Europe’s cruel live farm animal commerce, explained


In 2019, a surprising accident at sea drew the world’s consideration to one of many meat trade’s cruelest practices: the transport of live farm animals on lengthy, perilous, and infrequently deadly journeys by ship.
Late that 12 months, the Queen Hind, an export ship carrying greater than 14,000 sheep from Romania for slaughter in Saudi Arabia, capsized, ensuing within the drowning of practically each animal. Disturbing photos emerged of the corpses of sheep floating within the Black Sea.
That sinking was one of many deadliest for animals in latest historical past, nevertheless it wasn’t distinctive. Excessive-profile experiences of animals drowned or abused on ships have prompted a rising motion in Europe and different areas to finish the live export of farm animals for slaughter. Whereas the worldwide live animal commerce isn’t a spotlight for the farm animal welfare motion in North America, the place exports are comparatively much less widespread and have a tendency to happen by land relatively than sea, in Europe, it’s excoriated for its cruelty and has emerged as probably the most seen — and probably winnable — fights for animal advocates.

Drowned sheep after the capsizing of the Queen Hind off the Romanian port of Midia within the Black Sea.

Animals Worldwide

Nations together with Luxembourg and New Zealand not too long ago banned the commerce, and even Romania, a high sheep exporter, has been contemplating an finish to the commerce after the Queen Hind tragedy. In October, Germany grew to become the most important financial system to announce it will finish live export to international locations exterior the European Union, and referred to as for an EU-wide ban on the follow. That got here as a shocking coverage reversal, given the significance of the livestock commerce to the nation. The EU is the world’s greatest livestock exporter, and Germany is likely one of the high gamers in that bloc, promoting virtually 315 million cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry birds to different EU international locations and virtually 9 million animals exterior the EU in 2019.
However the German authorities, in line with its latest announcement, may “now not stand by and watch as animals on lengthy transports undergo or die in agony.”
Live animal export, explained
Nearly 2 billion of the world’s 80 billion or so land animals raised for meals yearly, the vast majority of them chickens, are exported alive to completely different international locations, in line with 2021 information from the United Nations. This may occur for a number of causes: In an interconnected world financial system, farm animals are traded identical to different commodities, and completely different international locations have grow to be hyper-specialized in numerous elements of the livestock provide chain. Some nations produce a surplus of animals — both intentionally or as a by-product of their livestock industries — that are exported to different consumers.
Male calves born into Eire’s booming dairy trade, for instance, haven’t any worth in dairy manufacturing as a result of they will’t make milk, in order that they’re bought to the Netherlands or Spain for fattening after which both slaughtered for veal or exported once more for slaughter elsewhere. Different international locations specialise in breeding and exporting sure child animals: Denmark, for instance, is a pacesetter in piglet exports.
After which there’s the demand aspect. Nations that may’t effectively increase their very own livestock due to limitations like low water provides or warfare, like Libya, can discover it cheaper to import animals, significantly when these animals come at an excellent value due to farm subsidies of their international locations of origin. This additionally reduces the necessity for importing international locations to refrigerate contemporary meat.

