IN THE NEWS: Scandal hits live export trade as pregnant cattle are shipped

IN THE NEWS: On JAN 7, 2013

THE $1 billion live export trade has been hit with another animal welfare scandal, with the suspicious deaths of 65 cattle after a shipment containing pregnant cows was sent to Mauritius.

The pregnant cattle were sent last year despite Australian authorities providing paperwork that none of the stock were in that condition.

Just months after the brutal culling of thousands of sheep in Pakistan led to renewed calls to ban live exports, the Gillard government is investigating possible breaches of its regulations amid a dispute between Australian exporters and Mauritian importers.

The most serious issue is why government paperwork stated that none of the 2061 cattle that left Australia on October 5 were pregnant when two cows allegedly gave birth during the usual 10-day voyage, four cows were found to be pregnant when slaughtered and further testing revealed many more cattle pregnant in the feedlot.

The Certificate of Health to Accompany Animals, issued by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and seen by The Australian, states that "none of the female cattle were pregnant at the time of export", but animal welfare groups say this is false and have questioned how it could have happened.

The Australian exporter, South East Asian Livestock Services, also reported to DAFF on November 21 that a "small percentage of heifers" were found to be pregnant despite being manually pregnancy-tested before departure or spayed in accordance with regulations.

The importer was furious when it discovered the cattle were pregnant, because it is illegal in Mauritius to slaughter animals in that condition. It is not in Australia, but exporters must notify authorities of any pregnant cattle.

The importer also claimed the shipment was deliberately delayed to miss a crucial selling period and 65 cows were later found dead in the feedlot in suspicious circumstances. Local police are now investigating how the cattle died and allegations they may have been poisoned.

Animals Australia -- which was contacted by a representative of the importer at the same time the exporter reported the potential breach to DAFF -- sent a veterinary surgeon to Mauritius who confirmed cows had been pregnant "despite the official Australian government health certificate stating otherwise".

Campaign director Lyn White said Animals Australian lodged a complaint with DAFF asking why the pregnant cattle were not detected.

"Regulations require that pregnant cattle are provided with additional space and bedding," she said. "These cattle were given neither, endured very heavy seas and two poor animals even gave birth on board with their calves then killed."

She said the welfare implications for these animals were severe and completely unacceptable.

"Not only were pregnant cattle shipped . . . now there are allegations that 65 cattle have died mysteriously in the feedlot," Ms White said.

A spokesman for South East Asian Livestock Services maintained no pregnancies were recorded by the certifying vets at the time of departure. "(We) had all appropriate certification from veterinarians and vendors, verified by DAFF, prior to the vessel being loaded," he said.

A DAFF spokesman confirmed the department was investigating the matter and said it would fully co-operate with local Mauritian authorities if requested.

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