Dubai: The Australian ambassador to the UAE has defended live exports of animals to the UAE following protests by rock star Chrissie Hynde.

Jeremy Bruer has accused campaigners of "misleading" the public.

He told Gulf News that animal transport ships met or exceeded 'international health standards' and had veterinary surgeons on board to "constantly monitor welfare".

"Misleading statements are being made about the number of animals that die and the standards on board," he said.

He said Australia has signed six memorandums of understanding with governments in the region regulating live-export animal welfare standards.

"We're working with our trade partners to address some past animal welfare concerns and these have led to improvements in transport, handling and slaughter," he said.

"We export a large amount of processed and chilled meat, but there's a strong preference in these markets for live animals," he said, to explain why more animals are not killed in Australia and their meat shipped here.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the UAE imports about 230,000 live sheep from Australia annually, with the journey taking more than a week. Geoff Wheatley, former chairman of the Australian Business in the Gulf Group, has seen animals being loaded onto and taken off ships in Australia and the UAE.

Few mortalities

"The way sheep are handled in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Australia is extremely well done. Nonsense is being said by sensationalist people," he added.

Dr Nigel Brown, a vet from the Gulf office of Meat and Livestock Australia, said: "There are many cases of voyages carrying large numbers of animals from Australia to the Middle East with very few mortalities."

He said if Australia stopped exporting live animals to the Gulf, countries with fewer animal welfare regulations would take up the slack, causing a reduction in welfare standards.

However, vet Dr Martin Wyness of the British Veterinary Centre in Abu Dhabi supports a live exports ban. "These massive shipments from Australia are very unpleasant. Shipping live animals large distances in cramped conditions is inhumane - end of story. It's a highly, highly stressful procedure and there are always animals that die in transit," he said.

Wyness said there was little vets could do to maintain welfare standards on large ships.

"To say they're interested in welfare is nonsense. That's not why vets are on board. What they are worried about are diseases that could threaten the trade," he said.

A Dubai-based veterinary surgeon said: "I don't like the thought of animals being shipped live. It is stressful and there is scientific evidence that it's stressful.

"Let's face it. These food companies are only interested in their margins. I don't think animal welfare is foremost among their concerns,"he said.

Your comments

There is no way to stop the cruelty inherent in this evil industry. This is the same Nigel Brown who said, in Middle East newspapers, that it is fine to hogtie sheep and put them in boots of cars. He has no capacity to understand the long term suffering all animals exported from Australia endure, right up until their brutal slaughter. The only way to stop the cruelty is to END THE TRADE!

Despite the protestations of vested interests, the facts tell otherwise, according to studies and statistics of mortalities. The only thing that is 'sensationalist' is that more people do not protest about this vile trade. As long as humans continue to eat non-human animals, their welfare should be of paramount importance.

No matter how careful you are these animals are supposed to die, so the claim of vets are baseless by the traders. If we as humans take a flight to the US or Far East from here we feel exhausted, and these poor animals have to travel for a WEEK. That's highly inhuman and I think we all should hoist over strong concern so this greedy trade can stop.

Animal welfare is a top priority. To get rid of stressful conditions, animals can be slaughtered in Australia, but with a team of qualified Muslim meat inspectors to monitor that the process is truly halal.

There should be a law banning the inhumane shipment of live animals.

So what can the public do? Apart from not buying lamb are there other ways to stop the import and cruelty? Animal welfare in general needs attention in the UAE.

This issue of live sheep transport is easy to understand. Gulf countries want their sheep live so countries like Australia step up the plate and fill the market. It is simply demand and supply. It is silly to suggest this is unethical or cruel. What must be assured is that the transport task is made as pleasant as possible to make sure the sheep are as unstressed and clean as possible when they arrive.
Abu Dhabi,UAE

Of course the Australian government will support its decision to send live animals around the world. The question is, does this ambassador really know what he is talking about? Or is he just regurgitating industry propaganda?
Little Bo Peep