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Live animal exports: defending the indefensible
Jenny Hume has been a regular contributor to WD since last year and a campaigner for animal rights since 1972. She has a degree in Asian and Islamic Studies and a lifelong background in farming, which led to a special interest in the prevention of cruelty to farm animals. In 1980 she formed the ACT Branch of Animal Liberation to expose abuse and lobby for change. Her first piece for Webdiary was Live Animal Exports in Heavy Seas, which looked at the history and welfare issues of the live animal export trade. Here she updates us on the issues and why she will not be voting for the Howard Government in the next election.
The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) reveals that a further 39,133 sheep and cattle alone have died on the ships in 2006. The Department fails to inform the public of the fate awaiting those animals that do survive the voyage. That is left to donor funded organizations such as Animals Australia, (representing over forty animal welfare groups in Australia) to reveal, and it is an appalling story of gross animal abuse.
It was clear that the AA undercover investigation in Egypt in early 2006 and its findings, coming on top of the Cormo Express disaster, would put the Howard Government in a rather awkward position. It was forced by public outrage to suspend the live trade to Egypt. (The trade to Saudi Arabia had already been suspended after the Cormo Express languished for weeks on the high seas while its cargo died in their thousands. A desperate Howard Government finally gave its remaining cargo away to Eritrea. That at least got if off the front pages.)
It was also clear that the Howard Government would try to find a way to get the trade to Egypt and Saudi Arabia up and running again as soon as possible. The treatment of animals in Egypt was not going to change but the live export industry has some powerful players and John Howard knows it. So the Government wasted no time in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Egyptian Government to get a special deal for Australian animals, that is that they would be treated in accordance with the World Animal Health Authority’s standards (OIEs). These standards are very basic guidelines for the treatment of animals and are lower than the requirements in Australia.
No sooner said than done and the ships started to move again. It was not hard for AA to predict and later to prove that the MOU and those standards are not worth the paper they are written on. Further, tendon slashing, eye stabbing and other cruel methods of disabling and disorienting cattle prior to slashing their throats (while they were fully conscious) would still be inflicted on non Australian animals in the Egyptian abattoirs and on the streets during religious festivals. This did not deter the Australian Government.
The line pushed by the Howard Government that this country, by continuing the trade, is in a position to bring about better treatment of animals generally in the importing countries is total nonsense. In the face of failure of that argument, the Government’s response is: If we don’t send our animals, other countries will. Never mind that the trade is cruel. If others do it, then we have to do it too.
This is moral bankruptcy. Animals Australia pointed out to Minister McGauran and Departmental officials that with no animal welfare laws, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries have no ability to enforce any standards of care of any imported animals under any MOU. Not to be deterred Australia recommenced the shipment of live sheep to Egypt in late 2006 to meet demand for live sheep for sacrifice on the occasion of the Eid-al-Adha.
Animals Australia had no confidence in the Howard Government’s assurance that the first shipments would be monitored for compliance under the new MOU. Nor would it even have been possible to enforce any agreement as the sheep are in many cases sold to private individuals for slaughter in home backyards. This McGauran’s Department openly admits. So AA sent its investigator, former SA policewoman Lyn White back to Egypt in December 2006 to track the fate of Australian sheep under the MOU. Assisting her was an independent investigator from the UK.
Sheep being trussed and then tossed in heaps onto the backs of trucks, onto car roof tops, and crammed into boots of cars were in clear breach of the most basic rules of humane handling of animals, of the international standards, and hence of the MOU. But that was not the end of it. These sheep arrived in time for the Eid and the Government admits that the Eid is a peak demand period for Australian live sheep.
Lyn White wrote:
I had been told that on the morning of the Eid the streets of Cairo ran red with blood. I did not think for a moment that this could be true. Much to my dismay I was soon to learn that this was an accurate portrayal of this terrible day. In every street crowds were gathering watching animals being slaughtered on footpaths and driveways.
On this issue I personally had first hand knowledge. When I was in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Pakistan’s Lahore University back in the Sixties, my Muslim friends told me how important it was for all young men to slaughter a sheep for Eid. They spoke with pride of boys as young as nine being required to kill their first sheep, by cutting its throat. Nothing will have changed, of that I can be 100% sure. Little kids hacking away at the throats of animals, our animals. You don’t need any imagination.
Lyn reported that an Egyptian who professed to be an importer of Australian sheep had invited her to his premises to witness Australian sheep being slaughtered. She described the slaughter area as the quadrangle of a shopping centre which turned into a sea of blood as the sheep were brutally slaughtered. She added that at the same location the appalling final minutes of a terrified young bull was one of the worst abuses of an animal that investigators had documented.
That animal cannot speak for itself, but we should all sit up and take notice of its treatment, for it is typical of how animals are treated and slaughtered in the Middle East.
The bull was transported on a ute with its front legs tied together with rope. With no unloading ramp the bull was forced backwards on the ute falling onto its side on the road. The terrified animal struggled against the slaughtermen trying to pull it to the slaughter area (outside a shopping centre). When the animal couldn’t comply, one slaughterman slashed the rear left leg tendon of the bull. Slaughtermen then dragged the crippled bull with its front legs tied and rear leg tendon slashed to a footpath continually twisting its tail and using the pain as a leverage to get the animal to move. In front of a crowd of onlookers this poor animal which by this time had collapsed on the ground, was held down by four men whilst its head was twisted for the throat cut.
