Government Announces 'Seismic Shift' For Live Export Industry

But not everyone is convinced it will make a difference to animal welfare.

What you need to know
  • New rules for the live exports industry were announced on Thursday
  • Space for each animal will be increased by 39 percent
  • Farmers welcome improvements in the industry
  • The RSPCA believes the government has fallen short of ensuring animal welfare standards

The Government's "seismic shift" in live exports has left the RSPCA less than impressed.

While there will be no ban on live exports during the Middle Eastern summer, there will be changes to the way the industry is managed, Minister for Water and Agriculture David Littleproud announced on Thursday.

Littleproud initiated a review into the live export industry in April and said all 23 of Dr Michael McCarthy's recommendations would be accepted. One of these is changes to the stocking density model, where the amount of space for each sheep will increase by up to 39 percent. The amount of animals on each vessel will decrease by 28 percent.

"In a sweeping change, Dr McCarthy recommended a seismic shift from stocking density based on animal mortality to one based on animal welfare. The greater mortality is heat stress," Littleproud said.

This shift could see exporters changing their boats to improve ventilation, thus reducing the effect of heat stress on animals.

"This model could have the potential merit of giving exporters incentive to improve ventilation and air flow to increase their carrying capacity," Littleproud said.

Other changes announced include a requirement for the regulator to investigate any voyage which has a motality rate of one percent or higher and that all boats will have an independent observer on board. The observer's responsibility will be to feed vision and reports to the regulator on a daily basis.

Littleproud will also introduce a bill into a parliament to amend the Australian Meat and Live-Stock Industry Act to punish those breaking stocking density and animal welfare protocols. Under an amended law, companies could cop a fine of $4.2 million and individuals could face a $420,000 fine or a jail term of 10 years.

There's also a whistleblower hotline for people to call and report companies or individuals who are breaking the guidelines.

However the RSPCA doesn't believe the government will regulate the industry effectively.

"We don't have confidence in the department's ability to regulate this industry," RSPCA's Australia Chief Scientist Dr Bidda Jones said.

"We've seen in the past that it's failed to regulate, so any changes to aspects like penalties or breaches of current legislation, they require the regulator to be efficient, they require the regulator to be able to enforce regulations."

Jones told reporters the government's proposed changes fall short of guaranteeing animal welfare as the density change will only apply between May and October.

"Increasing space allowance doesn't mean that sheep will not suffer from heat stress," Jones said.

"Even if there was one sheep in a single pen during that time of year, sheep will still suffer from heat stress, so increasing stocking density is the very least that could be done, and any increase in stocking density needs to be applied at the entire year."

Farmers have welcomed the speed with which the government has acted, saying they welcome ongoing improvements to the industry.

"We want standards that are going to assure the animal welfare -- the highest animal welfare standards on ships, that match our animal welfare standards on farm, and we just have to build that knowledge as we go along," National Farmer's Federation president Fiona Simson said.

Simson also stressed how important the live export industry was for the livelihoods of local farmers and that upholding regulations was also the responsibility of exporters.

"We like the live export trade because it also provides competition to our markets," Simson said.

"It provides alternatives when farmers are planning. When to sell their livestock and what prices they should sell them for. It is really up to the exporters to build their models to actually fit in with these regulations."

Littleproud announced the government's new steps to ensuring animal welfare on live exports. Image: AAP

Farmer Lindy Murray said the live export trade allows the farming industry an opportunity to promote the importance of animal welfare.

"I am proud of the way that our industry provides not only quality food to other places where there are food security issues, but we can also supply knowledge, we can build knowledge in terms of animal welfare and we can supply that, so it's really important," Murray said. 

The density reductions will be implemented from Thursday.