The Australian company that exported the 22,000 sheep, which the provincial government authorities had claimed were infected with scabby mouth disease, demanded on Wednesday that the culling of the animals should be stopped as they were fit for human consumption.
“A credible and independent inspection of animals by international experts should be carried out to ascertain whether or not the sheep are diseased and unfit for human consumption,” Stephen Meerwald, the managing director of the Wellard Rural Exports, told reporters at a hotel.
“Misconceptions being fuelled by speculations in the media and other circles are very damaging for the Australian livestock sector and more dangerous for the Pakistani meat exports that earn millions of dollars for Pakistan. The issue can have negative consequences for the bilateral trade between the two countries.”
Meerwald, who likes to be called Steve, was accompanied by Mellisa Kelly, the first secretary political and economics affairs of the Australian High Commission in Islamabad.
Meerwald flew to Pakistan on Tuesday when the provincial authorities started culling the sheep after two provincial laboratories had declared them diseased and unfit for human consumption as well as hazardous for the environment.
“I am optimistic about the results of an independent investigation into the matter. Internationally renowned experts accredited by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) should carry out the tests to check the animals.”
Meerwald demanded that the culling of the sheep should be stopped until the findings of independent internationals experts and laboratories were available.
“This issue should be solved on an immediate basis as it is sending a very negative message to the business community around the world and can also badly affect Pakistan’s meat exports.”
Every shipment regulated
The Wellard Rural Exports’ managing director claimed 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.
“Wellard has exported 30 million animals across the world in the last 32 years. It has been exporting to North and South America, New Zealand and Europe. It has business relations with Pakistan since 1996.”
Meerwald said Australian companies had to comply with a very strict set of regulations before leaving the Australian port for any international destination.
“And in this consignment, we had met all the conditions agreed between Pakistan and Australia for livestock trade.”
Meerwald said his company was interested in exploring business opportunities in the livestock and agricultural sectors of Pakistan. “I had visited Punjab for two months on the invitation of the provincial government to see how my company could help it modernise its livestock and agricultural sector sectors.”
Speaking about the sheep consignment voyage, he said the vessel, Ocean Drover, had left Australia on August 4 with 75,000 sheep and 72 cows.
The vessel proceeded to Muscat in Oman, where it off-loaded 7,000 sheep and then left for Doha in Qatar, where it discharged 46,000 sheep and the cows.
“At both ports, the livestock were inspected by government veterinary authorities and cleared for discharge without any issue. Had they been found infected and carrying any virus, the Qatari and Omani authorities also should have had the same problem as was reported in Bahrain.”
The Wellard managing director said the vessel carrying the remaining sheep had 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.”
He said the discovery had caused a long delay in off-loading the animals and the vessel owners decided to leave the Bahraini port for the welfare of the sheep.
Meerwald said on repeated requests from the importer in Bahrain, the ship had waited in the Persian Gulf for the situation to clarify.
In the meantime, he said, the Bahrain authorities had requested an independent health inspection of the livestock. This was carried out by an OIE-accredited veterinarian. The OIE works in affiliation with the World Health Organisation. “This inspection found the animals to be perfectly healthy and free of any hazardous disease.”
Following this process, the vessel returned to the Bahrain port, where a letter had been issued by the ministry of municipalities and agricultural affairs allowing it entry.
“A further delay in discharging was experienced at the Bahraini port again, prompting the ship owners to make the decision of leaving and selling the sheep to Pakistan, where an alternative commercial arrangement had been made for the sale of the animals.”
The Wellard managing director said the ship had then arrived at the Karachi port, where the sheep were inspected by the relevant government veterinary authorities and cleared for being discharged 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 at 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 were healthy. None of the reports have been shown to the public, the Wellard, the PK Livestock or the media.”
Govt backs Wellard
The Australian High Commission official, Melissa Kelly, who flew to Karachi on Wednesday morning from Islamabad, said her government fully backed the Wellard Rural Exports, which was a renowned livestock exporter.
“The Australian authorities inspect each and every animal and confirm their health status before allowing their departure for other countries.”
She said like the exporting firm and the importer of the sheep, the Australian government was also confused about the circumstances that led to the culling of the animals. “Such decisions that are taken in haste can damage trade relations between countries.”
The Australian diplomat also supported Wellard’s demand for an immediate halt to the culling of the sheep and their inspection by international experts to determine their health status.