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Record number of calves and lambs shipped to Israel for fattening, slaughter

More than half a million animals transported to country in first six months of 2021, up 59% over same period last year

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

Sheep being shipped for fattening and slaughter in multi-story vessels.  (YouTube screenshot)
Sheep being shipped for fattening and slaughter in multi-story vessels. (YouTube screenshot)

The number of live animals shipped to Israel for fattening and slaughter has hit an all-time high, with more than half a million calves and lambs reaching the docks in the first half of 2021, a 59 percent increase over the same period last year, according to new Agriculture Ministry figures.

A similar number of animals– 499,265 — was recorded for the whole of 2017.

The data showed that 501,656 animals were transported to Israel in 80 shipments between January and June this year (of which 56,234 were intended for the Palestinian Authority), compared with 53 shipments of 315,770 animals during the first half of 2020.

Of the 80 shipments, 35 came from Portugal, 21 from Romania, and the rest from Australia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and France.

The increase is taking place during what was supposed to be the last year of such live shipments.

In November 2018, a month before the Knesset dissolved, kickstarting four inconclusive elections, lawmakers greenlighted a bill in its preliminary reading 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.

A calf exhausted from a shipment from Australia to Eilat, December 2019. (Israel Against Live Shipments)

The bill, proposed by Likud MK Miki Zohar, was passed without opposition. But the political deadlock that only ended last month with the installation of a new government prevented progress being made.

Numerous reports have exposed animal cruelty aboard the ships, which resemble massive multi-story parking lots carrying 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 breeds.

In May last year, the state comptroller panned the Agriculture Ministry for failing to investigate problems relating to live shipments and for failing to punish shipowners or importers who repeatedly broke the rules. Furthermore, the comptroller report said not enough was being done to monitor, deal with and develop new plans to limit the spread of diseases that can jump from livestock to humans.

A spokesperson for the animal rights organization Animals Now called on lawmakers to stop the shipments, accusing the companies involved of being solely interested in the cash to be made from “cramming animals into crowded and polluted ships, where they bask in urine and feces, fall sick, sustain injuries and feel desperate.”

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