However animals aren’t inanimate widgets on a spreadsheet, and after they’re hauled a whole lot of miles by land and sea, they’re handled as cargo, not passengers, which suggests their welfare is the least of anybody’s issues.
And animal transport is inherently demanding. Vehicles and ships are depressing locations for animals to be crowded into, and painful instruments like electrical prods, boards, and sticks are used to drive them on board. Within the US, too, being trucked to slaughter is among the many worst elements of a farm animal’s life. American truck transport circumstances are so dire that, in line with a latest evaluation by the Guardian, greater than 20 million animals die yearly earlier than they attain a slaughterhouse due to elements together with bodily trauma, slipping and falling in their very own waste, lack of meals and water, and excessive warmth or chilly.
As unhealthy as being transported by land could be, sea transport is even worse, growing the size of time animals spend in transit to weeks and even months.
“Livestock vessels are horrible locations for animals,” stated Caroline Rowley, founding father of Moral Farming Eire, a nonprofit that has lengthy campaigned towards Eire’s export of cows, calves, and different livestock. Most ships used to move farm animals are previous their prime, and there’s the added threat of stormy climate and sinking — one thing livestock vessels just like the Queen Hind are estimated to do at twice the speed of normal freight ships. Delays at sea, which pressure restricted feed provides and improve the buildup of excrement, stress, and harm, are one other widespread threat.
Livestock ships are an animal welfare catastrophe
Though a lot of what occurs at sea goes unnoticed by the general public, a run of latest tragedies pushed livestock delivery into worldwide headlines. After the Queen Hind accident in 2019, an organization tasked with bringing the ship again to shore found secret, unauthorized decks on the vessel, elevating issues that it might need been carrying an unsafe variety of animals. The Romanian authorities, which has helped the nation grow to be the EU’s high sheep dealer, didn’t deal with allegations about secret decks however instructed me in a 2021 assertion that the ship was carrying an applicable variety of animals.
In 2020, 41 individuals and practically 6,000 cows died after the Gulf Livestock 1, a cargo ship touring from New Zealand to China, capsized. In an interview final 12 months, the girlfriend of one of many lacking crew members stated he had spoken of low meals provides on the ship. An investigation by Australia’s ABC cited issues in regards to the Gulf Livestock 1’s security, and photographs from an impartial observer’s report produced for the Australian authorities revealed animals on the identical ship in 2019 completely coated in feces. The catastrophe galvanized protests towards delivery animals, resulting in New Zealand’s latest ban on live exports by sea.
Final 12 months, one other botched livestock cargo horrified the general public in France: 780 bulls that had been crusing to Algeria needed to be despatched again because of a disagreement over their well being paperwork — after which they have been killed and disposed of. Equally failed journeys have been reported in 2021, when two ships from Spain certain for Turkey, the Elbeik and the Karim Allah, collectively carrying about 3,000 younger bulls, have been compelled to return house after being stranded at sea for 3 months. The animals have been killed on arrival with out coming into the meals provide.
A veterinary report on circumstances contained in the Karim Allah detailed a spread of welfare failures, together with lifeless bulls being chopped up and thrown overboard, and animals with joint irritation, pores and skin circumstances, eye ulcerations, abscesses, and damaged horns. On the Elbeik, feces buildup was extreme, and plenty of bulls have been discovered lifeless, ravenous, or dehydrated.
Even when a livestock ship arrives at its vacation spot with out incident, what occurs subsequent is simply as controversial. Within the EU, slaughter rules sometimes require that animals be shocked to render them unconscious earlier than killing to cut back ache and misery, however in North Africa and the Center East, that is typically prevented or restricted in accordance with kosher and halal slaughter guidelines. Ritual slaughter legal guidelines are a extremely contentious challenge each in European politics and within the animal motion, contributing to debates about non secular liberty, pluralism, and animal welfare. And in lots of international locations, halal guidelines are evolving: In Turkey, for instance, extra halal butchers are embracing beautiful earlier than slaughter.
