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Live exports under fire after 14,500 sheep die in heat.

SYDNEY, Sept. 3 Kyodo

Australia introduced new regulations on its live animal exports Tuesday after more than 14,500 sheep died while being shipped to the Middle East in one month, Agriculture Minister Warren Truss told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC).

The dead sheep were thrown overboard from four vessels into the Arabian Sea after dying in hot and humid temperatures in the Middle East during July.

Three unnamed companies involved in the shipment of the sheep had been asked to explain why they should not have their export permits suspended, Truss said.

''It's unacceptable and we need to take appropriate measures to ensure that these things don't happen again,'' he said.

An investigation into the deaths was launched by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service and new conditions were immediately imposed on ships leaving Australia with live sheep, including assessments, stock reductions and an accompanying veterinarian to monitor the animals.

Australia, the world's largest live sheep exporter, shipped out 6.81 million sheep in 2001, along with over 822,000 cattle and 106,000 goats, according to the Australian Livestock Exporters Corp.

Over 97% of exported sheep were sent on ship journeys of two to three weeks to the Middle East for ritual Halal slaughter, in which the throat is slit while the animal is still conscious.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) estimates that between 218,000 and 344,000 sheep die annually from export-related causes before they are slaughtered.

Sheep exported from Australia face a journey of up to 11 weeks from the farm gate to their eventual slaughter. RSPCA has long maintained that livestock should be slaughtered as close as possible to the point of production because of the suffering associated with their transport.

Last month, 800 cool-climate cattle died while being shipped from Australia to the Middle East, prompting an investigation and halting the export of southern breed cows during hotter months.

Animal rights groups have called for a ban of live sheep exports between May and October, during the northern hemisphere summer.

According to the Meat and Livestock Australia, an industry association, sheep deaths during the export process have been steadily been reduced and now stand at about 1.5% between leaving the farm in Australia and arrival in the Middle East.

It said approximately half of all sheep that die during the export process die from ''failure to eat syndrome'' and a further 25% die from salmonella poisoning.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 9, 2002
Words:408
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