NSPCA says there’s nothing sinister in pursuing outright ban for live export of sheep from South Africa

The war between the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) and Al Mawashi seems to be far from over.

This after the NSPCA indicated that it is still pursuing the outright ban for live export of sheep from South Africa across the equator.

Before 2018, Australia exported over 2.0 million sheep to the Middle East with the value of live sheep exports tallying A$249 million. Contrast this to 2019 when Australia’s live sheep exports took a dive by 43%.

“Nationally, 1.1 million sheep were exported live from Australia in 2019, valued at $143 million,” said the Western Australia government.

But what led to this dip essentially was Australia imposing strict restrictions abetted by some lawmakers advocating for legislation to ban live sheep exports.  

Such announcements sent jitters in the market with Al Mawashi paying attention to the developments. Being the largest live sheep exporter globally with 40 years’ experience, the company did not hesitate to explore new markets.

According to Reuters, Al Mawashi’s CEO Usama Khaled Boodai told a packed press conference in 2018 after the strict regulations were imposed that their trust in Australia as a supplier of sheep to Kuwait has weakened.

At that time, Boodai said they would look to engage in talks with South Africa, Sudan and the Horn of Africa countries.

South Africa leapt at the opportunity and allowed Kuwait’s Livestock Transport and Trading, a parent company of Al Mawashi to set up base in the Eastern Cape.

This birthed Al Mawashi SA partnership as late as 2019, sending signals to Eastern Cape livestock farmers that the Middle East market was ready. But the celebration was short lived though, as NSCPA challenged the live sheep exports in court.

Last week, the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCAs) said it has received a long-awaited correspondence on 15 October 2020, exactly a month later than promised, from the Grahamstown High Court.

“This included the “reasons” for the NSPCA’s Part A application being set aside on 25 August 2020, resulting in the Al Messilah livestock vessel leaving South Africa in September 2020 with some 51000 sheep and 650 cattle,” said the NSPCA.

NSPCA felt that Acting Judge Dukada’s primary reason for permitting the most recent export of sheep relates to a balance of convenience – “this balance being between the financial loss that could be suffered by the respondents should the export be prevented versus that of the welfare of the exported sheep.”

In his ruling Acting Judge Dikana stated, “It cannot be gainsaid that the First and Second Respondents have already suffered substantial damages for the delay in transporting the sheep by ship from East London Harbour to the Equator. In their answering affidavits, the First and Second Respondents mentioned a financial loss of R139, 431, 135, 14 per day incurred since 9 June 2020 in order to maintain the 70 sheep at the Castledale Feedlot; and approximately R591,000, 00 per day incurred to keep the MV Al Messilah in the East London Harbour since June 2020.” (sic).

Judge Dukada further stated that “the NSPCA has placed great reliance on heat stress which causes extreme cruelty to the sheep. There is a serious dispute of facts between the parties as to whether the heat stress is avoidable by modern technology”.

NSPCA says its legal team believe that their papers in comparison to the respondents are more comprehensive and are higher in evidentiary value, as recognised by the late Judge Jaji and Judge Bloem, who heard and granted the previous interim interdicts. 

“There was an overwhelming amount of evidence submitted and this caused the court papers to exceed 2300 pages,” charged NSPCA.

NSPCA says that: “interestingly, Judge Dukada stated, the main problem with the case presented by the NSPCA is that it has ignored the Terrestrial Animal Health Code (2019) published by the World Organisation for Animal Health of OIE – chapter 7.2 of the OIE Standards Transport of Animals by Sea.” (sic).

However, argues the NSPCA, the primary legislative framework relating to animal offences within South Africa is the Animals Protection Act, No. 71 of 1962. It says the Judge however deferred to” international law” or guidelines declaring that South Africa is bound by it.

“It is however perplexing as it is not even recognised as such by the international body that developed and maintain these guidelines.”

Grace De Lange, manager of the NSPCA’s Farm Animal Protection Unit said they are disappointed that the company’s financial loss superseded the suffering of the 51 000 sheep that were transported over the equator at the hottest time of year – “a financial loss that could have been completely avoided as the company knew well in advance that the NSPCA intended to bring about High Court proceedings. It is unacceptable that animals suffered in the name of money”.

Currently, it is estimated that exports of livestock from the Eastern Cape could inject close to R1billion to the province.

A state vet in the Eastern Cape, who wished to remain anonymous, told Mzansi Agri Talk that the NSPCA case is “rather interesting as the red meat industry went beyond to prove to them that everything was above board”.

