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Australian firm says only two sheep are infected: immediate halt to culling demanded




  • An Australian live stock exporting company, Wellard Rural Exports on Wednesday asked the authorities to immediately halt culling of the imported sheep claiming that only two of the 22,000 sheep were infected while the rest were in good health. 

    Stephen Meerwald, Managing Director of Wellard Rural Exports of Australia, claimed that “the animals had no health issues when they departed the Australian Port and reached the Karachi Port.” He said this while addressing a press conference, arranged by the company and the Australian High Commission, here at a local hotel. 

    Meerwald who was accompanied by Melissa Kelly, First Secretary (Political/Economic) of the Australian High Commission and Dr Habil Ulrich Wernery, Scientific Director of Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, Dubai, however could not satisfy the media persons on various questions. To a question as to why Australia accepted Pakistan qualified for ”Supply Chain Insurance System” within a couple of days to make the export of sheep possible after they were rejected by Bahrain, he could not give a satisfactory answer but insisted that the importing company in Pakistan was meeting the required standards of the system introduced in Australia in 2011. 

    According to sources, the deal was made in a hurry while engaging Agricultural, Fisheries and Forestry departments in Australia and quarantine authorities in Pakistan. No export or import of live stock has taken place between Pakistan and Australia since the introduction of the new system called ESCAS in 2011. The new system was launched to ensure that farming facilities, slaughter houses, foods of animal are as per the world”s animal safety standards. 

    In reply to a query, he denied that no secret deal was made with the concerned officials in Pakistan. Meerwald claimed that the Bahrain”s ministry of agriculture had not rejected the sheep and it was the ministry of interior which ordered to send them back for unknown reasons. He, however, had not documental proof about the two infected sheep and how they were disposed of. 

    He also rejected the possibility of accepting the sheep back, however he said that PK Live Stock could think about re-exporting the sheep to Australia. Earlier, in his briefing, he demanded a credible and independent inspection of the animals by international experts to ascertain whether they are fit for human consumption or not as according to him misconceptions being created by speculations in the media, was damaging for the Australian livestock sector and even more dangerous for the Pakistani meat export. 

    He demanded that culling of the sheep should immediately be stopped till the findings of independent international experts and labs were available. He also demanded that the issue should be resolved on immediate basis as it was sending a negative message to business community around the world. He said that every shipment of livestock from Australia was regulated by the Australian government to ensure that every animal exported complies with the country”s strict animal welfare and health standards as well as those of the importing country. 

    He further said that Wellard had exported 30 million animals world over in last 32 years and it had been exporting from North and South America, Newzealand and Europe. Talking about the sheep export voyage, he said that vessel Ocean Drover was loaded in Australia on August 4, 2012 with a cargo of 75,000 sheep and 72 cattle. The vessel proceeded to Muscat, Oman where it discharged 7,000 sheep before proceeding to Doha, Qatar where it discharged 46,000 sheep and the cattle. At both the ports, the livestock were inspected by the veterinary authorities and cleared for discharge without any issue. Had they been infected and carrying any virus, Qatar”s and Oman”s authorities should also have had the same problem as was being reported about Bahrain. 

    He said that the vessel proceeded to Bahrain where during the veterinary inspection a small number of animals were found to have minor lesions of a common viral infection known as Scabby Mouth. Scabby Mouth is found in every country that runs commercial livestock flocks and herds including Bahrain and Pakistan. 

    According to him this caused a long delay to discharge during which the vessel owners made the decision to leave Bahrain port to ensure that continuing welfare of the sheep could be maintained. On the repeated requests by importer in Bahrain, the ship waited in the Gulf for further clarity. In the meantime the Bahrain authorities requested an independent health inspection of the livestock. This was carried out by an OIE (World Animal Health Organisation) accredited veterinarian. The inspection found the animals to be perfectly healthy and free of any hazardous disease. Following this the vessel returned to Bahrain port where a letter was issued by the ministry of municipalities and agricultural affairs allowing entry, after taking precautionary veterinary measures on board the ship, prior to disembarking it in accordance with the approved veterinary health measures. 

    A further delay was experienced at Bahraini port which again prompted the ship owners to make the decision to leave the port and sell the sheep to Pakistan where alternative commercial arrangement had been made for the sell of the sheep. The ship then proceeded to Karachi port where it was inspected by the relevant veterinary authorities and cleared for discharge into the importer”s holding facility. 

    Speculative international media reports on the basis of the ship not discharging the sheep in Bahrain prompted officials in Pakistan to validate the health status of the livestock by visual inspection and a series of blood tests for various diseases. The tests were conducted by the National Veterinary Laboratories in Islamabad an OIE accredited animal health laboratory. According to the laboratory reports all tests proved negative. 

    Despite the confirmation of the healthy and disease free status of the sheep further inspection and tests were ordered by the local authorities and they took several tests to determine if the animals are healthy. Thus none of the reports has been shown to public, Wellard, PK Livestock or to the media. 

    Dr Habil Ulrich Wernery, claimed to be the expert who inspected the sheep in Bahrain, claimed that only two cases of disease were noticed in the entire consignment. The expert, who was invited by the Australian company, further claimed that existing animals were fit/ healthy. Slaughtering live animals for no reason was a shameful act, he said. Melissa Kelly said “we are confused and concerned that why the animals are being culled in Pakistan”. 

    Copyright Business Recorder, 2012

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