A court on Saturday halted the cull of 21,000 Australian sheep amid a dispute over whether or not they are sick, but a senior official insisted the 7,600 animals already killed had not been mistreated.
The shipment of sheep arrived in Pakistan almost a month ago after being turned away by Bahrain, and livestock officials ordered them to be culled after they tested positive for salmonella and actinomyces bacteria.
But after an appeal by importer PK Meat and Food Company, the Sindh High Court rejected the test results and ordered fresh samples to be taken and sent to Britain for analysis.
A report in a local newspaper said the authorities had used untrained workers who had stabbed and clubbed the sheep to death and even buried some while still alive, prompting anger in Australia.
According to the report, which referred to video shot on a mobile phone, some of the animals were said to be disposed of in shallow graves.
Roshan Shaikh, Karachi’s top administrative official, said reports of the animals’ mistreatment were untrue.
“We have slaughtered the sheep in Islamic manner and duly buried them deep in trenches ensuring that they could not cause danger to human population or animals,” he said.
“There was just a single sheep the throat of which was not properly cut, but that was a human error and not deliberate.” The Australian government has said it is looking into the reports.
The court will reconvene to decide on the sheep’s fate on October 16, after receiving results from the British laboratory. Samples for the new tests were taken in the presence of Australian experts, Shaikh said.
Australia has insisted salmonella and actinomyces are part of normal bacteria found in sheep and pose no threat to human health.
The incident has renewed calls for a total end to Australia’s live export trade, which is worth about US$1 billion a year and employs around 10,000 people.
Australia suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia for a month last year after a television documentary revealed mistreatment inside its abattoirs, only reinstating the trade under a strict new licensing system.