Live imports of animals into Israel for slaughter reached a new record in 2018, despite protests and progress on a bill supported by the government and the prime minister that would bar the practice.
Last year 685,813 calves and lambs were imported for fattening or immediate slaughter, mainly from Australia.
Six months ago Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel promised to work toward significantly reducing live animal imports from Australia.
According to the rights group Animals, live imports rose 37 percent in 2018 from the previous year. These animals undergo “a torturous voyage to Israel in crowded ships, wallowing in their own excrement, sick and exhausted,” the organization said.
In December, a bill sponsored by MK Miki Zohar (Likud) that would reduce live-animal shipments gradually and end them completely within three years received initial approval in the Knesset after winning the support of the government. Similar bills were introduced by a number of other lawmakers. The legislative process has been stalled by the dissolution of the Knesset and calling of early elections. The Agriculture Ministry is expected to submit another version of the bill to replace Zohar’s private member’s bill.
After the bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation eight months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his support for it. Netanyahu said at the time that the legislation was “an obligation to stop this great cruelty to animals.”
According to Animals, there is an alternative to live animal imports, which the Economy and Industry Ministry also supports, in the form of refrigerated meat imports from slaughterhouses abroad, which is cheaper than the meat from live-animal imports. However, such meat is slapped with high customs duties, except for a small quota that is exempt. In October 2016, the Finance Ministry approved a plan whereby an exemption from customs for refrigerated meat imports would be allocated, so that by the year 2020, the amount of imported meat would reach more than 21,000 tons.
All told in Israel, the amount of fresh meat consumed in Israel annually, including meat from animals raised in Israel, is currently estimated at 20,000 tons.
The High Court of Justice recently heard a petition by Animals, together with another animal-rights group, Let the Animals Live, seeking to ban live-animal imports. After issuing an interim injunction suspending the practice in July 2017, the court suggested the groups withdraw their petition, arguing that they had achieved their goal. The organizations expressed disappointment with the court’s position, saying in a statement “the Agriculture Ministry succeeded to delude the High Court justices that regulatory action, in light of the recent revelations, changes the reality on the ground, although in fact there has been no essential change.”
In a response, The Agriculture Ministry labeled as “baseless” claims the government was not working to reduce live-animal imports. The ministry added that it had recently published an initial version of a bill by which “the import of live animals would be reduced by 20 percent in the first year the law is passed and within 10 years there would no longer be live animal imports. Due to the dissolution of the Knesset the legislation cannot be completed. Moreover, only last month the High Court determined that the state was working to increase the welfare of animals arriving in Israel beyond the actions already taken by the government, such as extending the shelf life of the fresh meat slaughtered abroad and the import of meat from various countries.”
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