There are some legal cases that are as straightforward as an engineering formula. A sheep born in Australia may be slaughtered in an Australian slaughterhouse and its meat may be shipped to Israel; our neighbors in the Middle East import tens of thousands of tons of fresh mutton this way. Or the sheep may be thrown alive into a ship in the equatorial heat and, if it survives the trip, be slaughtered in Israel.
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A calf born in Eastern Europe may be slaughtered in Poland and its fresh meat may be exported to the markets in Israel. Or the calf may be crammed into the crowded belly of a boat that docks in Haifa, be fattened with feed that is also imported, and then finally be slaughtered. That process is also, by the way, more expensive: According to statistics from the Economy Ministry, imported fresh beef is 17 percent cheaper on average than the meat of calves slaughtered in Israel, most of which are imported live from Australia and Eastern Europe.
The beasts stretch their necks through the bars in a desperate attempt to get oxygen, says Dr. Lynn Simpson, a veterinarian fired by the Australian government after she exposed the brutal conditions on board ships heading from Down Under to the Middle East. The desperate animals fight one another to be near the fans, the stronger ones trampling the weaker. One day Simpson a whole deck full animals engaged in such scenes; they were dropping like flies every minute. Their bodies would be carried outside where she would cut their throats and see that their fat had melted into something like semi-transparent jello – they had cooked from the inside out, she says.
Sometimes they don’t cook inside, they burn to death.
From now on this day, August 29, will become the international day marking the struggle against live exports because it was on this day, 20 years ago, that 67,488 sheep died after the ship transporting them from Australia caught fire.
There is a simple legal formula to apply here: Between two alternatives, choose the more "proportional" one – the one that causes less harm. If fresh meat is to be imported, at least, “live exports” – or, more appropriately, “death shipments” of animals for slaughter – should be banned. It is a matter of common sense, backed by science.
Experts on animal welfare have said for years that live shipments involve, by nature, much suffering and anxiety, and if animals are to be slaughtered, it should be done as close as possible to where they are being bred.
In other words, commerce in live animals should be exchanged for commerce in the flesh of dead animals. Replacing shipments of livestock with shipments of meat also reduces the risk of spreading disease.
In the Israeli context, there are other advantages, too. Environmentally speaking, the facilities in which imported calves are fattened are a source of fecal contamination, offensive odors and other blights.
Moving on to the economic perspective, the antitrust commissioner has ruled that Israel’s fresh meat market is highly concentrated, being controlled by just two slaughterhouses. If both are constrained to slaughtering animals born in Israel while all other meat in the market arrives from overseas slaughterhouses – that concentration would be history.
As activists on behalf of animal rights, it is not rare for us to drop our eyes before the beseeching gaze of the calf looking at us through the bars of the truck as it drives out of the port. Every one of us now has an opportunity to look at that calf – let’s call him John – in the eyes, from anti-live-export posters and billboards. Who are we to eat part of John’s body? When I look into John’s eyes, I ask myself if I would really feel better if he had been spared that intercontinental journey of torment. Would he have agreed that we cut his throat at a slaughterhouse in Sydney or somewhere on the road between Warsaw and Poznan?
Each of us has to do the math for himself. The law makes do with minimizing suffering, and minimizing suffering demands what the legend on the posters demands: Stop the live exports now.
The author is legal counsel to the Israeli nonprofit Let the Animals Live.