The deaths of 46 cattle this week on a shipment to China has triggered a report to authorities.
A month-long delay in shipping, which likely negated the efficacy of the prescribed preventative vaccines, and the impact of a severe weather event while the shipment was in its feedlot preparation, are among the factors cited for the deaths.
An adverse respiratory reaction to a southern wintertime crossing of the equator was also a possible factor contributing to the deaths of the cattle.
The 3180-head consignment of slaughter stock, shipped from Fremantle, WA, by Phoenix Exports - a subsidy of the West Australia-based and China-funded Harmony Food and Agriculture Company (HFAC) - were all Angus and Angus-cross 140-day grainfed cattle sourced from 221 vendors throughout the southern region of WA.
HFAC managing director Steve Meerwald said that the unexplained deaths were formally notified to the Department once the one per cent trigger tolerance had been exceeded, and well before the shipment was discharged In Lianyungang, China.
“We raised our concerns with the Department that some cattle in the consignment were not travelling well, a few days into the voyage,” Mr Meerwald said.
“We started losing a beast or two a day soon after loading, and losses spiked to 12 deaths on the day the equator was crossed.”
Mr Meerwald said the vessel, Panama-registered MV Dareen, was loaded on May 29 and discharged on June 15.
“These 46-losses on this one voyage are at odds with three other shipments our company has made from southern Australia to China,” Mr Meerwald said.
“Our first two voyages from Portland each had five losses in total shipments of 2500 head.
“These voyages were made in November and March respectively, while a third shipment from Portland, which is currently still on the water, has suffered nine losses to date.
“While all deaths are unfortunate, our performance from Portland has been less than 0.25pc, which is well below Government requirements and industry expectation.
“At this point we are unsure of the reasons, but at this time it points to a respiratory problem. All cattle in each of the shipments were prepared in accordance with the regulations in each state, although in Victoria a double shot of Bovilis MH+IBR was dispensed while in WA only one was required.
“Given the shipment was delayed for a month longer than was expected, we suspect the peak coverage of the vaccine may have passed.”
Mr Meerwald said another factor that may have contributed was the relatively stable weather the cattle were prepared under.
“It has been a mild and dry summer and autumn and these cattle had never experience bad weather conditions, until a huge front hit WA only days before loading,” he said.
“Combined, we believe all of these factors may have contributed, nonetheless we have been in contact with all of our suppliers, the relevant farming bodies and the appropriate authorities to help solve the problem.
“On our performances from Portland, we believe there is limited risk in shipments of slaughter cattle being made from southern Australia to China, and particularly in the winter.”
Mr Meerwald said that importer-feedback to the deaths on the Fremantle shipment was surprising positive.
“The importer’s comment to us was that 95pc of the shipment had traveled well from its final inspection which exceeded their expectation,” he said.
A Department of Agriculture and Water Resources spokesperson said the Department has strict reporting requirements for all live export voyages and investigates all reported incidents.
“The Department is investigating a notifiable mortality incident involving cattle on a recent voyage from Fremantle to China, and will release a report on its website in due course,” the spokesperson said.
“Compliance action taken by the Department in response to notifiable mortality incidents is also reported every six months to Parliament.”