For the second time in three months, the Agriculture Ministry has ordered a halt to the transport of live lambs and calves from Romania slated for slaughter in Israel, due to undisclosed defects in the shipments.

The ministry announced its decision to importers on Monday last week. The chief veterinarian for imports and exports in the Agricultural Ministry, Dr. Tzvika Avni, wrote to importers, “From time to time, the imports from Romania continued to fail to meet requirements.

"In light of this, the import of lamb and beef for immediate slaughter from Romania will cease until clarifications of the problems and details of how to fix them are provided by the veterinary services in Romania.” Avni said the order does not affect lambs and calves that are already on their way to Israel.

Previously, the ministry renewed the live shipments from Romania some four weeks after they were stopped, and said the defects had been fixed in line with requirements.

Last year, Romania was the biggest supplier of livestock for slaughter to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including some 240,000 lambs and calves that represented 42 percent of all livestock in the shipments.

The majority of fresh meat in Israel comes from live shipments, most of which are brought in by sea, where lambs and calves are kept in severely confining conditions. The sea shipments from Europe take a few days and those from Australia last about three weeks. Consumers have no way of determining the source of the meat they buy.

Anat Refuah from the organization Israel Against Live Shipments said, “We warn all the time that fresh meat is sick meat. We are seeing the lambs and the calves arriving sick and injured from the hardship of the journey of many days and the heart breaks. The live shipments must be stopped completely.”

Minister promised reduction, but import doubled last year

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel promised after his appointment to take action that would reduce the number of live shipments, but the number of lambs and calves for slaughter imported to Israel by air and sea increased by 2-1/2 times last year. According to ministry figures, in 2016 some 572,000 lambs and calves arrived in Israel, compared to 229,000 in 2015.

In a statement released Sunday, the Agriculture Ministry wrote that it is acting to extend the shelf life of shipped refrigerated meat in their countries of origin, hoping this will lead to a reduction in shipments of beef and an increase in imports from South America.

In a hearing four months ago, the High Court implored the state to act vigorously to reduce the suffering caused to lambs and calves brought to Israel for slaughter. The court discussed an appeal from the NGOs Let Animals Live and Anonymous, which demand that the shipments of live animals for slaughter from Australia and Europe cease entirely, and be replaced with refrigerated meat. The state said it was impossible to stop the live shipments and that the lambs’ and calves’ wellbeing during the journey to Israel should be improved instead.

The High Court criticized the state’s slow progress on the matter and ordered it to update the court at the beginning of May. The state requested an extension and has yet to send an update.