Viva!’s Claire Palmer reports on the suffering of live animals exported in appalling conditions.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of animals. Every year, millions of sheep are transported by sea to the Middle East on brutal journeys lasting up to three weeks. Live exports have been going on for over 50 years but now, thanks to cameras placed on board an Australian vessel, something is happening to stop it.
While Britain’s trade in live animals is small compared with Australia’s, our government’s figures reveal a staggering 1.8 million live chickens went from Britain to Saudi Arabia last year. They were also sent to Israel, Egypt and Jordan. For these intelligent and sensitive birds, the longer the distance, the worse the ordeal is. Consequentially, you can only imagine the desperate state that many arrive in after over 4,000 miles in transit. Sheep are also exported in large numbers from the UK. The British National Farmers Union put the figure at 20,000 in 2017.
Sheep on ships
The UK may finally be edging towards a ban, but more likely there’ll be a maximum transport time of eight hours implemented. A move that in no way goes far enough. While it’s known that the casualty rate during voyages can be staggeringly high, it has been impossible to obtain hard evidence due to the difficulty of infiltrating a ship at sea. This all changed when a whistle-blower took footage inside the fully-stocked Australian vessel Awassi Express in the build up to the Muslim sacrificial celebration of Eid.
On five voyages lasting three weeks each, scenes of utter barbarity were revealed – sweltering heat virtually cooking animals alive, according to a vet who later examined their carcasses. On the grossly overcrowded lower decks, many sheep were dying or had died from thirst while others were gasping as corrosive ammonia choked and blinded them. The death rate was appalling.
Outrage in Australia
Campaign group Animals Australia passed the footage to top-rated TV programme 60 Minutes and it was shown both across the country and internationally. This was followed by outrage, protests and a clamour for live exports to be banned. Hundreds of protesters attended a stop live export trade rally in front of the Emanuel Exports head office. Signs read: ‘cooked alive’ and ‘Emanuel Exports = Animal Cruelty’, campaigners pushed for either an all-out ban, or a ban during the Middle East’s scorching summer months.
The clamour increased when, two weeks later, similarly distressing footage of Australian cattle arriving in Israel during a heatwave was revealed. Initially the Australian government turned its back on science, animals and the Australian public – condemning thousands more sheep to cook on board the ships of shame. But then, in August, after a temporary suspension, Emanuel Exports had its license finally removed permanently.
The fight to end live export continues, but on the day of this announcement, we moved one step closer. Arguably, the animals who do not make it off the ships are the lucky ones. While the conditions of animals on ships is rarely seen, organisations have filmed hundreds of hours of footage showing the mistreatment of animals once they are offloaded in foreign ports.
In 2011, the slaughterhouses of Indonesia were exposed in another damning investigation, revealing the gouging of cattle’s eyes, slashing with blunt knives, steers being whipped and limbs being broken. In 2013, cows were filmed being hoisted from a crane by their necks at an Indonesian port and, in 2016, cows were caught on camera being bludgeoned to death in Vietnamese slaughterhouses.
Australia’s livestock industry has certainly caused the slow, torturous death of millions of animals over decades, but it is easy to point the finger. Thousands of animals are sent overseas each year from here – young calves still go to Europe to be reared for veal, and millions of animals born in Britain die in agony on kill floors both here and overseas each year.
There is no ‘nice’ way to send animals to their deaths – live animals aren’t ‘cargo’. They think. They feel. They suffer. Just like us. The debate on live exports rages on both in Britain and overseas. Animal shipments were banned successfully in New Zealand 15 years ago, following the abhorrent death of thousands of sheep aboard a vessel after they were refused dock in the Gulf. The animals had been at sea for two months. We should take this lead as a country, but ultimately the power to really change things for animals is much more within our reach.
While there are slaughterhouses, there will be animals in transit and on kill floors, and there will be suffering. Viva! and other groups such as The Save Movement – which bear witness to animals in transit within the UK – advocate a simple and easy solution to ending it, which is to get animals off our plates altogether, and eat vegan.