Activists typically use movies of slaughter overseas to attract consideration to what they see because the horrors of live export. Simply forward of Germany’s announcement that it will finish exports, the minister of meals and agriculture, Cem Özdemir, obtained undercover footage from the group Animals Worldwide that appeared to point out employees in two Lebanese slaughterhouses utilizing ropes to deliver cows down onto an already bloody flooring. The cattle, recognized as German by their ear tags, slip on the ground, have fingers pushed into their eye sockets and, as soon as down, have one leg hoisted upward to immobilize them earlier than their throats are reduce. (These obvious abuses aren’t tied to halal slaughter; relatively, they mirror cruelty that’s widespread anyplace on this planet the place animals are slaughtered.)
The German agricultural ministry, responding to my questions in regards to the video for a earlier story, didn’t reference it immediately however stated it was “insufferable” to see “photos of lifeless and injured animals throughout animal transport and of different animal welfare violations in third [non-EU] international locations.”
Extra nations are banning live export — however that will not be sufficient
Ending live exports is fashionable with the general public: A latest report on EU animal safety legal guidelines discovered that 94 p.c of residents surveyed supported ending animal shipments to non-EU international locations.
The animal commerce poses severe human well being issues, too, that may make EU nations inclined towards a ban: Lengthy animal transport instances are identified to extend the chance of antibiotic resistance, a latest EU report famous — an issue that the continent has been making a concerted effort to deal with. “Each time you transport animals, you create alternatives for illness unfold,” stated Ann Linder, a analysis fellow at Harvard Legislation College finding out zoonotic illness. “Stress lowers immunity, and poor air flow in vans additionally helps unfold … there’s a actual threat of pathogens lingering on surfaces, so you might be probably bringing wholesome animals right into a contaminated setting, after which locking them in there.”
To date, the path to a ban has been completely different for every nation. In New Zealand, the lack of human life on the Gulf Livestock 1 was a defining second. In Germany, activists have had a sympathetic ear in agriculture minister Özdemir, a vegetarian who, as Vox has reported, has championed efforts to make Germany extra plant-based.
Unsurprisingly, European livestock producers vehemently oppose a ban on live animal exports and have argued the commerce boosts livestock costs by creating extra demand for his or her merchandise. And even for European international locations which have prohibited live export to non-EU states, there’s a catch: re-export. As a result of EU member international locations can’t ban exports to one another, nations that limit animal exports out of the EU can merely promote animals to international locations with out one. Beneath Germany’s ban, for instance, the sale of cattle to Spain will proceed unimpeded. From Spain, the place no ban exists, animals are fattened and shipped to non-EU international locations for slaughter.
Spain is likely one of the EU’s key fattening and re-export hubs. Though the Spanish agriculture ministry didn’t reply to questions for this story, latest authorities information reveals the nation exports a whole lot of hundreds of animals yearly to the Center East, North Africa, and Latin America. A 2022 EU report put the annual worth of Spain’s beef exports at about $1.2 billion, of which 35 p.c is live animals.
To maintain the meat commerce flowing, Spain buys calves from throughout Europe, making it the area’s greatest importer. The nation imported 292,000 calves per 12 months between 2015 and 2020, in line with the identical EU report. Considered one of Spain’s key sources is Eire, whose dairy trade was price $5.5 billion in 2021.
To provide that a lot milk, the Irish dairy sector impregnates its virtually 1.6 million dairy cows yearly. Since half their offspring are male and unable to provide milk, they’re ultimately slaughtered for meat. A few of the calves stay in Eire and are reared for beef, however tens of hundreds are exported for meat or veal manufacturing in different EU international locations.
Eire’s island geography implies that course of includes a journey of a minimum of 18 hours, inside vans parked on ferries certain for the closest EU mainland ports in France. From there, the calves are sometimes trucked to the Netherlands or Spain. Vehicles don’t have milk for the calves, in order that they make the 18-hour ferry journey, plus a number of hours for assortment and ready time on both aspect, with out meals. A 2020 video, taken by the European animal welfare teams L214 and Eyes on Animals, confirmed weeks-old calves arriving in France, apparently determined to nurse, being crushed and kicked to get them off of feeders supplied at rest-stops.
In response to questions from Eyes on Animals, the European Fee, the EU’s govt department, instructed that failure to feed calves on such lengthy journeys violated EU rules. However Eire has continued to ship calves abroad with out meals, exporting over 220,000 of them final 12 months.

