THE PUSH for independent veterinarians on live export ships and further review of animal welfare standards on voyages is gaining momentum.
Other veterinarians who have worked on live cattle and sheep export ships are speaking out about what they claim is endemic problems with animal cruelty.
In the wake of claims by experienced live export vet Dr Lynn Simpson that she was removed from a government position due to pressure from the live export industry after presenting evidence of appalling conditions on ships, at least five vets have said her case was not unusual.
Through the group Vets Against Live Export (VALE), these veterinarians have made claims of being asked to falsify mortality figures, ignore incorrect loading numbers on the manifest or not being employed again after reporting high mortality.
The Australian Live Exporters’ Council has strongly denied it ever sought the dismissal of Dr Simpson and has pointed to a ‘fresh perspective on past attitudes and behaviours towards people and organisations external to the industry’ in its response to the affair.
Exporters have also made the point that Dr Simpson’s evidence was collected in the past and that many of the claims made by VALE were extremely dated.
However, VALE spokesperson WA vet Dr Sue Foster said as recently as last year Australian veterinarians had witnessed cattle and sheep forced to endure unacceptable conditions on ships.
She said nothing had changed in the time since Dr Simpson’s damning evidence was collected - most of the exporters were the same and so were the ships and the regulations.
The Australian Veterinary Association says it is absolutely critical veterinarians on live export ships are employed by a third party.
They are responsible for enforcing compliance with welfare regulations and must be able to do their jobs, said AVA president Dr Robert Johnson.
“That is no criticism whatsoever of vets already working on ships but rather acknowledgment of the need for them to be able to act without fear or favour,” he said.
Dr Johnson said it was AVA’s understanding that live-ex standards had remained unchanged for a long time and that he would ‘be surprised if there wasn’t room for improvement.’
It was a positive sign that exporters were looking to engage with the veterinary profession to seek improvements, he said.
“I think the Lynn Simpson issue has crystalised people into action and we intend to grasp this opportunity - the ultimate winners are the animals,” he said.
ALEC chief executive officer Alison Penfold said the Australian Government required accredited veterinarians be employed by exporters and act in accordance with the regulatory requirements outlined in the Part 4A of Export Control (Animals) Order 2004.
“It is a matter for the Australian Government to review its policy on this matter and should we be asked to comment on any review, we would undertake consultation and provide a considered position,” she said.
“ALEC expects that exporters enable veterinarians to be able to carry out their duties without fear or favour and in line with their regulatory responsibilities.”
Northern NSW veterinary surgeon Dr Peter Kerkenezov, who sailed on live export ships in the early 2000s and is also a merchant mariner, said stocking density regulations had in fact increased since 1983.
Current Australian Standards for Export of Livestock regulations for 200 kilogram cattle was .77 a square metre, while in 1983 it was .9, he said.
Dr Kerkenezov said it was ‘absolute nonsense’ that the issues being raised by these vets were a thing of the past.
“It has been known within the industry for 40 years that if you say anything the live exporters don’t want to hear, you simply do not get asked back,” he said.
“Dozens of other vets, possibly more, have had this experience.”