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Stocking density has an impact on animal welfare — the ability for sheep to rest and to reach food and water — and an impact on their ability to survive heat stress. More heat from more metabolisms, packed together, adds to the heat experienced by each animal.
Around 2,400 sheep died on the Awassi Express on a voyage to the Middle East last year, over two percent of the livestock carried, making it a notifiable event. Typically, in the past, after a high-mortality voyage the Department of Agriculture has required the exporter's next voyage to have stocking densities reduced by 10 percent. After the 60 Minutes program, various organizations have proposed that stocking densities should be reduced further: 17.5 or 50 percent — or indeed that the trade should be stopped during the Middle East summer or altogether.
The government has called for an inquiry so that science rather than emotion forms the basis for any potential action in response to public outcry over the Awassi Express footage. The results are expected in a few weeks, and the Australian Veterinary Association has now made its science-based submission which includes the following recommendations:
Trucks delivering sheep for export must be weighed dockside at embarkation, so total sheep weight can be allocated to total deck area. No more sheep should be loaded onto the ship when total space has been allocated.
Aggregated voyage data, including key animal welfare indicators, can and must be measured and collated using up-to-date technologies such as blockchain, with that data made available to scientists so future research topics are not only based on sheep mortalities, but also causes of morbidity during each voyage. Sheep must be individually identified with electronic ear tags to assist with data collection and for traceability.
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