Ministerial committee green-lights bill to stop ‘cruel’ animal shipments

Netanyahu welcomes ‘humane, moral’ proposal, which seeks to halt transports from Australia, Europe within three years of becoming law

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

Screenshot from Australian TV's "60 Minutes" broadcast about live shipments, "Sheep, Ships and Videotape," shown April 8, 2018.
Screenshot from Australian TV's "60 Minutes" broadcast about live shipments, "Sheep, Ships and Videotape," shown April 8, 2018.

Ministers gave the go-ahead Sunday for a bill that aims to gradually phase out controversial live shipments of animals for slaughter in Israel.

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.

According to the proposal, animals are shipped via lengthy sea voyages “wallowing in their own and other animals’ excrement and suffering from excessive heat.”

The bill urges Israel to instead import meat, rather than live animals.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uploaded a photograph of a calf covered in excrement and wrote, “We approved at the Knesset legislation committee a bill to stop the live shipments to Israel.

“We have to really correct the great pain being caused to animals.”

His wife, Sara, who earlier this year wrote on her Facebook page that she was brokenhearted and appalled to see the conditions in which animals are transported to Israel, welcomed the committee’s approval of what she called “the humane and moral bill to stop the shipment of animals to Israel.”

“There is no living creature that deserves to endure such terrible suffering and we as a society must not accept the existing situation,” she said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that he had campaigned against the cruelty of the shipments since serving as environmental protection minister. Referring to the option of importing refrigerated meat, he added that it was incumbent upon the country to “prevent unnecessary suffering when there’s a reasonable alternative that causes less cruelty and pain to animals. It’s a moral obligation.”

Earlier this month, 228 lawyers signed a petition calling for live shipments to be stopped, saying they contravened legislation on animal rights. Their petition quoted the late Supreme Court deputy president Mishael Cheshin, who wrote, “Protecting animals is part of the moral obligation to protect the weak in society.”

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.”

The signatories included members of the Chief Rabbinate’s Council — Rabbi Yehuda Deri, chief rabbi of the southern city of Beersheba, Rabbi Ratzon Arusi and Rabbi Shimon Elitov; as well as Israel Prize laureates Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber, Rabbi Avraham Steinberg and Rabbi Eli Sadan; and the late Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl.

In a personal letter, Deri even wrote that anyone buying the products of live shipments was a partner to a crime.

Public opposition to the shipments has grown following testimonies from whistle-blowers aboard the transports and an April exposé by Animals Australia, broadcast on Australian TV’s “60 Minutes,” into the conditions in which sheep were shipped to the Middle East on five journeys.

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

Despite several past statements by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel that he would work to reduce the shipments, 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.

Asked to explain the rise, an Agriculture Ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel that the demand for meat in Israel had risen 25% over the past two years.

Meanwhile the Economy Ministry has been gradually lifting its quotas for tax-free imports of refrigerated meat, which costs consumers less than meat from live transports, but is not fresh.

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