In first, Agriculture Ministry admits to cruel conditions on animal transports
Veterinary inspector says ‘common problems’ include injury and suffocation from overcrowding, high temperatures, poor ventilation
Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.
A damning report about conditions aboard ships that transport live animals for fattening and slaughter in Israel has emerged from within Israel’s Agriculture Ministry for the first time.
Dr. Lauren Stein, a veterinary inspector in the ministry’s import and export department, told a closed workshop held in Romania earlier this month about the “common problems” seen by Israeli vets that inspect these ships, among them poor ventilation, high temperatures and intense humidity, high levels of ammonia, wet bedding, and animal injury and suffocation from overcrowding.
In a presentation leaked to the rights groups Animals Now (formerly Anonymous for Animal Rights), Stein said that sheep are so densely packed that they have nowhere to lie down during journeys from Australia that can take as long as three weeks.
If ships arrive at feeding time, she went on, the animals are often not fed until they reach their quarantine stations, often after delays unloading.
Stein said that transport ships were often dirty, old, and poorly maintained, asking rhetorically, “How are these ships authorized to carry livestock in the first place?” Fans are frequently insufficient or do not work at all and automatic water troughs get blocked with so much dirt that they stop functioning.
Stein’s evidence follows numerous similar testimonies about the cruel conditions on board these ships and on arrival.
Earlier this month, 34 calves died onboard and 30 died on land after a livestock ship, the Maysora, operated by Perth-based Livestock Shipping Services, arrived from Australia at the southern port of Eilat with 20,000 sheep and calves on board, and it took workers five days to offload, leaving the animals in suffocatingly hot and crowded conditions.
In video evidence from the scene broadcast by Channel 12 news, workers were seen removing the animals from the ship with electric shock prodders.
The issue of live animal shipments gained additional attention earlier this month, when two cow carcasses washed up on the Tel Aviv shoreline in separate incidents, horrifying bathers. The carcasses were likely from animals thrown overboard on a live transport.
In 2018, 685,000 calves and lambs were shipped to Israel for the meat industry, up 37 percent from the 500,000 imported live in 2017.
The increase in live shipments contradicts repeated promises from Agriculture Minister Agriculture Uri Ariel to work to reduce them and import more chilled meat.
Stein said, “It is unlikely that [the live import of] cows and sheep will stop or be limited in the near future, especially since new elections are expected in September and there is no time to pass a law.”
In November, the Knesset green-lit a bill for preliminary reading that would gradually reduce livestock numbers being imported into Israel and stop them completely within three years.
In December, however, elections were called for April, and following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition earlier this year and the Knesset’s decision to call for repeat elections in September, no progress is expected in the coming months.
“It is highly likely that live imports are going to continue for at least the next few years, so it is crucial to continue to find ways to improve,” Stein concluded in her presentation. Changes could include reduced stocking density during the summer, professional training and education for stock handlers, better ship maintenance and possibly stricter laws, she said.
While some imported animals are slaughtered immediately, most are sent for fattening and a small number are used for breeding.
Livestock arriving in Israel are intended for both the Israeli and Palestinian markets.