By Matt Dalgleish | Source: DAWR, Mecardo
Recent footage of the ill treatment of live export sheep once again raises the question of the long-term viability of the industry. In an attempt to get some perspective from what the data shows about the live export trade we assess the importance of the industry, particularly to Western Australia, and ask the question is it an entire industry in need of reform or are a few black sheep spoiling the reputation of all involved.
Figure 1 highlights the importance of the live export industry to Western Australia, given its relative geographic isolation in comparison to the Eastern states and its smaller domestic market. Indeed, seasonal live export data from the last five years shows that WA exports comprises anywhere between 65%-100% of total consignments during the season.
The average annual proportion of WA live sheep exports in recent years is just shy of 84% of total exports. Any decision to place a ban (permanent or temporary) on the live export of sheep would need to be carefully considered in light of the potential negative impact to the WA sheep industry, in particular.
Without a doubt the footage released by 60 Minutes over the weekend was shocking and needs to be investigated fully, but it does beg the question - is this type of treatment of live sheep the industry standard or was this an outlier? Certainly, the mortality data on monthly live sheep exports since 2004 indicates that the trend has been for reduced mortality levels over time from 0.9% in 2004 toward 0.7% in 2017 (black dotted line – Figure 2).
Analysis of the seasonal mortality ratio across the entire industry shows that it is not uncommon to see an increase in mortality during the third quarter of the season as shown by the black dotted line in the animation of Figure 3.
Overlaid on the Figure 3 animation is the normal range in mortality across the season (grey shaded zone) and a measure of the extreme ranges in mortality levels, as denoted by the upper and lower red dotted lines. The average long term seasonal mortality rate for Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd exports is also highlighted on the chart (green line) and it shows that for most of the time their mortality rate falls within industry norms.
However, during the last two seasons (when 60 minutes claim the footage was being taken) there were incidents during the third quarter of each year (orange and blue trend lines) when the mortality rate was extremely high for Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd shipments of live sheep.
The increase in mortality rates into the third quarter of the season and the relative widening of the normal and extreme ranges during this time suggests that it is a riskier time to be exporting live sheep, compared to the February through to May period.
However, the data seems to suggest that the spike in mortality that Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd experienced, particularly during July 2016 and August 2017, were outliers compared to their long run seasonal average mortality levels.
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