Public security minister calls for halt to ‘cruel’ long haul animal shipments

Gilad Erdan slams supervision on international shipments after Australian group uncovers overcrowding, filth and suffering on livestock vessels bound for Middle East

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

Undated image of sheep bound for the meat industries of the Middle East from Australia are so overcrowded that they are forced to stand, covered in excrement, for the more than three week journey by sea. (Screen capture: Hadashot news)
Undated image of sheep bound for the meat industries of the Middle East from Australia are so overcrowded that they are forced to stand, covered in excrement, for the more than three week journey by sea. (Screen capture: Hadashot news)

Israel’s public security minister called Sunday for a complete halt, or at least a significant reduction, in what he called the “cruel” live shipments of animals from Australia to Israel for fattening and slaughter.

Gilad Erdan’s call followed the release of an expose by Animals Australia, broadcast on Australian TV’s “60 Minutes,” into the appalling conditions in which sheep were shipped to the Middle East on five separate journeys, each lasting more than three weeks.

Evidence was provided by a concerned whistle-blower working on the vessel.

Undated image of sheep on a live shipment from Australia to the meat industries of the Middle East gasp for air in scorching temperatures– a sign that they are about to die. (Screen capture: Hadashot news)

Disturbing footage from the documentary broadcast Sunday on Israel’s Hadashot news showed overcrowding on board with animals packed so tightly that many could not reach food and water.

Unable to sit or lie down, most stood covered in their own excrement, gasping for air in scorching temperatures — a sign that they were about to die from heatstroke.

“They literally cook from the inside while alive during the journey,” veterinarian Yuval Samuel told Hadashot.

On one of the journeys documented, 2,400 sheep perished and were thrown overboard.

The Australian Agriculture Ministry said it would open an inquiry into the standards of livestock shipping from Australia to the Middle East.

Erdan, a former environmental affairs minister, told Hadashot that there was insufficient supervision of the conditions on the long haul voyages, and that all effort should be made to reduce or preferably stop the shipments to Israel and the “serious abuse” of animals involved.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last year, 499,265 live cattle and sheep were shipped to Israel for the meat industry from Australia and various European countries — a slight reduction on 2016, when 571,972 heads arrived at Israeli ports. That represents nearly double the number for 2015 — 292,274, according to Israel’s Agriculture Ministry.

Ships resembling multi-story parking lots carry from 1,000 to 20,000 cattle, or 100,000 sheep, or a combination.

Once in Israel, the animals are loaded onto trucks for journeys that can take hours to slaughterhouses or to pre-slaughter fattening facilities. They are treated with antibiotics against the infections that overcrowding encourages.

Undated image of a worker filmed beating a cow that is stuck in a gate at a quarantine station at Kibbutz Eilot in Israel’s south after the unloading of cattle for slaughter at the Eilat port.(Screen capture: Hadashot news)

While the Australian expose did not directly relate to shipments to Israel, footage from a quarantine station at Kibbutz Eilot in the south of the country provided by the Israeli animal rights organization Anonymous for Animal Rights showed the same sort of abuse after ships’ arrivals to the country, with animals being whipped through a narrow passage.

Lawmakers from the Knesset’s cross party Lobby for Animal Rights said in a statement Sunday that despite “explicit promises” from the agriculture ministry that live shipments would be reduced and imports of chilled meat increased, “the investigation today shows that nothing has changed.”

The government has said in the past that it will gradually increase the amount of tax exempt chilled meat allowed into the country and phase out live shipments.

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