“State and independent vets were roped in and the Al Mawashi vessel was inspected thoroughly by seasoned professionals,” said the state vet.

Some commercial livestock farmers who benefits from the Al Mawashi deal also questioned why would the NSPCA challenge what they called a reputable company like Al Mawashi, which for years, had complied with Australia’s strict regulations without any scandal.

Further claims were made that certain red meat sections from Australia, dissatisfied with Al Mawashi setting base in South Africa, might have indirectly funded the NSPCA to do its campaign bidding in order to disrupt any exports of livestock.

However, the NSPCA rejects this. Mzansi Agri Talk contacted Meg Wilson, Public Relations Officer at NSPCA to seek clarity on some of the claims that were raised against the animals welfare organisation.

Q: Is it true that NSPCA is funded by Australian donors to fight the move of Al Mawashi to SA?

A: The NSPCA is funded by members of the public and like-minded organisations. We receive no funding from the government. Animals Australia have supported our endeavour to end live export over the equator in South Africa – they are an NGO in Australia that are opposed to live export. They have nothing to benefit from our success – they are an organisation that cares about all animals, no matter which corner of the world they are in.

Q: Sudan and Horn of Africa countries (are across the equator), are countries Al Mawashi earmarked in 2018 after Australia imposed regulations on live sheep exports, what does NSCPA mean when it says that it will take its battle across the equator?

A: Firstly, tightening regulations that affect Al Mawashi`s bottom line has been happening for a long time. The video footage which sparked reviews that led to this relatively drastic change in welfare regulations, are in essence the hair that broke the camel’s back. It is why the CEO of Al Mawashi in Kuwait stated to Reuters and re-published even in South African articles that “due to Australia`s changing regulatory stance towards live export, they will be seeking alternatives” – South Africa was named. A country with progressive welfare standards, but one that doesn’t have welfare regulations for live export in our opinion. The horn of Africa is interesting, as it was only this year that 6000 sheep perished on a journey from Sudan as reported in the media. Heat is a major concern and while the first round of heat after the equator is missed, animals still experience heat and humidity to reach their destinations as they approach the middle east. Heat is however not the only concern.

Q: There’s a suggestion that NSCPA’s campaign to ban live sheep exports is encouraged by one incident in Australia, where live sheep were exported under horrendous conditions but not by Al Mawashi? Is this claim true?

A: Al Mawashi’s subsidiary in Australia (RETWA) lost their licence in Australia to transport sheep to Kuwait after over 20 horrific journeys in the early 2000s. Straightaway, their associated company, Emanuel Exporters, applied for the licence and the company continued trading. In recent years, Al Mawashi has been implicated in horrific cruelty (under Emanuel Exporters’ licence), an example would be that in 2016, the Al Messilah was found to have lost over 3000 sheep (more deaths and suffering than the footage aboard the Awassi Express – this was a consignment by Emmanuel Exporters). This was when Emanuel Exporters lost their licence, and then RETWA fought to have their licence re-issued. The synergy between these two associated companies is apparent – when one loses their licence, the other gets one.

It is disingenuous for this company to claim that it had nothing to do with the footage taken over five voyages as they were the consignee of the animals, and thus the owner – which would have made them responsible under South African law.

Furthermore, RETWA and Emanuel Exporters have shared the same directors and ships in their close working relationship.

Q: If not, what evidence do you have that Al Mawashi treated animals with cruelty on board? 

A: The evidence put forward by the Australian Veterinary Association and findings by the official Australian government review (journey reports, government investigation reports, end of voyage reports and peer reviewed scientific literature) Journeys aboard Al Mawashi vessels had been used extensively in the outcome in what Al Mawashi`s CEO, Usama Boodai, described as Australia`s “changing regulatory stance”. Furthermore, one of our experts is an eyewitness in her time on the vessels as the on-board veterinarian (including on Al Mawashi vessels).

Furthermore, the NSPCA has witnessed cruelty by the exporter on three separate occasions. Their ship that has been banned on animal welfare grounds docked here in 2019, and Al Mawashi did not even vehemently deny the allegations of cruelty in court.

Q: There are claims that NSCPA is not fighting other live sheep exports but Al Mawashi only, please confirm if this is true or false?

A: Al Mawashi is currently the only company that seeks to cross the equator from South Africa. With the “changing regulatory stance” in Australia, we would not be surprised if other companies seek the same. There is extreme cruelty, it is a travesty that this is being allowed from South Africa, a country that is known for progressive animal welfare. It is offensive that the cruelty is just being transplanted from one country to another.

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