By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAS once-prosperous live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia could flourish again.

Successful trial shipments of live sheep vaccinated against scabby mouth to the Middle East showed little evidence of the disease, according to the Stock and Land newspaper.

The trial shipments – of young wethers – arrived in Kuwait and Jordan at the end of last month.

The disease shut down the live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. Scabby mouth doesnt actually affect the quality of the meat but looks unsightly, particularly in a country that eats the entire animal.

Prior to the trade ban, Saudi Arabia was Australias largest live sheep customer, importing seven million sheep worth A$231.4 million (£98m).

Meat and Livestock Australia sheepmeat industry services general manager Ralph Hood, returning from inspecting the sheep in the Middle East, told the newspaper that the vaccine prevented an outbreak of the disease among the 15,000 animals exported.

A meeting of relevant industry bodies will examine results from both trial shipments before deciding when to approach the Saudi government about a possible trial shipment to that country.