Israel's High Court to State: Reduce Shipped Animals’ Suffering

Animal rights groups say the animals are subjected to horrendous conditions, especially on the long passages from Australia.

Last year, the number of calves and lambs brought to Israel by sea and air for slaughter doubled.
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The High Court of Justice on Wednesday urged the state to take measures to reduce the suffering caused to calves and lambs that are shipped to Israel for slaughter.

The court discussed a petition submitted by animal rights NGOs Let the Animals Live and Anonymous, demanding cessation of the live shipments from Australia and Europe. The petitioners said the torturous voyages caused the lambs and calves acute suffering and even death, and called to replace the live shipments with chilled meat of animals that were slaughtered in their state of origin.

The animal rights groups say the animals are subjected to horrendous conditions, especially on the long passages from Australia. They are crammed together, sometimes covered in their own excrement, and many of them die on the voyage, they said.

The state told the court it could not prevent live animal shipments and suggested instead improving the animals’ conditions during the shipments.

The court rebuked the state for foot-dragging and told it to accelerate its handling of the issue and update the court in about three months.

Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubinstein, noting he was a vegetarian himself, said there was no doubt the shipped animals undergo extreme torment.

The state’s representative said there was no argument that the marine journey was bad for the animals, but objected to stopping the live shipments and suggested drafting regulations ensuring the animals’ welfare instead. However, the state refused to say when it would introduce these regulations and said the committee advising the agriculture minister on animal welfare, which is supposed to meet once a quarter, would discuss the issue. 

Yossi Wolfson, who represented the animals’ rights groups, said there was no way to ship animals from one end of the world to another without causing them pain and suffering. “Where suffering can be prevented there’s no reason to regulate and perpetuate the torment,” he said.

The representatives of the meat importers said stopping or reducing the shipments would infringe on their freedom of occupation and the public’s right to choose between fresh and chilled meat.

The court ruled that the state must take vigorous steps to reduce the animals’ suffering as much as possible. Justices Rubinstein, Neal Hendel and Hanan Melcer criticized the advisory committee for meeting only once, a few days before the court session, and set its next meeting for April.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) had promised to limit the shipments, but last year the number of calves and lambs brought to Israel by sea and air for slaughter doubled, reaching some 572,000. Most of the animals were brought from Romania, Australia, Portugal and Hungary, crammed on ships.