Agriculture minister protests gov’t-backed bill to stop live animal shipments

As Netanyahu and Kahlon throw support behind legislation, Uri Ariel warns restrictions would lead to layoffs, huge meat price rises

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Protesters demonstrate in Tel Aviv against live shipments of animals for fattening and slaughter in Israel, April 28, 2018. (Adi Avikzer)
Protesters demonstrate in Tel Aviv against live shipments of animals for fattening and slaughter in Israel, April 28, 2018. (Adi Avikzer)

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) on Tuesday appealed against a government decision to support draft legislation aimed at gradually halting controversial live transports of animals for slaughter in Israel.

The decision to support the bill was passed Sunday by the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation. It was proposed by Likud MK Miki Zohar, with the support of another 27 cross-party lawmakers, and was welcomed by the prime minister.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the head of the coalition Kulanu party, was among those who voted in favor of the bill, despite opposition from treasury officials. A ministry source said Kahlon broke ranks out of “moral considerations.”

The bill would force importers to cut the number of live sheep and calves they bring in from Australia and Europe by at least 25 percent per year, in the hope that they can be stopped altogether within three years of the bill becoming law.

Ariel lashed out at the proposal Tuesday, saying such legislation was “not proportionate” as it would lead to skyrocketing prices of meat as demand outstripped supply, to layoffs in the meat fattening and slaughter industries, and to violations of  trade treaties.

“All over the Western and modern world — of which Israel is a part — the transport of cattle from various countries is seen as routine and there are clear regulations and norms for ensuring their welfare. If these regulations were being breached, it’s clear to any reasonable person that this reality [of the shipments] would not exist today.”

An Israeli man grills meat on Israel’s 66th Independence Day in Jerusalem, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Israelis love meat,” he went on, adding that meat consumption was on the rise.

The Agriculture Ministry has noted a 25% increase in the demand for meat between 2015 and 2017.

Ariel said the ministry constantly worked to protect animal welfare and strove to ensure that current laws were properly implemented.

The Economy Ministry is gradually raising the permits on tax-free imports of chilled meat to 17.5 million tons in 2020 and the Agriculture Ministry has passed regulations to extend the shelf life of vacuum-packed chilled meat from 45 to 85 days.

Still, 363,456 sheep and cattle were transported to Israel during the first six months of this year, a 36% increase on figures for the same period in 2017.

An Agriculture Ministry source told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that if the pace and extent of the chilled meat permits was increased, live transports could be reduced.

“The ball is in the Economy Ministry’s field. They can raise the ceilings on the imports of chilled meat and that would enable us to cut the number of live animals transports significantly,” the source said.

But a source in the Finance Ministry said it was “not so simple” because the government — specifically the ministries of agriculture, finance and economy — had signed agreements with Israelis working in the industries which fatten and slaughter imported animals.

The transports have caused much controversy in Israel following an exposé of animal cruelty on board. Ships resembling multi-story parking lots carry from 1,000 to 20,000 cattle, or 100,000 sheep, or a combination.

Cattle lying in excrement on a live transport ship from Australia. (Courtesy Dr. Lynn Simpson)

Once in Israel, the animals are loaded on to trucks for journeys that can take hours to slaughterhouses or to pre-slaughter fattening facilities.

Earlier this month, 228 lawyers signed a petition calling for live shipments to be stopped, saying they contravened legislation on animal rights.

In May, 60 senior rabbis signed a letter that said it was “neither the way of the Torah nor of human morality to allow such cruelty to animals.”

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that Israelis were the fourth-highest meat consumers in the world in 2017, eating a yearly average of 86.1 kg of meat per person per year.

Specifically, Israel came top in the world in chicken consumption and seventh in the consumption of beef and veal, of which they ate an annual average of 20 kilograms per person.

Consumption of sheep meat, by contrast, stood at only 1.8 kg per person per year.

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