Animal welfare is a social science not an exact science.
That was the message from The Sheep Collective spokeswoman Dr Holly Ludeman in her final stop at Williams, Western Australia, recently as part of a Live Export Roadshow tour organised by Federal Member for O'Connor Rick Wilson.
The tour highlighted where the industry was now at and included support from Australian Livestock Exporters' Council board member John Edwards,
About 30-40 people attended each of the meetings at Pingelly, Corrigin, Kulin, Lake Grace, Muradup, Gnowangerup, Katanning and Williams where they were updated on the government's response to numerous reviews undertaken since the highly-published Awassi Express live export footage appeared 12 months ago.
Ms Ludeman's comment was in regards to the Australian Standard for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) final report that was released by the Department of Agriculture - and the Government's Independent Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA) Technical Advisory Committee's draft recommendation which included a 28 degree Celcius wet bulb temperature (WBT) welfare limit for sheep undergoing sea transport to the Middle East.
The HSRA is still being developed but will be included in ASEL when completed.
Ms Ludeman said the temperature recommendations "were based on a limited number of studies, one in a hot room, that is not representative of the conditions and reality of livestock vessel environmental conditions".
She said historic, as well as recent voyage outcomes, had shown that sheep could be safely transported and not suffer significant heat distress, it was all about how it was managed as well as the time of the year.
Recently Wellard executive chairman John Klepec weighed in on the debate saying that "any HSRA should be objective and predictive, as opposed to subjective and reactive, so animal welfare on livestock voyages is optimised and risks are managed".
"However, the incredibly small sample size and the questionable artificially-created experiment conditions create significant doubt about scientific validity of using a 28 WBT limit in heat stress risk assessment," Mr Klepec said.
"It really is ridiculous to be proposing to end a trade on which so many farmers and support industries, and their families rely on, based on a controlled experiment in a university heat chamber with two lots of eight sheep.
"The industry has exported millions of sheep over the years which seems to count for nothing compared with a university student's honours thesis paper."
Ms Ludeman said one of the risks of the draft recommendations imposing regulations based on temperature as an indicator for animal welfare, was that it "could also possibly be used in other industries", which may have significant impacts on the livestock industry as a whole.
She had seen first-hand how ASEL and the Exporters Supply Chain Assurance System had been implemented while working as a vet preparing livestock for export, on board vessels and in the importing market and she was concerned about the "very rushed policy changes the industry has been facing, but welcome all improvements in animal welfare outcomes".
Ms Ludeman also "welcomes the independent observer reports which should provide the regulator, various review committees, public and critics with more information around the reality of on-board conditions".
Mr Edwards said the 28 WBT, when adjusted for class, weight, body score, wool length and acclimatisation, would have a significant impact on exporters.
He said currently orange tag lambs made up nearly 50 per cent of the consignments being exported, and they would all but be excluded under the ruling if it was to be adopted.
Exporters have been undertaking voyages using the Industry HSRA model and a further space allowance of 17.5 per cent since May 2018.
Mr Edwards said the industry had seen a decrease in mortalities during transport since May 2018, with figures showing a delivery rate of 99.7pc, as opposed to 99.3pc before that time under the ASEL space and HSRA allowances.
"That is significant for the industry and a step in the right direction in terms of winning back support from government and the community," Mr Edwards said.
He said the ASEL review "would mean different things to different exporters", but would "without doubt bring more cost to the trade".
"We are treading a fine line between economics and animal welfare, but don't for one moment accept insinuations that economic weight overrides welfare in this process.
"Our customers are supporting us at the moment, but how long for we don't know.
"Until they knock on the door and say enough is enough."
Australia exported 1.1 million sheep last year, with 900,000 coming from WA, which had been consistently supplying more than 80pc of the supply to the trade over the past decade and was likely to be the case going forward.
With three months (June-August) being removed from the exporting calendar this year for sheep to the Middle East, Mr Edwards said customers in those markets were "already looking for alternative sources of live sheep to shore up their food security" during those months, which will give other exporters from competing nations the advantage.
"We obviously see some issues in the market with a nine month trade and have to work through these with vessel owners and the importers," Mr Edwards said.
"Competitors will have the opportunity to get a foothold in the market, there's also concerns around continuity of supply and loss of market share for Australian sheep."
Mr Wilson said he organised the roadshow because of the interest and the need to communicate the latest information about the trade to the industry - which is supported by a lot of producers in his electorate.
"Live export is a critical market for the WA flock," Mr Wilson said.
"We could see flock numbers drop from 13 million head to eight or nine million without the trade.
"That would be an issue for the wool industry, as well as processors."