Recent footage in the media shows the cruel conditions faced by sheep sent over the sea to slaughter. Hot, trapped, dying of thirst and panic, they struggle for life as the ships take them to their death.
This trade across oceans, particularly to and from Australia, has gone on for decades unnoticed by most of us, but the recent publication of footage of the conditions on board the live export ships puts disturbing evidence in front of our noses. We can’t look away any longer.
In Australia there is anger.
These journeys, some three weeks of distress, are not unusual. What is unusual is that their misery has been caught on camera, and that the body count of one shipment in particular has triggered an official investigation.
It was the live export of a load of over 63,800 sheep to the Middle East in August 2017 that raised concern. On that voyage around 2,400 sheep died bringing the mortality level to 3.76 per cent, higher than the 2 per cent accepted under the standards set for live export by Australia.
The investigation, combined with April’s publication of the footage of distressed sheep at sea, has launched protests, and a review of live exports by Australia’s Federal Government.
In 2003 New Zealand suffered similar outrage to do with a shipment of 57,000 sheep to Saudi Arabia. On arrival the cargo was rejected. The sheep were trapped on board for two months whilst another market was sought. Some 5,000 animals died in limbo. That year New Zealand banned the export of live sheep for slaughter, and four years later it passed the same law for cattle.
Today New Zealand does export its animals alive … but they are not for immediate slaughter.
It is hard to imagine how an animal, taken suddenly from home to the lower deck of a ship, is expected to adjust to the noise, the motion, the below decks crowding, and the communal stress.
I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, horses, and cattle … lots of cattle. They were my father’s pride and joy, and he knew them in the way a fashion designer understands fabric. He taught us to know them too.
Stress, we learned, should be avoided at every stage: if an animal loses condition it loses value; if an animal is treated cruelly it becomes difficult to handle; if an animal is thin and alarmed it is a disgrace to the reputation of those charged with its care.
Knowing this, and the understanding most stockmen and women have of their animals, it is hard to know why any livestock is allowed to be subjected to lengthy, crowded sea voyages.
Does any government want the wellbeing of the animals raised on its soil to be so disregarded? Do farmers and citizens wish to be connected at all to such cruelty? Should we, as customers, allow such shipments over our oceans?
Surely the time has come to stop this?
The first YouTube clip includes footage of sheep on board the ships and parts of an interview with Australian Bidda Jones, the Chief Science Officer with RSPCA Australia. The clip is two and half minutes in length.
The second clip includes an interview with the whistleblower who took the footage, followed by evidence of the mistreatment of sheep at an abattoir in the Middle East. It is just under three minutes long.
(The photographs throughout the piece are mine, taken recently in Europe. They are of farm animals at home on their farms.)
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018