Australia is introducing sweeping reforms in its live export trade after footage of dead or dying sheep on ships bound to the Middle East caused a public outcry. The government said the whole industry needed to change.
The government in Australia said Thursday it had prepared legislation to penalize exporters of live cattle and sheep if new welfare standards were not observed.
The nation will require ships carrying live sheep to have an independent observer to ensure the new standards after 2,400 sheep died from heat stress on their way to the Middle East.
The government rejected a complete ban on live exports "as it would cause too much damage to the country's agricultural sector," Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said Thursday.
His government will instead reduce the number of sheep a vessel is allowed to carry during the summer months by 28 percent.
Under the draft legislation, a director of an export company could face a 10-year jail term or a hefty fine if rules are not observed.
Just one incident?
Littleproud called the footage of dying sheep disgraceful, but added "what you don't need to do is predicate your decisions on emotions" as this was "one exporter, one incident."
Animal rights group RSPCA Australia said the changes presented by the government did not go far enough. "What the minister has done is he's responded to the economic interests of the industry once again," the group's strategy officer, Bidda Jones, said in a statement.
"I think the public expects animal welfare to be put ahead of economic interests."
Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of livestock. While the bulk of its meat exports are processed, markets such as the Middle East and Indonesia prefer to buy live animals.
hg/tr (AFP, dpa)