EU must end its cruel exports of live animals

| 3rd October 2015
A bull from Romania meets a grisly death in Gaza following trans-shipment through Israel, winter 2014. Photo: Compassion in World Farming.

A bull from Romania meets a grisly death in Gaza following trans-shipment through Israel, winter 2014. Photo: Compassion in World Farming.

The EU's long-distance trade in live cattle to the Middle East inflicts horrendous cruelty at every point from farm to slaughter, writes Peter Stevenson, as well as posing public health risks due to grossly insanitary conditions. Live animal exports for meat should be stopped and replaced with a humane trade in refrigerated meat and carcasses.
The EU calves that end up in Gaza have been exported from the EU to Israel which then re-exports some of them to Gaza. Those that remain in Israel also suffer terrible slaughter conditions.

Slaughter standards in the Middle East are terrible, almost beyond imagining. Yet, knowing full well what awaits them, the EU exports around two million cattle and sheep a year to the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

A slaughterhouse in the Middle East: a cow whose throat has been cut open stands as long as she can. As the blood pours from her throat her back legs become weak and she struggles to keep them together. All her legs begin to shake before she finally collapses onto the concrete.

For many years Compassion in World Farming has regularly given the European Commission film evidence of the immense suffering experienced by animals during slaughter in this region.

Despite all the evidence, the Commission, the exporting Member States and the traders refuse to halt these exports. The lure of profits blinds them to the harsh deaths endured by EU animals.

The long journeys from Europe by road and sea also take a terrible toll on the animals. All too often the trucks carrying them to ports in southern Europe are overcrowded, poorly ventilated and filthy.

Often they begin their journeys in far away countries. CIWF investigators have identified cattle trucks arriving in the Middle East from Romania, Hungary and even Lithuania, journeys of up to 2,600 miles.

By journey's end the animals are often hungry, thirsty and exhausted; some are injured or diseased. But the worst is still in store. Slaughter practices in this region are deeply troubling. One industry expert explained: "these aren't abattoirs - they're torture chambers!"

Slaughter in the Middle East

The leg tendons of cattle are sometimes severed with a knife to make them easier to control. Our films show cattle being beaten - very hard - on the head with a large pole until after several blows the animal is so dazed that it falls to the ground. We've seen sheep being dragged through the abattoir by a rear leg and the slaughter of EU cattle on the pavement outside butchers' shops.

Our most recent footage from the Middle East shows EU cattle being dragged forcefully with ropes from the back of trailers onto a blood-soaked floor. They are tied to posts alongside the bodies of those that have gone before and dragged into position by their tails.

Then their throats are stabbed at and slashed multiple times. The stabs continue until they collapse and lose enough blood to render them unconscious. This can take several terrifying minutes.

We see one bull being stabbed in the throat. Among the chaos a horse pulling a cart with a headless cow on it collides with the wounded bull as he drops to his knees. Another horse is seen trotting through the carnage on the other side of the slaughterhouse. The process continues with the bull experiencing repeated slashing and stabbing from the knife to bring him to the ground.

The EU calves that end up in Gaza have been exported from the EU to Israel which then re-exports some of them to Gaza. Those that remain in Israel also suffer terrible slaughter conditions.

The EU must end its cruel trade in living creatures

The EU's trade should be replaced by a humane trade in meat and carcasses. This is feasible as most countries in the Middle East have the necessary refrigeration facilities. Indeed many already import large quantities of meat from around the world.

One recent investigation was in Gaza where we found particularly bad slaughter conditions that are both inhumane and unhygienic. Animals die on the ground amidst blood, urine and faeces.

As a result the skin and throat are covered in bacteria which then contaminate the meat when the carcase is cut up. The problem is made worse by the very rough handling of the animals before slaughter. This causes extreme stress which results in high pH levels in the meat, encouraging the very rapid growth of bacteria.

The EU calves that end up in Gaza have been exported from the EU to Israel which then re-exports some of them to Gaza. Those that remain in Israel also suffer terrible slaughter conditions. Investigations in Israeli abattoirs have found cattle being placed in a box which inverts them 180 degrees for slaughter. Shortly after throat cutting, while some are still conscious, they are hoisted up by a chain attached to a rear leg to a rail where they bleed to death.

We recognise the enormous difficulties experienced on a daily basis by the people of Gaza. The EU must do all it can to help them including ensuring that they have sufficient and nutritious food. However, this does not necessitate sending live animals to Gaza to be slaughtered in ways that are cruel and present a needless public health hazard.

This danger was recognised by Lebanon's Minister of Public Health who last year closed Beirut's main abattoir on food safety grounds. And let's be clear: the EU does not send live cattle to Gaza for humanitarian reasons; it does so to make money.

Recognition in Middle East of need for change

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has in recent years developed international standards on the welfare of animals including during slaughter. Some in the Middle East wish to bring their slaughter practices up to OIE standards. But they do not know how to do so. More than once I've been asked: "where do we begin?"

Having visited Beirut's main slaughterhouse recently, Lebanon's Minister of Agriculture denounced the "cruelty with which the animals are killed". Some Muslims - and, yes, Israelis - shocked by what they see in their abattoirs, call on the outside world for help.

Whenever Muslims see our films they immediately stress that such cruelty is not Halal. They stress that Islam requires slaughter to be carried out with as little suffering as possible.

The EU must help countries in the Middle East and North Africa to improve their slaughter practices. They need assistance in improving infrastructure (e.g. installation of passageways to help move cattle to the point of slaughter) and equipment (e.g. restraining boxes for cattle). Abattoir personnel should be trained in handling and slaughtering animals calmly and skilfully.

The European Commission held a workshop in Lebanon earlier this year on welfare at slaughter. This is extremely welcome. However, it must be seen as only the first of the many steps that are needed to bring welfare at slaughter in this region up to international standards.

We very much want to see improved slaughter standards for the sake of the local animals. But we strongly believe that EU animals should not be sent there as, sadly, it will take a long time for conditions to get better and, moreover, the long journeys often result in immense suffering.



Action: To send an email to the Commission, please visit our Take Action page.

Peter Stevenson is Compassion in World Farming's Chief Policy Advisor. He has written comprehensive legal analyses of EU legislation on farm animals and of the impact of the WTO rules on animal welfare. He is currently working to highlight the detrimental impact of industrial livestock production on the resources - land, soil, water, biodiversity - on which our future ability to feed ourselves depends.


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