An investigation by European animal welfare teams Eyes on Animals and L214 uncovered mistreatment of calves touring by means of a French port.

Eyes on Animals/L214

Rowley of Moral Farming Eire (EFI) stated her group recurrently sends proof of issues with live export to the Irish authorities, “however the division repeatedly ignores us, or sends platitudes in return.”
EFI and three different NGOs despatched an open letter to Eire’s Division of Agriculture, Meals, and the Marine in November, asking for a face-to-face dialogue about the potential of Eire following Germany’s lead in banning exports exterior the EU. “Whereas the Germans are proscribing live exports, our authorities is increasing them, actively looking for new markets,” Rowley stated. “It’s completely the flawed course.”
In an electronic mail to Vox, the Irish authorities stated that its “work on this space is carried out on the premise that nobody shall transport animals, or trigger animals to be transported, in a means more likely to trigger harm or undue struggling.”
The UK in 2020 promised to finish live exports and is predicted to quickly enact a ban, which could inspire the Irish authorities to do the identical, Rowley stated. However an EU-wide ban was equally or probably extra necessary, she added.
An EU-wide ban may quickly be inside attain
Whereas particular person nation bans are useful, solely an EU-wide ban can shut the re-export loophole and stop lengthy shipments and slaughter with out beautiful, stated Gabriel Paun of Animals Worldwide.
“The moral, economical, and social advantages for the EU to ban live export are clear,” Paun stated. These benefits, he stated, embrace not simply mitigating pointless struggling, but in addition the financial advantages of killing and processing animals in Europe as an alternative of sending them to different international locations to do the slaughtering. The largest hurdle, he added, is the parable that Center Japanese international locations with halal rules would relatively import live animals than settle for meat slaughtered elsewhere. The fact, based mostly on Paun’s expertise in these nations, is that packaged halal meat is already being imported and that individuals don’t wish to import “soiled, wounded [EU] animals.”
Equally, in Israel, the place animals are slaughtered in line with kosher legal guidelines, the general public is alarmed by the therapy of imported animals, and a number of payments have been launched within the Israeli parliament to ban the commerce, in line with Hila Keren of Animals Now, an Israeli NGO. “A survey carried out in Israel confirmed that 86 p.c of the general public help the laws and 91 p.c imagine live export includes cruelty to animals,” stated Keren. “The value of imported chilled and frozen beef is usually cheaper than the meat of cows slaughtered in Israel,” she added.

A ship carrying between 20,000 and 30,000 sheep and cows from Australia arrives in Israel after virtually three weeks at sea.

Jo-Anne McArthur / Israel In opposition to Live Shipments / We Animals Media

A gap for a European live export ban will not be far off, with an overhaul of the EU’s animal welfare and transport legal guidelines scheduled for late this 12 months. Nations anticipated to help ending live exports embrace Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, given that every one 5 not too long ago referred to as for higher restrictions on animal shipments exterior the EU. Luxembourg, which banned live animal exports final March, is one other supporter.
However opposition is important. Nations with ports that transfer massive numbers of animals, together with Spain, France, Eire, and Romania, are more likely to object to a ban, stated Anja Hazekamp, a Dutch European Parliament member and vice chair of a latest animal transport inquiry.
The Spanish agriculture ministry didn’t reply to questions on export bans. The French authorities stated it “stays against a ban on the export of live animals to 3rd international locations for fattening/slaughter,” including that it will “listen” to the upcoming EU revision of animal safety legal guidelines.
Eire’s authorities didn’t reply questions on whether or not it will help an EU-wide ban however instructed Vox that it “calls for the very best requirements of animal welfare throughout transport” and “facilitates [live export], recognizing its important significance to the agri-sector.”
Regardless of the intransigence of live-exporting nations, Germany’s transfer to finish direct exports to non-EU international locations, together with this 12 months’s EU talks, represents the strongest alternative but for a change of course. The result will finally depend upon negotiations between EU international locations and a majority vote; a ban may go over the objections of live-exporting nations.
Arguments for a ban are at the moment being examined in Romania, a rustic that exported over 1.8 million sheep exterior the EU in 2019. Dragoş Popescu, a progressive senator there, has championed laws to finish live exports by 2025. However he’s confronted steep challenges, along with his personal get together deserting him on the difficulty, which meant he needed to introduce the invoice by himself in December, he instructed Vox.
The problem is to make individuals conscious of live export’s cruelty, he stated. “Folks don’t know in regards to the therapy of the animals. We are going to want a marketing campaign to lift consciousness,” Popescu explained. His marketing campaign will purpose to construct on the Queen Hind tragedy. “Folks have been shocked by the Queen Hind, by the truth of live export,” he stated.
Hopeful as he’s, a latest WhatApp message from Popescu mirrored simply how tough the struggle may be: “The talk [on the bill’s introduction], as anticipated, was exhausting. The sheep house owners have been very loud,” he wrote, including a bullhorn emoji.

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