September 17, 2003
Australia Intervene In Saudi Sheep Row
Australia is seeking for Saudi Arabia's agreement on a deal to prevent a repeat of a dispute that has left more than 50,000 sheep rejected at sea.
A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said the government would push over the next few weeks for a protocol based on the principle that all sheep shipped under agreements with Saudi interests should be unloaded.
Saudi Arabia is Australia's biggest market for the animals. On August 28, it rejected a shipload of 57,000 sheep at the port of Jeddah, on the grounds that six percent had scabby mouth disease, more than an agreed five percent tolerance level.
Australia, which resumed shipments to Saudi Arabia in 2000 after a decade-long ban imposed because of disease, has disputed the finding, saying only 0.35 percent of the sheep were infected.
The ship now has nowhere to go, with animal rights groups saying thousands of sheep have died on board and calling for the immediate slaughter of the others. This latest dispute has led to a suspension by Australia on live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia.
A spokeswoman for Australian industry group LiveCorp said on Wednesday that the Saudi importer, who owns the sheep, was still pursuing several unspecified options to land the animals, which have also been rejected by the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
Agriculture Minister Truss told reporters the Australian government was using commercial and diplomatic channels to help find somewhere to slaughter the animals.
Citing industry sources, animal rights activist Glenys Oogjes, executive director of Animals Australia, said about 3,500 or 6.3 percent of the 57,000 sheep on the Cormo Express, had died.
Truss said that, while he had no numbers, deaths would be above the two percent ceiling, enough to trigger an investigation.
Australia, the world's largest livestock exporter, ships six million sheep and one million cattle to the Middle East and Southeast Asia a year, worth A$1 billion ($660 million), destined for non-refrigerated local wet markets.
Saudi Arabia is the largest market for sheep, taking 1.8 million head in 2002 worth A$195 million.