Israel's inhumane live animal shipments pose danger to public health

Israel's bill to end the import of live animals for meat has stalled in light of elections, but the method is illegal, dangerous and costly.

Livestock transported in live animal shipments. (photo credit: ANIMALS NOW)
Livestock transported in live animal shipments.
(photo credit: ANIMALS NOW)
The unsanitary and inhumane conditions of live animal exportation have been addressed worldwide in recent years, but Israel has neglected to follow suit.
Starting with Australia’s 2018 Standards for the Export of Livestock, laws were passed to improve transport conditions and limit the amount of live animal transport.
While Israel’s MK Miki Zohar saw the approval of a bill in its initial stages in November of 2018, stating that the country would gradually discontinue its live animal shipments within three years, the election turmoil has since brought progress to a halt.
Petitions demanding change continued to flood the country, one of which is from 245 lawyers in Israel who signed a document stating: “We, lawyers from various legal fields – administrative, constitutional, commercial, international, criminal and other fields – are calling for an end to the import of animals in live shipments from Australia and Europe for fattening and slaughter in Israel.
“We will not stand [for] the loading [of] hundreds of thousands of calves and sheep on ships as if they were just raw material, for economic interests. Photographs released from the live shipments document animals being forced to climb on top of each other to try to reach water and food... and being violently beaten while unloading from the ships,” they detailed.
Livestock transported overseas for slaughter. Livestock transported overseas for slaughter.
Another letter from 60 rabbis wrote said that: "Causing such severe suffering to animals just to satisfy lust for fresh meat is not the way of our sacred teachings."
Instead of heeding these demands to end live transport, over 207,214 calves and lambs were shipped to Israel in the first quarter of 2021, an increase of 51% from last year alone, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
Furthermore, livestock raised in Israel has gone from making up 21% of the country's needs to 17% since 2015, frozen imports have decreased from 58% to 56%, and live imports have risen from 20% to 27%.
Despite the country's overwhelming agreement to stop livestock shipments (86% percent of Israelis approved of the 2018 bill according to an iPanel survey), no further progress has been made to change importation policies. Now, the situation is even more dire, as the annual importation numbers continue to rise. 
Live animal shipments breach Israel's 1994 Animal Protection Law, as overseas transport forces livestock into cramped ships filled with disease and filth, where many are abused and die along the way, explained the 2018 bill. The sick animals are cruelly thrown overboard, as was seen with cow carcasses that washed up on Israel's beaches in 2019. 
“Since the beginning of the year, we have inspected all 34 ships that arrived, compared to 24 ships in the same period last year. Dozens of animals were found without enough hours of sleep,” according to Yaron Lapidot, founder of the organization Israel Against Live Shipments.
“While 86% of Israelis support legislation to stop live shipments, the Agriculture Ministry exploits the political situation to continue making money by stuffing animals in crowded and polluted ships, drenched in urine and feces, sick, injured and desperate,” announced Animals Now, another Israeli nonprofit that supports animal rights. “By 2021 live shipments should have been history. We call on elected officials and the government to stop the rampage of the shipping industry.”
LIVE ANIMAL shipment isn’t just a humane matter: The unsanitary and diseased ships are a danger to the public. Just two years ago, a shipment of cows from Portugal brought an outbreak of tuberculosis to Israel.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, such health risks demand attention.
“A pandemic of some sort was inevitable,” explained Prof. Marylouise McLaws, a member of the World Health Organization. “As soon as you push the natural environment further in and they’ve got nowhere else to go, humans and animals will mix, and not respectfully.”
This is precisely the case when potentially ill livestock are packed onto boats and transported to countries not previously exposed to certain diseases.
“I do not think it will change until there is an outbreak in the animals while they are sent to other countries,” Mclaws warned.
However, Israel does not need to wait until then. The Finance Ministry has increased its tax-free importation of frozen meat to over 21,000 tons, the Agriculture Ministry noted. Frozen meat is cheaper than live animal transport, prevents the transmission of diseased livestock, and eliminates the animal cruelty involved in the shipment process. That makes chilled meat a more viable and sustainable alternative.
Israel’s demand on livestock is hefty, amounting to an average of 20.6 kg. of meat per person each year, compared to the global average of 4.6 kg., The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recorded in 2018. Importing chilled and frozen meat offers an affordable opportunity to support such demands in both a healthy and moral way.
“From an economic point of view, as long as people still choose to eat meat, the less harmful way to do so is to bring the animals after slaughter, i.e., chilled meat,” Animals Now told The Jerusalem Post.
Livestock transported overseas for slaughter. Livestock transported overseas for slaughter.
“The cruel live shipments are not a necessity of reality but a decision of policy. Legally, there is a measure whose degree of harm is less: imports of fresh and frozen meat from around the world, originating from animals slaughtered near their habitats, without being transported from one end of the world to the other in long arduous journeys, to a slaughterhouse at the end of the world,” noted the 245 lawyers in their document.
“The only way to prevent the suffering of animals in live shipments is to stop them,” they declared.