WHO expert on lessons of COVID-19: ‘Live animal trade has to stop’
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WHO expert on lessons of COVID-19: ‘Live animal trade has to stop’

Australian epidemiologist warns that live shipment of animals for fattening, slaughter, is ‘getting to a stage when it can’t be safe’; Israel continues to import

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

Calves on a live shipment from Australia to Eilat for fattening, prior to slaughter, December 2019. (Israel Against Live Shipments)
Calves on a live shipment from Australia to Eilat for fattening, prior to slaughter, December 2019. (Israel Against Live Shipments)

An Australian epidemiologist who serves on a World Health Organization panel dealing with COVID-19 has warned that the live shipment of animals for fattening and slaughter is “getting to a stage when it can’t be safe” and that the “live animal trade has to stop.”

Of the 121,250 calves live-shipped to Israel between January and the end of July this year, more than 22,000 came from Australia. That country also supplied around 14,000 out of the 230,000 lambs imported during the same period.

Speaking about coronavirus, Professor Marylouise McLaws told Australian TV’s “60 Minutes” she knew her call would not go down well in Australia, which ships animals to destinations all over the world.

She said, “I don’t think it will change until maybe there’s an outbreak of some ghastly disease in animals while they’re being shipped to other countries.”

McLaws said that a pandemic of some sort was inevitable in such shipments.

World Health Organization epidemiologist Professor Marylouise McLaws talking to Australian TV’s ’60 minutes,’ August 10, 2020. (video screenshot)

“As soon as you push the natural environment further in and they’ve got nowhere else to go, humans and animals will mix and not respectfully.”

Professor McLaws is a member of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program Experts Advisory Panel for the coronavirus pandemic.

In November 2018, the Israeli Knesset green-lighted a bill in its preliminary reading to stop imports of lambs and calves from Australia and Europe within three years.

But the bill’s progress was then delayed by three general elections since December 2018. Six bills on the subject are currently in the queue for Knesset debate but the timing for their advance is unclear given talk of a possible fourth election.

Screenshot from Australian TV’s “60 Minutes” broadcast about live shipments, ‘Sheep, Ships and Videotape,’ shown April 8, 2018.

In May, a State Comptroller’s report on the import of calves and lambs to Israel for fattening and slaughter confirmed the numerous testimonies that have piled up over recent years about the cruelty of the live shipments.

Ships are often in poor condition, suffering from insufficient ventilation, high temperatures and humidity; animals are forced to live in their own excrement; wet bedding is not changed often enough; food and water is often lacking; and the air is thick with the smell of ammonia from urine which causes the animals breathing difficulties and sore eyes.

Yet next to nothing is done to ensure that complaints are followed up, conditions are improved and regulations are adhered to, the report said.

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