The Agriculture Ministry has suspended airlifts of cattle imports after more than 100 calves perished on a cargo flight from Hungary last week.
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The young animals were among 1,200 shipped to Israel on Wednesday.
The ministry said all aerial shipments of animals destined to be slaughtered for their meat would now be halted pending an investigation by Veterinary Services.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) recently withdrew a bill she introduced in July to ban all animal shipments to Israel, but said she now plans to reintroduce the measure.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) had promised to limit the shipments from 2017 after animal rights groups denounced the tortuous journeys and deaths of animals on lengthy voyages.
“The issue of shipping live animals to Israel from Australia for slaughter is a very painful one and we are working in a variety of ways to reduce it to the minimum possible,” Ariel said in the Knesset during the summer, adding that regulations were being considered to change the situation.
Despite those words, the number of live animals shipped to Israel for slaughter doubled in 2016 over the previous year.
Ministry figures show 523,000 lambs and calves were shipped to Israel through November, compared to 261,000 for the same period a year ago. Most were shipped from Romania, Australia, Portugal and Hungary. Most of the animals were shipped by sea.
“Given the importance the ministry ascribes to reducing the harm to animal welfare, the ministry is working to increase the imports of slaughtered meat to Israel, which will inevitably lead to a reduction in shipments of live calves,” a ministry statement said.
The ministry said it had increased quotas for slaughtered meat imports exempted from customs duties in the past year, and plans to increase these quotas in the coming years.
Similarly, the ministry issued permits to 20 more European processors to export meat to Israel.
Ariel said on Sunday that, “the issue of cruelty to animals is important to us.Agriculture Ministry procedures are strict and the professionals in the ministry work constantly to protect animal welfare.
"At the same time, I’m working to increase the shelf life of chilled meat imported from abroad, so that we can reduce unnecessary animal suffering and take care of consumers by bringing better quality meat to Israel at lower prices,” Ariel said.
Dr. Shlomo Grazi, the ministry’s chief veterinarian, said every instance of unnecessary cruelty to animals would be investigated and that there would be a crack down against those responsible.
Zandberg said in a statement that “the tragedy of the air shipment from Hungary is additional proof that all live shipments – by air, sea or land – are cruel and superfluous. The decision to stop the air shipments is important and it should be established in law.”
The NGOs Anonymous and Let the Animals Live, which have been leading the fight against live shipments, welcomed the freeze of air shipments but said it wasn’t enough.
“The death in the air shipment from Hungary was predictable,” the groups said in a statement. “Serious suffering and death are an integral part of the shipment of calves and lambs to Israel by sea and by air. We call for the immediate halt of all live shipments.”