Animal welfare was taking a back seat as politics took over in the controversy over Australian live sheep exports to the Middle East.
After initially agreeing to await a government-ordered report on the trade after 2 400 sheep died during an ocean voyage, the opposition Labour Party announced that if it won in a future election, it would ban the live sheep trade worth around A$249 million (R2,36 billion) a year.
Labour agriculture spokesperson, Joel Fitzgibbon, said: “We see no future for the live sheep export trade. I accept that it will take a number of years but it can’t be a decade. If we want sheep meat producers to have sustainable profitability, we need to start working on that transition now.”
The Labour Party had previously said that it only wanted a suspension of live sheep exports during the hot Northern Hemisphere summer.
Meanwhile, minister of agriculture, David Littleproud, said that a review into the Middle Eastern summer sheep trade was due in two weeks.
“Labour has rushed to a knee-jerk ban, punishing farmers who have done no wrong,” he said in a statement. “Those farmers and businesses still traumatised by Labour’s snap ban on live exports in 2011 must be tearing their hair out.”
The Cattle Council of Australia called the Labour move reckless and ill-informed.
“Time and time again we see producers thrown under the bus by the negligence of others and this has to stop,” said council president, Howard Smith, in a statement.
An independent poll commissioned by the SPCA in Australia found 70% of Australians in rural areas and country towns wanted to end live exports.
The Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Association proposed replacing the live sheep trade with meat exports processed by its members, saying it would be more humane.
Australia exported almost two million live sheep last year, with Western Australia supplying 85% thereof.