage of the sheep by animal activists Animals Australia, taken over the past two years.

"I'm shocked and deeply disturbed by the vision,” Mr Littleproud said in a statement.

"I thank Animals Australia for bringing this to my attention.”

It is understood the vision includes footage from several trips to the Middle East in 2016 and 2017, including an August 2017 voyage where 2400 sheep perished due to heat stress.

The minister received a report regarding that shipment from the Department of Agriculture last week, and had already sought a briefing and more information from industry prior to receiving the Animals Australia footage.

The Department's report - from a previous investigation - shows the consignment of 63,804, managed by Emanuel Exports, left Fremantle on August 2 bound for Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The trip had a mortality rate of 3.79 per cent; any rate above 2 per cent must be reported to the Department.

The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive Simon Westaway described the deaths and conditions as "plainly unacceptable”.

"We're committed to further reform and ongoing improvement in terms of animal welfare in our $250 million live sheep trade,” he said.

ALEC said they were shown the footage by 60 Minutes this week, but copies were not being released because of an exclusive agreement between Animals Australia and Channel Nine.

According to ALEC, the voyage in question struck extreme heat and humidity at Doha, which was the first port of call.

Kuwait, the typical first port of call, has a drier heat which creates less heat risk stress for sheep, but the port was unavailable because of the blacklisting of Qatar by other gulf countries.

Precautions including loading sheep at 15 per cent below ASEL required volumes for for northern summer shipments have been agreed to by the exporter and DAWR.

"These steps are in addition to the industry's long-standing climate control programs for shipping which statistics show has helped to further reduce mortalities and heat-related welfare risks,” Mr Westaway said.

In 2017, there were 1.74 million sheep exported from Australia with a mortality rate of 0.71 per cent.

Emanuel Exports managing director Graham Daws said the mortality rate on the company's Awassi Express in August last year were "devastating”.

"Emanuel Exports has taken steps over more than six months to address the issues arising from our own extensive review of the voyage and the findings from the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources investigation.

"This includes reduced stocking rates in summer up to 15 per cent beyond the ASEL benchmark. These measures are formal conditions embedded into our Approved Arrangements Standard Export Plans which require DAWR approval.”

Mr Littleproud yesterday said he asked the Department to urgently investigate further information it is to receive this afternoon.

"As I've said many times since becoming Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources in December 2017, we need compliance with laws across all industries to give us integrity,” he said.

"I will not be afraid to call out and take strong action against those who have not fulfilled their responsibilities, whether they be the exporter, the regulator or staff on ships.”

Mr Littleproud said he supported exporters who "do the right thing”.

"Farmers care for their animals and they'll be angry and hurt when they see this footage,” he said.

He said there needed to be an environment where whistleblowers could be comfortable coming forward "so we can nail those who do the wrong thing.”