PNEUMONIA has been blamed for the high death rate of cattle on a February shipment to the Middle East.However, the RSPCA argues an investigation into the voyage suggests neglect in the live export trade.
There were 16,460 cattle loaded on the Ocean Shearer in Fremantle on February 23, this year - 295 of which died.
The mortality rate of 1.79 per cent triggered an Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service investigation.
There were also sheep on board bound for Qatar - 362 of them died.
Lack of immunity to infection, heat stress, deck conditions and stress contributed to cattle developing pneumonia, which killed 195 of them, the report said.
"While there is insufficient information available to determine if this had a significant affect on mortality, failure to clean these decks may suggest that there was too low a ratio of stockmen and crew to animals on this voyage," it said.
The export company, Wellard, says it immediately began changing its practices after the February incident.
Among the new measures was the vaccination against respiratory illness of all southern cattle for export, an extra stockman on board, and more room for the cattle, managing director Steve Meerwald said.
"Wellard ships sheep and cattle from Australian ports on almost a weekly basis without incident, so the mortality rates we encountered on the February shipment were very disappointing," he said.
Subsequent voyages of the Ocean Shearer had mortality rates of less than one per cent, Mr Meerwald said.
"These results are a more accurate reflection of the shipping results we achieve and expect," he said.
The improvements were steps AQIS was considering as conditions on Wellard.
But the RSPCA says the report highlights neglect of the cattle.
Chief Heather Neil said the account of cattle panting and gasping due to the high heat and humidity on board was evidence of "prolonged suffering".
"For an industry constantly claiming a high standard of welfare this report is an embarrassment but the real tragedy is the prolonged suffering of the animals on board," she said.
"Cattle began dying before the ship even left Australia and the death count increased every day of the four-week voyage."
Cattle not only died from pneumonia, but failure to eat, enteritis and septicaemia, and 25 were euthanased in the last three days of the voyage.
The RSPCA wants the Federal Government to tighten regulations for live exporters when the Australian standards for the livestock exports are reviewed next year.
It joined other animal welfare groups, unions and a growing number of federal Labor MPs calling attention to job losses in the domestic meatworking sector.