The review, which has been initiated by Australia’s Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, was sparked after video footage showed sheep being exported in distressing conditions that resulted in 2,400 of them dying from heat stress.
The exporter involved, Emanuel Exports, later apologised and said it was now upholding welfare standards and would further mitigate the risk of exporting sheep to the Arabian Gulf during the Northern Hemisphere summer.
The McCarthy Review is a list of 23 recommendations, written by livestock veterinarian Michael McCarthy, for traders to improve conditions for sheep exported to the Middle East during the summer months.
Several of the recommendations will be implemented immediately, including moving to an allometric, or size-related, model to determine stocking density and reducing the mortality level for sheep exported by sea to the Middle East from 2% to 1%.
Others areas, such as the heat stress risk assessment, require more research, testing and public consultation to ensure an informed and effective implementation – which Dr McCarthy did not have capacity to complete in the timeframe, according to Littleproud.
Littleproud also warned that he would be introducing a Bill in the coming weeks, which will see increased penalties and a new offence of traders profiting from poor animal welfare outcomes.
Under this offence, a director of a company could face 10 years in prison or a AU$2.1 million (m) fine. An individual convicted under the same offence would face 10 years and a AU$420,000 fine. For a company, the fine would be AU$4.2m, three times the benefit gained, or 10% of the company's annual turnover, whichever is greater.
Under the Australian Meat and Livestock Act, current penalties are five years’ prison and/or a AU$63,000 fine for an individual to eight years’ prison and/or a AU$100,800 fine.
The McCarthy Review has been welcomed by the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC), which thanked Minister Littleproud and Dr McCarthy for the speed with which they had acted to address public concerns raised by the whistleblower footage and provide a way forward for the industry.
“The footage demonstrated a critical failure by our industry to meet community expectations,” said ALEC chairman Simon Crean. “We know we need to improve and will work cooperatively with the Government to implement the necessary reforms. We must call out welfare failures and lead the cultural change required to win back public confidence.”