Australia's biggest live exporter has accused Animals Australia of putting livelihoods at risk by making irresponsible allegations about the industry.
Emanuel Exports director Graham Daws broke a long silence yesterday to defend the industry and blast Animals Australia over its latest complaint, which alleges Australian sheep are being mistreated and slaughtered in contravention of Australian regulations at a livestock market in Kuwait.
Mr Daws said that if the allegations were true, they involved a handful of sheep smuggled out of facilities in Kuwait approved under the Federal Government's exporters supply chain assurance system.
He said Emanuel would export about 800,000 sheep to Kuwait this year and that it was by far Australia's biggest market for live sheep.
Mr Daws said Animals Australia was ignoring the efforts of exporters to work with ESCAS, a system designed to improve animal welfare unprecedented in the global live export industry, and exaggerating relatively minor incidents.
"It shows they are out of step with public opinion and don't really care about animal welfare because they are simply allowing countries with no animal welfare standards to take over from Australia," he said. "Kuwait is a critical market for rural Australia."
Mr Daws said there was no proof the sheep at the centre of the complaint involving the Al Rai market were even from Australia.
Animals Australia said that in some cases the sheep had had their ear tags removed to prevent identification but were "easily distinguishable" as Australian merinos and being sold as Australian lamb.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is assessing the complaint before deciding whether to investigate. DAFF is already investigating a similar complaint involving Emanuel from last August.
Animals Australia lawyer Shatha Hamade said: "Kuwait has had to be ESCAS compliant for almost one year so to continue seeing sheep sold illegally through this notoriously cruel marketplace is not only unacceptable but it speaks volumes as to the blatant disregard for animal welfare by the exporter."