It is estimated that around half a billion animals have been scorched to death in bushfires raging across Australia, including penned livestock. But 11,000 calves which managed to survive were loaded onto a livestock ship and transported to Israel last month under what critics describe as inhuman conditions. They are now being fattened for eventual slaughter, a controversial practice that has drawn the ire of activists.
The calves spent two and a half weeks at sea before arriving in Eilat at the end of December 2019. From there, they were transported by truck 20 minutes to a quarantine area.
Several thousand more calves were unloaded at neighboring Aqaba in Jordan.
After eight days in quarantine, the animals were taken for four to eight months of fattening, after which they will be slaughtered.
Yaron Lapidot, the founder and director of Israel Against Live Shipments, was in Eilat for their arrival.
“We saw calves with damaged eyes, full of discharge, probably indicating blindness,” he told The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Zman Israel earlier this week. “The discharge and the blindness are caused by the crowded conditions and the ammonia [from urine] that they absorb during the ship’s journey, during which each one has around one square meter of space. They wallow in the feces that flood the enclosures during the voyage.”
Video footage taken during the delivery of the calves makes harrowing viewing.
A record-breaking 691,327 live lambs and calves were transported to Israel for fattening and slaughter last year, the Israeli animal rights group Animals reported earlier this month.
A large percentage of the male calves that come from Europe are taken from their mothers in the dairy industry and, surplus to requirements, sold for a few dozen shekels each.
This means that Israeli dairy farmers have to sell their own male calves to the slaughterhouses at rock bottom prices, and are understood to pass on their losses by charging more for milk.
Local diary farmers are now supporting a High Court of Justice petition submitted by animals rights groups to stop the live imports.
In late 2018, the Knesset green-lighted a bill in its preliminary reading to stop the live transports from Australia and Europe.
The proposed legislation sought to gradually reduce livestock numbers being imported into Israel and to stop them completely within three years, moving entirely to the import of chilled meat. (The Agriculture Ministry wants the halt spread over ten years).
Since December 2018, however, the bill has not advanced because there has been no functioning government. Elections held in April and September last year were inconclusive and with no party able to form a coalition, a third national ballot has been set for March.
Two companies control 80 percent of Israel’s livestock imports — Dabah and Tnuva (under the Adom Adom label). Other, smaller companies include De-Levie.
In an attempt to head off legislation once a government is installed, De-Levie and Dabah have, respectively, taken on the services of two of the biggest Knesset lobbying firms, Goren-Amir and Gilad Lobbying, according to The Hottest place in Hell news site. Tnuva has been represented for years by the lobbying company, Policy.
Israel Against Live Shipments is, meanwhile, running its own crowdfunding campaign to enable it to hire a lobbyist and legal team to try to ensure that the shipments are finally halted by law.