Australia's live sheep export industry is on the verge of a crisis after the Federal Government delayed a string of shipping permits amid animal health concerns.
_The West Australian _ understands at least three big sheep exporters have been left waiting for live export permits as Canberra races to clarify trade agreements with importers in the Middle East.
It is believed almost 200,000 sheep are stranded on WA farms and in feed lots as exporters and Australian diplomats work to find a solution.
Farmers are warning that bureaucrats have only a few weeks to grant export licences, pleading they will soon run out of feed and need to clear the animals so they can free up land for cropping.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has delayed issuing export permits while it clarifies agreements that require Persian Gulf states to bring Australian animals ashore, even if there are fears some may be diseased.
Standing memorandums of understanding with the Gulf States were thrown into doubt this month after Bahrain refused to unload 22,000 WA sheep, complaining some had scabby mouth disease.
The sheep were moved to Pakistan but that country claims some of the animals were infected with salmonella.
The problems in Pakistan further complicated the issue because all exporters must be able to demonstrate they have a secondary market should the first importer block a shipment of animals.
"In light of recent experiences in Middle East countries DAFF has sought assurances from exporters about the measures they plan to take to reduce the risks of consignments being refused permission to unload," an Agriculture Department spokesman said.
The live sheep industry is worth about $226 million a year to WA.
WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman spoke to Federal Minster Joe Ludwig yesterday about concerns the entire sheep export industry was in limbo.
"At this stage farmers have said they don't know how long they can keep the sheep because pasture is drying up," Mr Redmond said. "We've got sheep ready to go and no one able get those animals out."
Newdegate farmer Bob Iffla said he had been left stranded after exporter Emanuels told him it could not take his 2000 contracted sheep.
"I just hope we don't have to do what we had to do several years ago and start shooting them," he said.
"This is shocking. These 1987 sheep we have are valued at $100 a head.
"It's all our profit for the year just gone."