IN THE NEWS: Poor practices to blame for high mortality rate on live export voyage, says vet group VALE

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IN THE NEWS: On SEP 13, 2017

A group of vets opposed to the live export trade say a consignment that left the port of Townsville in March 2016 experienced avoidable cattle deaths as a result of poor practices.

The Bison Express travelled between Townsville and Vietnam over 10 days with 25 cattle deaths out of the 1,764 on board, a mortality rate of 1.42 per cent.

The reportable mortality rate for voyages more than 10 days is one per cent, and 0.5 per cent for shorter voyages.

The Federal Department of Agriculture's report into the consignment found wet weather in the days before the Northern Australian Cattle Company's voyage contributed to the mortality rate.

However, after an analysis of the exporter's and stockman's reports obtained through a freedom of information request, Vets Against Live Export (VALE) spokesperson Sue Foster believed the high mortality rate occurred due to the exporter loading cattle that were not fit to load, and failing to provide adequate bedding for the cattle.

"Cattle were dying from day one [of the voyage], so they weren't fit to load and arguably the whole consignment shouldn't have been loaded after such difficult conditions."

Bedding not a requirement

The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) requires voyages of 10 days or more of cattle and buffalo below the latitude 26 degrees south to provide sawdust, rice hulls or similar material to be used exclusively for bedding.

However, the requirement for bedding does not apply to cattle and buffalo loaded from Brisbane, or a port north of the latitude 26 degrees south and exported to Southeast Asia or Japan.

Ms Foster said she would like to see that changed.

"The industry has already recommended that [the requirements] be changed. The industry did a report in 2009 before the current version of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, and they were ignored.

"Those recommendations make it quite clear that bedding is definitely best practice, but certainly, probably essential in heavy animals like these ones that were transported from Townsville."

The Federal Department of Agriculture report into the voyage noted the exporter loaded fodder in excess of ASEL requirements, as well as one tonne of saw dust and one tonne of chaff to assist with drying the hooves of the wet cattle.

The findings highlighted that of the 25 deaths, 14 were due to an inability to stand or walk, and that the Northern Australian Cattle Company accepted those mortalities were a result of softened hooves from wet conditions, ultimately resulting in infection and lameness.

Rough seas during the final days of the voyage were also cited as a factor in the deaths at sea, despite the spreading of additional bedding near downer animals and use of anti-inflammatories to assist the cattle to stand.

The report found that as a result of this incident, NACC had reviewed their policies for monitoring weather patterns to better prepare for adverse weather conditions and would continue to load additional bedding for heavy cattle.

Ms Foster said she hoped the requirements for bedding would be reviewed in the upcoming ASEL review, however was not confident the requirements would be changed.

'Hidden component' in livestock deaths, says VALE

While it is not common for a lack of bedding on northern cattle shipments to be reported as a cause of high mortality, Ms Foster believed it often played a role.

"Given that there are a number of high mortality voyages, even in the last four or five years, that have had issues with injury and lameness with rough seas et cetera, one can't help but think 'had there been bedding there, that the situation would have been at least improved, if not alleviated'.

"So it's the hidden component that no one ever discusses."

A spokesman for the Australian Live Exporters Council said onboard losses were always regrettable, but added that with more than 40 per cent of industry service provider LiveCorp's budget spent on animal welfare, there was a commitment to reducing mortality rates, which are now comparable with, or below, normal farm mortality rates.

The Federal Government's report showed that in the 12 months since the Bison Express deaths, 20,155 cattle have been exported by NACC, with 37 mortalities at a rate of 0.18 per cent.

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