Shock as sheep cull resumes
KARACHI, Oct 19: To the shock of many and with serious doubt still being expressed about the import of a rejected consignment of Australian sheep, the Sindh livestock department on Friday resumed the culling of the remaining 11,000 animals after the importer withdrew his petition from the Sindh High Court against the culling.
By late Friday night, 7,618 more animals were slaughtered and buried on the premises of PK Livestock and Meat Company in Razzakabad, sources told Dawn. They added that the sheep cull would continue overnight.
Earlier, more than 7,000 animals had been culled, they said.
They added that livestock department officials had to take police help to enter the farm and resumed culling at noon.
“The entire exercise was largely carried out on the main premises [abattoir] of the company though about 200 to 300 sheep kept at the other farm were also culled. The culling had to be stopped at the other farm when some locals resorted to firing,” said a livestock department official.
The locals, he said, claimed that they were the owners of the farm and had rented it out to the company. Around 2,000 sheep were kept at the other farm. It’s the same farm where five animals had been found dead last month. At that time, officials had said that three of them might have died of anthrax.
Asked about the need for culling when a UK lab had declared the animals healthy, Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Secretary Syed Abid Ali
Shah said firstly the UK lab did not test the samples for the diseases the provincial laboratories had been insisting that the animals were infected with. “Secondly, the problem was that some people who were part of the committee set up by the court to test samples were also part of the department where these samples were tested.”
However, he said, what was more important was the fact that the consignment had been rejected before the animals were shifted to the importer’s slaughterhouse without being kept in the quarantine for a single day.
“I wouldn’t have any problem with the consignment if rules and procedures were followed. There are serious gaps in the entire process that need to be looked into. Besides, this is a standard practice in all developed countries that if few animals report disease, the entire flock is culled. Why should we have any different standards?” he asked.
The secretary, however, could not give a satisfactory reply to questions related to the foot-and-mouth disease that, according to the reports of two labs, was not infecting animals, but was a major reason for initiating culling and as to why no more death was reported from anthrax if three animals reportedly died of anthrax.
According to experts, anthrax spreads quickly in the flock and is usually diagnosed when an animal dies of the disease as it causes sudden death.
Blame and responsibility
Experts as well as public at large were shocked over the sad episode which, they say, led to the brutal killing of so many animals. Had the governments of both countries, they say, acted with prudence, animals could have been treated with care.
“The withdrawal of the petition was disappointing, as people were expecting that the court would initiate a course of accountability,” observed Dr Alamdar Hussain, former federal livestock and fisheries secretary and registrar of the Pakistan Veterinary Medical Council.
“One would also like to question the Australian government stance according to which the sheep were diverted to Pakistan for animal welfare. If this was the case, why facts of the consignment’s rejection were not disclosed,” he added.
Dr Khurshid Ahmed, animal husbandry commissioner, said that the no-objection certificate issued by the Ministry of Food, Security and Research to the importer was authentic and the federal government quarantine officials had no prior information that the consignment had been rejected.
“This fact was not disclosed by the Australian exporter and importer. Hence, it’s not all our fault. The Australian government, too, share the responsibility for what happened as it issued a health certificate that didn’t say the animals were on the high seas,” he said, adding that the Australian government was morally bound to inform the government of Pakistan about the animals’ disputed status.
The government of Pakistan, he said, had effectively conveyed this message to the Australian government that had to face public outcry over the alleged barbaric killing of sheep.
The federal quarantine department, he insisted, only came to know about the consignment’s rejection through the media and subsequently director of the quarantine department in Karachi was removed.
“I have got the inquiry report and action will be taken according to its recommendations next week as we were waiting for the end of court proceedings,” he added.
While responding to a question as to why two officials inspected 22,000 sheep on their arrival at Port Qasim, he said that the inspection of thousands of animals at Qatar and Bahrain ports was also carried out by one or two officials.
About the ongoing culling process, he said the federal government could intervene either on a request of the provincial government or an appeal by the importer.
It is noteworthy that 22,000 (the number is 20,468 in Pakistani documents) Australian sheep, which were rejected by Bahrain, arrived early last month in Karachi. Provincial government laboratories found the sheep diseased and initiated culling, which was stopped on court’s intervention. However, by that time, more than 7,000 had been slaughtered. About 1,500 sheep were found missing in the counting process, whereas five were found dead. The animals were later declared healthy by the federal and the UK labs. On Oct 18, the sheep importer withdrew his petition against the culling, which has finally resumed.