Israeli Panel Recommends Reducing Live Animal Imports for Slaughter in Israel

Gov't committee concludes that shipping livestock is detrimental to animals’ welfare and that slaughter should take place near where animal was born

Protesters demonstrating against the import of live animals to Israel, Tel Aviv, January 2017.
Revital Topiol

Israel should reduce the number of calves and lambs it imports for slaughter, a government advisory committee on preventing cruelty to animals has recommended.

The committee was established about 18 months ago and most of its members are representatives of government ministries. It recently met twice to discuss live animal imports, in response to a High Court of Justice petition by two organizations, Let the Animals Live and Anonymous.

The committee concluded that shipping live animals is inevitably detrimental to the animals’ welfare and, therefore, “from the standpoint of animal welfare, it’s better to raise and slaughter the animal near where it was born and then import the meat.”

The decision was near-unanimous, with only the representative of the Manufacturers Association trade group opposed.

The panel also recommended various measures to reduce live animal imports, including abolishing the financial incentives for importing live calves and lambs.

Currently, there is no limit on the number of livestock animals that can be imported, and live animals aren’t subject to customs duties. In contrast, there are limits on the amount of fresh meat that can be imported, and meat imports are subject to high customs duties. The committee proposed that import quotas and customs duties for live animals be the same as those for imported meat.

Some imported animals are fattened in Israel before slaughter, while others are slaughtered immediately. The committee recommended completely banning the import of animals for immediate slaughter.

It also recommended lengthening the shelf life of refrigerated fresh meat, to make it easier to import from South America. Currently, the legally mandated shelf life for such meat is 45 days, so meat that comes from far away has a very short shelf life once it arrives in Israel. But the Agriculture Ministry is now considering lengthening the shelf life significantly.

Prior to the committee meeting, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan voiced vehement opposition to the shipment of live animals for slaughter, saying that most of these shipments violate the law against cruelty to animals but there’s no effective way to enforce this law in mid-ocean. Cruelty and abuse on such voyages is almost unavoidable, he added, basing his views on expert opinion, common sense and “a great deal of testimony.”

“When it’s possible to prevent suffering, there’s no place for legalizing it,” he added.

The High Court petition, which was heard in February, sought to ban the import of animals for slaughter entirely. The court criticized the government’s delay in making a decision on the issue, told it to speed up its deliberations and ordered it to keep the court informed of developments.

A month ago, the state informed the court of the advisory panel’s meeting and said that, in its wake, “additional efforts are being made to reduce the suffering of animals imported to Israel by setting conditions regarding animal welfare in the import licenses.”

It also said the director of the government’s veterinary services had met with representatives of the importers five months earlier and ordered a translation of European Union regulations on ensuring animal welfare during air and sea shipments. But the translation still hasn’t been done, even though the regulations in question are quite short.

Meanwhile, even though Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel ordered that live animal imports be reduced, the number actually continues to rise. In the first half of 2017, the meat industry imported 268,000 live animals from Europe and Australia – an increase of over 20 percent from the same period last year.

Lawyer Yossef Wolfson, representing Let the Animals Live, said the government’s conduct should be guided by Erdan’s position and the advisory committee’s recommendations.

“No more empty words about regulating live shipments, but aggressive action to stop them,” he said, adding, “Subjecting animals to an intercontinental journey necessarily entails serious abuse, and all solely in order to slaughter them at the end.

“Cabinet ministers can put an end to this,” he continued. “That’s the minimum the ministers can do for the calves and lambs sentenced to death before they were born – spare them the unnecessary cruelty of live shipments. As for the customer, he could take the extra step of refraining from eating any meat.”