Australian cattle exported to Sri Lanka dying and malnourished, local farmers left suicidal
Posted on April 3rd, 2019

Exclusive by Lorna Knowles, ABC Investigations and Siobhan Heanue, South Asia correspondent Courtesy ABC News

Back haunches of cows in Sri Lanka with bones showing through hide.

PHOTO: Cows on Lammermoor Estate in Sri Lanka were part of the Australian export program. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)RELATED STORY: Aus jerseys hand-picked for Sri Lanka

Hundreds of Australian and New Zealand cattle have died in a Federal Government-backed export deal with Sri Lanka, which local farmers say has left them broke, and in some cases, suicidal.

Key points:

  • About 500 Australian and New Zealand dairy cows have died after being shipped to Sri Lanka
  • The scheme was underwritten by an Australian Government loan of $100 million
  • The Sri Lankan auditor-general says the cows aren’t thriving because of climatic conditions and disease, and the scheme should be shut down

Farmers and animal rights groups, as well as Sri Lanka’s own auditor-general, want the export project stopped because they say it is poorly planned and inhumane.

The scheme was devised to improve the supply of fresh milk in Sri Lanka and reduce the country’s reliance on expensive, imported powdered milk.

Angry Sri Lankan farmers have told the ABC the “high-yielding, pregnant dairy cows” they were promised were overpriced, unhealthy and infertile.

They said 10 per cent of the 5,000 cattle imported so far had died and many were diseased.Do you know more about this story? Email

But Wellard, the West Australian live export company contracted to ship the cows to Sri Lanka and help establish the dairy farms, said the mortality rate was closer to 9 per cent but overall the scheme was a success.

The company said only a “handful” of the 68 farmers selected to receive the cattle had experienced problems because they had ignored herd management advice.

A calf is sprawled on the concrete with its legs askew in Sri Lanka.

PHOTO: One farmer said 180 calves born to cows in the program died. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

‘I have a cemetery, not a farm’

The ABC has been contacted by multiple farmers, as well as the Ceylon Cattle Farmers Federation, to raise concerns about the scheme.

Amal Suriyage, who bought 200 cows last year, said the animals were in poor condition when they arrived in December.

“My staff said it looks like they have not come from Australia. Looks like they come from Ethiopia,” Mr Suriyage said.

Amal Suriyage speaks with his farm manager, next to a weighing machine.

PHOTO: Amal Suriyage owns a dairy farm in Lammermoor Estate in Hapugastenne 48 miles from Kandy in central Sri Lanka. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

He said he lost about 160 cows on his Lammermoor Estate dairy farm, and another 180 calves.

He said he would be forced to cull the remaining 40 cows because some had the highly contagious disease Mycoplasma bovis.

“What I have now are carcasses of those dead cows and calves. I think I have a cemetery, not a farm anymore,” he said.

“I feel ashamed to even mention that a country like Australia got involved in this mess.”

A close up of a dead cow in a pit in Sri Lanka.

PHOTO: One of Mr Suriyage’s cows is buried on the farm. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

Sri Lankan business consultant Mohammed Mausook Riyal told the ABC the cows were the wrong breed for the climate, making them susceptible to disease, and farmers could not make a profit because of poor milk yield and low conception rates.

Some farmers were suicidal because they mortgaged their assets to buy the cows and now the banks were foreclosing on their properties, Mr Mohammed said.

He said each cow cost almost double what it was worth, with investors paying 200,000 Sri Lankan rupees (A$1,620) instead of 120,000 Sri Lankan rupees (A$974) per cow.

A dead cow is dragged along behind a truck on Lammermoor Estate.

PHOTO: About 160 cows on Lammermoor Estate have died. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

“Farmers were told each cow would produce 20 litres per day when they are only producing 10-15 litres per day,” Mr Mohammed said.

He said the milk was selling for less than promised, and a special imported feed the cows needed turned out to cost more than double what they were told it would.

He spoke of one farmer who committed suicide.

“All of them have lost their dreams,” he said.

“They do not know their next step in life. They have lost everything.”

An Australian cow with material running from its eye in Sri Lanka.

