September 18, 2003



Australia May Offer Stranded Sheep To Pakistan


Australia has arranged for its envoy to meet the Pakistani farm minister Thursday, to convince the country to accept 57,000 live sheep stranded at sea for weeks after being rejected by Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia rejected the sheep on August 28 because six percent of them had scabby mouth disease, more than an agreed limit of five percent. The Australian government said only 0.35 percent were infected with the low grade disease.


Animal welfare groups have reacted heatedly as temperatures of 40 degrees have killed many of the sheep, while Canberra acts to find a solution to this crisis. A spokesman for the Australian High Commission confirmed a meeting with a Pakistani minister this week but did not give more details.


Meanwhile, the Pakistani agriculture ministry had recommended that the offer of "free sheep" be "politely refused", although diplomacy might rule out such an option. The Australians are pursuing this issue at very high level, making it hard for any outright refusal, the ministry said.


Mohammad Hanif, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, earlier told Reuters that the sheep would probably not be allowed to land in Pakistan, based on regulations regarding the importation of possibly infected livestock.


Pakistan's meat imports are mainly sheep from Australia and New Zealand and beef smuggled from India.