Western Australia (WA) Premier Colin Barnet warned on Sunday that the country risks losing the live sheep export trade in the Middle East unless the problem with 21,000 Aussie sheep under threat of culling in Pakistan is resolved soon.
The Schmallenberg virus - named after the German town where it was first detected in November - infected sheep and cows on at least 2,600 farms in eight EU countries between August and October last year. Thought to have been spread for hundreds of miles across Europe by biting midges and warm late summer winds, the virus has since been confirmed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Spain and Britain. It is particularly harmful to the offspring of animals infected during early pregnancy, resulting in stillbirths and malformations such as brain deformities, twisted spines and locked joints.
Mr Barnett pointed out countries with lower animal welfare standards could fill in the gap left vacant by Australia after Canberra halted all sheep export due to the problem with Pakistan which claimed the animals are diseased.
Bahrain initially rejected the shipment, but Pakistan agreed to accept the export only to reverse its decision and even ordered the killing of the flock due to the presence of salmonella bacteria and actinomyces in the sheep.
WA produces about three-fifths of Australian's live sheep export. Sheep farmers are affected by the halt in the issuance of permits last week.
Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry questioned the lab test performed on the sheep, while an independent laboratory based in the United Arab Emirates declared the animals disease free.
While the importer in Pakistan has secured a court injunction, Karachi authorities insist on culling the sheep. At least 700 have been killed while an unknown number have been sent to restaurants and dining establishments in Pakistan.
However, the premier conceded that the live trade industry was on a downhill as markets shift to a more Western style of consuming meat. In anticipation of the decline, WA is persuading Gulf states to increase their investment in WA sheep farming while the state's abattoirs would promote export of refrigerated and frozen meat instead.
Meantime, while Australia is grappling with the 21,000 sheep in Pakistan, owners of a sports shop in the western village of Sankt Anton am Arlberg Austria were surprised to see lost sheep reflection in their glass sliding doors and entering the store.
The sheep apparently took the wrong turn on their way down from their summer mountain pastures. Two of their shepherds persuaded the flock to leave the store and caused some damage such as broken sunglasses, dirty floors and disarranged display of bikes, shoes, skis and other sporting equipment.
A video of the stray sheep was posted at YouTube and could be viewed at the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y00PKQ7W-0.
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