The number of live animals imported for local slaughter for the meat industry has dropped by 22 percent, Agriculture Ministry data released last week show. Neither the ministry nor the nonprofit group Israel Against Live Shipments have an explanation for the decline. The practice of shipping live animals by sea for later consumption has come in for major criticism from animal rights organizations as well as some politicians due to the suffering that the animals experience.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, cargo ships have been arriving in the country as normal. Since the beginning of the year, Israeli ports have handled the import of 378,216 live animals, consisting of sheep and calves, compared to 485,414 during the same period in 2019, the ministry reported.
The animals are shipped from Australia and Europe amid conditions of overcrowding, hunger, thirst and sometimes violent treatment by members of the crew. Many of the animals die en route.
Animal rights activists have been highly critical of the Israeli Agriculture Ministry’s handling of the issue. They accuse ministry staff of ignoring major problems with maintenance of the ships and the conditions in which the animals are kept on board, and of failing to investigate the deaths of animals en route. They also accused former Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who left office in November, of dragging his feet on the issue and blocking legislation that would have banned livestock imports of this kind.
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In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry said the scope of the animal shipments are a matter of supply and demand. “The ministry permits importers to import as long as they meet the ministry’s requirements relating to public health and animal health and welfare. The Agriculture Ministry has been working for a number of years to increase the volume of imports to Israel of fresh meat to reduce the cost to the consumer and to lower the number of animals imported to Israel. These steps are already showing a drop in animal imports.”
There are several bills pending in the Knesset that would put a halt to animal imports within a few years. One bill sponsored by Kahol Lavan Knesset member Miki Haimovich, who chairs the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, would require an annual 25 percent reduction in imports of animals for slaughter, and a complete halt within four years. The legislation is soon expected to come before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Knesset coalition chairman Miki Zohar has legislation of his own that would halt the imports.
Recently an expert from the World Health Organization, epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws of Australia, called for a halt to the live animal shipments citing public health concerns, telling Australian television that it is getting to the point at which they cannot be safe.
Reacting to the reported drop in animal imports this year, the founder of Israel Against Live Shipments, Yaron Lapidot, said: “Even though we would have liked to have seen the live shipments stop now, we welcome the decline, which shows that the live shipments aren’t really necessary.”