Whilst in Egypt the investigators noted that at three locations they visited this practice of slashing tendons of cattle to immobilize them for slaughter continues, showing that this barbaric method of controlling cattle is routine and considered completely acceptable. That the export of live cattle from Australia to Egypt is yet to recommence is of little comfort, as the Howard government and industry fully intend that it will resume as soon as possible. Hundreds of thousands of our cattle have already been sent to Egypt, where the much heralded restraint boxes our Government claimed were installed to allow more humane restraint, were found by AA to be unused.
AA reports that despite documenting clear breaches of the MOU and against the advice and opposition of the Australian Veterinary Association, and all major international animal protection groups, Minister McGauran intends to continue the live export of sheep to Egypt. Following the AA exposure of the breaches, a temporary suspension of the live trade to Egypt is in place, awaiting a response to a letter by Minister McGauran to Egypt’s Minister Abaza in March. I am informed that there has been none. It remains a temporary reprieve. More empty assurances will doubtless be all it will take to get the ships sailing again.
The Government is so unconcerned about non compliance with this MOU that it has signed such useless agreements with six other Middle Eastern countries, including most recently Libya. Minister McGauran announced that this would allow cattle, goats, sheep, horses and camels to be shipped live to Libya. Even then, these MOU’s only relate to an assurance that our animals will be offloaded in the event of disease or other trade related disputes (we call it the Cormo clause). There has been no other attempt to negotiate an MOU which addresses the treatment of animals in those countries. And in the absence of animal welfare laws in those countries, what would be the point anyway. No, those MOU’s may stop the Saudi’s playing ping pong with our sheep, but little else.
While the Government continues to try and claim that the live trade cannot be replaced with the chilled trade, it is to be noted that the chilled trade increased by 35% in 2005 and the Department acknowledges that the value of the chilled trade far outstrips that of live exports. Its argument that cultural reasons demand continuance of the live trade is equally flawed as that chilled meat is from animals Halal slaughtered in Australia.
Meanwhile Amina Abaza, President of SPARE ( Society for Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt) which is Egypt’s largest animal welfare organization wrote in an open letter to John Howard:
We are shocked that the Australians would again send their animals to Egypt, especially to Cairo’s Bassatin slaughterhouse where animals are subjected to the brutal and violent treatment. Even if Australian animals are treated differently at Bassatin, in other slaughter halls they will still be subjected to brutal treatment. Surely this should prohibit Australian from financially supporting the facility”.
One would have thought so.
But no. This Government under its Orwellian Memorandum of Understanding (an understanding of just precisely what?, we might ask) has negotiated a ‘special deal’ for Australian cattle, while local cattle, and presumably those from other countries and slaughtered in other parts of the same abattoir have no protection from the tendon slashing and eye spiking practices of restraint.
And of course no animals at all are pre stunned prior to slaughter.
Even when faced with evidence that the MOU was useless for Australian sheep, the Howard government is prepared to allow the trade to continue. As AA reports, it is clear that this MOU was merely a tool to get past community concerns. It was never about animal welfare.
The live animal export trade was deemed anathema to good animal welfare over twenty five years ago by a comprehensive Senate Inquiry chaired by the late Senator George Georges. It remains so to this day with hundreds of thousands of sheep and cattle suffering appalling deaths on the transit ships, let alone the survivors suffering an even worse fate on arrival.
It is doubtful that the Labor Party under Kevin Rudd will have the courage to act against the big business that runs this gruesome trade. And Howard has demonstrated where he stands. Though one could hardly expect anything else of a Government that stood by and did nothing in the knowledge that one of its own citizens had been brutally tortured in Egypt under the so called ‘rendition’ of prisoners to Egypt.
In the face of the paper trail and the CIA admissions, the apparently routine denials on Four Corners by Howard’s ministers and public servants was one of the most sickening displays I have ever witnessed. It was callous indifference in the face of damning evidence, and made me ashamed to be Australian. It is time for these gutless people and their gutless culture to go. It is easy to see why it would be unmoved by the fate of one sheep, or a few hundred, or a few hundred thousand.
That Egypt is seen by international animal welfare groups as having the worst record of abuse of animals should not surprise anyone. People are clearly treated with equal inhumanity.
In my earlier piece I wrote of the upcoming trial of one of the largest live animal export companies in WA following Animal Australia’s claim that a shipment by that Company of sheep on the al Kuwait breached that State’s animal welfare laws. It was just a standard shipment, selected at random, so any finding against the company would have repercussions for the whole industry. It took a Writ of Mandamus to overcome the WA Government’s reluctance to drag the company into court. The trial finally took place in February this year. We await the verdict. Will justice to the thousand plus sheep which died on just that one voyage be done? We will see.
No. I will not be voting for the Liberals or Nationals in the next election. I cannot abide cruelty to animals. It would take courage to act against the big interests that run this abominable trade and this Government does not have what it takes. But does Labor? Probably not, so I probably won’t be voting for them either.
The Howard Government defending the indefensible? Take a look here, boot up the footages and photos and then you decide for yourself.
Animal Australia reports and footage
Departmental of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries statistics.
Government Media Releases
See also Government Reports linked in original piece.