Thousands protest ‘agonizing’ live shipment of animals to Israel

Big rise in numbers of live animals imported so far this year, despite government pledge to phase in chilled meat

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

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

Thousands of people marched through Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest against the continued live shipment of animals from as far as Australia to Israel for fattening and slaughter.

On Saturday morning, demonstrators in Australia gathered in front of a ship loaded with thousands of sheep and cattle that was departing for Israel’s shores.

Both protests followed the release earlier this month of an exposé 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.

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

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. (Hadashot News screen shot)

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.

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

The harrowing scenes, filmed by a concerned whistle-blower working on the vessel, prompted Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to call for a complete halt, or at least a significant reduction, in what he called the “cruel” live shipments of animals from Australia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, took to Facebook to say how “shocked” she was at the “heartbreaking” scenes.

Saturday night’s demonstration, which organizers said brought around 3,000 protesters onto the streets, was also attended by several Knesset lawmakers: Sharren Haskel and Nurit Koren (Likud), Tamar Zandberg and Mossi Raz (Meretz), Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) and Dov Khenin (Joint List).

Haskel, co-chair of the Knesset animal rights lobby, told the crowd, “The constant abuse of living creatures during these agonizing journeys of suffering, under appalling conditions of overcrowding and filth, are incompatible with a moral society. There are no advantages to live shipments and the struggle against them is a struggle for humanity and compassion in all of us.”

Khenin noted that summer was on the horizon, “and when the temperatures rise, the terrible conditions in live shipments will only get worse.”

On Sunday, a new anti-live shipment publicity campaign was launched on buses and bus stops in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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

Livestock on Live Export ship from Australia (Lynn Simpson)

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.

The latest exposé did not directly relate to shipments to Israel, but closely resembled a report made public last year written by Australian vet Lynn Simpson, who served as the official on-board vet for 57 live export journeys, including to Israel.

After her internal report was inadvertently published by her department, Simpson was fired, reportedly because the Australian livestock industry no longer wanted to work with her.

In February, the High Court of Justice ordered the government to “change gear” and speed up attempts to reduce the suffering of animals shipped to Israel for fattening and slaughter. Giving its interim opinion on a petition submitted by animal rights groups for a complete ban on what the groups call “death shipments,” and their replacement with imported chilled meat, justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Meltzer, and Neil Hendler instructed the government to provide an update by April 30 on efforts to implement policies that would reduce the suffering of imported animals.

In May, Israel’s Agriculture Ministry announced it was barring the “shackle and hoist” method of ritual slaughter immediately for new slaughterhouses looking to export meat to the Jewish state. Starting June 1, 2018, the ban is also to affect abattoirs with existing contracts.

Widely used by slaughterhouses in South America, the controversial method involves electrically prodding, restraining, and then hoisting an animal in the air by one leg, after its throat is slit. Workers then sever its spinal cord.

The government has pledged to gradually reduce live shipments and to raise the quantity of chilled meat that is imported instead.

In 2017, nearly half a million live animals were brought to Israel from Australia and Europe.

According to animal rights groups, January and February 2018 saw the import of  105,444 live animals, up 163% compared to the same period in 2017.

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