PHOTO: The surviving cattle on Lammermoor Estate will be euthanased. (ABC News Siobhan Heanue)

Cattle inspected by vets, pregnant when they left: Wellard

Wellard executive chairman John Klepec said climatic conditions in Sri Lanka were not dissimilar to other tropical areas where dairy programs had been successfully implemented.

“I’ve been to one personally myself where the output of the dairy cattle are double what we experience here in Australia,” Mr Klepec said.

He said the animals were inspected by Australian and New Zealand vets before export, and Sri Lankan vets certified them as disease-free when they were delivered.

“They were all passed fit for purpose, and in terms of the pregnancy issue, all the dairy heifers were signed off as pregnant when they went onto the ship,” Mr Klepec said.

“What happens post delivery of the cattle is subject to the farm management. Poor farm management practices will produce poor outcomes.”

He said a small “recalcitrant” group of farmers had refused to follow the advice.

Lammermoor Estate dairy farm manager Malik Gunasekaran Malik is headbutted by a cow as he strokes her neck.

PHOTO: Lammermoor Estate dairy farm manager Malik Gunasekaran with one of the cows that will be euthanased. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

“The specific mortality rate that you’re referring to on that particular farm … accounts for the large amount of abnormal deaths that occurred on the second shipment,” Mr Klepec said.

“We’re proud to be involved in a program that delivers the human welfare outcome that this program has to date — 84 million litres of milk has been produced.”

Under the deal, Wellard was contracted to import 20,000 dairy cows to Sri Lanka between 2012 and 2019.

It has already shipped 5,000 and is planning to ship the remaining 15,000 in the next 12 months.

Under the terms of the project, underwritten by the Australian Government’s export credit agency, EFIC, Wellard was required to provide Sri Lankan farmers with facilities, training and veterinary support.

In a statement, EFIC said it provided a credit facility to the Sri Lankan Government to fund the purchase of dairy cattle, but had no relationship with the individual farmers who purchased the cattle.

“EFIC provided the facility after the transaction was deemed to meet the necessary International Finance Corporation’s Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines,” the statement said.

“The cattle were also inspected and certified by Australian authorities and accepted by veterinarians from the Sri Lankan Government before departure.

“The Sri Lankan Government has responsibility for the program after the cattle arrive in Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lankan auditor-general calls for program halt

Australian dairy cattle stick their heads through a metal fence, with mountains in the background.

PHOTO: Animals Australia says no more Australian cows should be shipped to Sri Lanka under this program. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

The Ceylon Cattle Farmers Federation said farmers received no training or workshops and only received a small leaflet without any technical advice.

In a damning report published in May, Sri Lankan auditor-general Gamini Wijesinghe described the project as an “unbearable burden to the Government”, and said project planners had misled farmers, who had suffered “financial difficulty and mental distress”.

Mr Wijesinghe found imported dairy cows were not suited to the dry conditions in rural Sri Lanka.

He said their life spans were short, their fertility rate low and they were highly vulnerable to disease.

The report said many cows and calves had died, were diseased or were languishing in poor conditions.

Mr Wijesinghe noted that as far back as 2008, the Sri Lankan Planning Department found that imported cows were “climatically unfit” for Sri Lanka.

Tim Vasudeva, wearing glasses, suit and tie, stands in front of wall with the words 'Be the change you wish to see in the world'

PHOTO: Tim Vasudeva from Animals Australia wants the export program halted. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

Animals Australia spokesman Tim Vasudeva said the scheme must be stopped.

“It’s been, from what we can see, a fairly unmitigated disaster from a human and animal welfare perspective,” Mr Vasudeva said.

Mr Vasudeva said the situation highlighted the need for changes to welfare standards for live export cattle.

“We do have formal frameworks for the export of cattle for slaughter, but not for dairy and breeder cattle,” he said.

“So basically that means those welfare protections just aren’t there.”

The Ceylon Cattle Farmers Association also wants the scheme stopped and farmers to be given refunds and reimbursed for their losses.

Lammermoor Estate dairy farm manager Malik Gunasekaran strokes the nose of a cow.

PHOTO: Lammermoor Estate dairy farm manager Malik Gunasekaran with one of his cows. (ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

Topics: livestockruraldairy-productionsri-lankaaustralia


5 Responses to “Australian cattle exported to Sri Lanka dying and malnourished, local farmers left suicidal”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Quoted from in 2013.

    Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa said last week that the Government was in the process of importing the best breeds of dairy cows which would be distributed among the people at reasonable prices to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in milk production by 2016 under the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ vision.

    Steps have already been taken to import Jersey and Friesian cows from Australia for hill country farms. Later 10,000 more cows will be imported.


  2. Randeniyage Says:

    Ayooh! Shocking images !
    Big fraud yet again , at the cost of human and animal lives !
    කොයි ලොව යන්නේ මරණින් පස්සේ ..
    පිං පව් එනවා පඅප පසු පස්සේ

  3. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Dilrook must be joking. Cows in the report were imported recently, definitely, these cows were not imported 6 years ago. Apparently, they did not have any problems with the stocks imported in 2013 and at that time if they had they should have reported promptly.

    Somebody might have got a large bribe to accept this inferior stock. Even If they have imported it under an agreement signed in 2013, Rajapakses are not responsible for what has happened today since it is the responsibility of the relevant Ministry to vet these imports.

    Dilrook, don’t act like Ranil and his clan, blaming Rajapakses for every cockup they made.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    The above report says,

    “Under the deal, Wellard was contracted to import 20,000 dairy cows to Sri Lanka between 2012 and 2019.”

    So both regimes are at fault. The importation of Australian cows in large numbers by the state started in 2012 under the last regime.

    I don’t blame Rajapaksa clan for every problem. This regime is far more incompetent and disastrous than the Rajapaksa clan. Ranil has been the most incompetent leader ever.

    Sri Lanka must move ahead from both. This nation deserves far better than both those options.

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    May be this will reveal Kavda Hora.

    PCoI orders Ministry to submit original agreement on soured milch cow deal
    April 4, 2019, 9:34 pm

    By Rathindra Kuruwita

    The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), investigating corruption of the current administration, yesterday, instructed a senior official of the Ministry of Rural Economic Development to furnish the original copy of the controversial agreement signed between the Ministry of Economic Development and Wellard Rural Exports Pvt. Ltd. Australia in 2014 over the import of high-yielding pregnant milch cows.

    Chairman of PCoI retired Supreme Court Judge Upali Abeyratne ordered the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Rural Economic Development, Dharmasiri Ariyapala to make the original copy available after it was revealed yesterday that the Ministry did not have an original copy of the 2014 agreement.

    It had the original copy of the 2016 amendment to the agreement.

    “The agreement was signed in 2014. The ministry only has a copy of that agreement and I have brought a certified copy of that copy,” Ariyapala told the PCoI.

    Ariyapala had been instructed to appear before the commission yesterday after the PCoI failed to obtain a complete copy of the agreement.

    Ariyapala said that he had been appointed to the Ministry a few months back and he had inquired from the Coordinator of the milch cow import project about the original agreement.

    Project Coordinator Sagarika Sumanasekera had informed Ariyapala that the Ministry of Economic Development had not given them the original copy though a request had been made.

    “Can you be sure that this is a true copy of the original?” Justice Abeyratne asked Ariyapala. The Additional Secretary said he could not vouch for it.

    “If you don’t have the original, how do you know if you are implementing the correct agreement? You said the agreement was amended in 2016; maybe, it was changed in a negative way. There is no validity in a copy of a copy. I want you to get the original,” the Chairperson said.

    In 2017, the Ministry of Rural Economic Development started importing 20,000 cows from Wellard Rural Exports Pvt. Ltd., Australia.

    A number of dairy farmers have made complaints about the quality of the imported cows.

    Amal Suriyage of the Lammermoor Estate in Maskeliya has filed a complaint with the commission that the government has distributed 3,030 substandard imported Australian cows among 46 investors and dairy farmers who had taken part in a subsidised scheme to introduce high-yielding imported cows, in 2017.

    He has said that the Ministry of Rural Economy informed the investors that those pregnant cows would produce 20 litres of milk a day on average and advised some of the investors, who were already raising cows, to get rid of the local animals that they already had. The investors paid Rs. 200,000 per cow and the government contributed Rs. 265,000. A number of cows had died and a number of calves had been aborted or were stillborn, Suriyage said.

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