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By Emily Dugan
Millions of animals are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of meat traders by enduring cruel, drawn-out journeys across the world to be slaughtered on arrival.
The alarming evidence of their suffering has been revealed after a secret investigation by 10 major animal charities, including the RSCPA, Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). In shocking footage, animals including horses, pigs, sheep and chickens are seen being transported thousands of miles across the world, when they could as easily be carried as meat.
Thousands of animals die en route from disease, heat exhaustion, hunger and stress. The others escape the intolerable conditions only to confront, immediately, the butcher's knife.
The video is the product of the Handle With Care coalition, which has united animal charities to campaign against the abhorrent practice. The coalition, which is lobbying for change in the countries concerned, unveiled an international campaign yesterday in countries including Brazil, Australia, the US, Spain and Italy.
Across the world, more than a billion live animals are transported every week, many over long distances. The video reveals the horror of five particularly gruesome journeys. Australia, the world's largest exporter of live animals, sends more than four million live sheep every year to the Middle East. Shipped in cramped, poorly lit dens, the journey takes 32 days. Many of the animals die of suffocation before encountering the slaughterhouse weeks later.
Those sheep that do arrive are fattened before being killed in accordance with Halal butchery laws. Eighty per cent of Australia's abattoirs are Halal-certified, raising the question of why they could not be slaughtered in Australia and transported frozen.
Many live exports are undertaken to make the fraudulent claim that the animals are home-reared. In Spain, thousands of horses are illegally crammed into lorries for a sweltering 46-hour journey to Italy. Canadian pigs, in conditions just as obscene, are condemned to a 4,500-mile journey by land and sea to Hawaii, so that, when slaughtered, their carcasses can be sold as "Island Produced Pork". For nine days, hundreds of pigs are crammed together in the dark, standing in their own excrement. Exhausted and hungry, they become ill, vomiting from motion sickness and waiting for long periods without food.
Compassion in World Farming's chief executive, Philip Lymbery, said: "The cruelty these animals endure is completely unacceptable in the 21st century. This trade is one in which millions of animals suffer cruel and unnecessary journeys each year. It must stop."
Despite EU regulations which should protect the animals on the filmed routes, the horses are denied adequate food and water, and endure temperatures of up to 40C.
Speaking on behalf of the International League for the Protection of Horses, Jo White said: "Long distance transport for slaughter is the biggest single abuse of horses in Europe, with around 100,000 involved in the trade. The ILPH is committed to ending this unnecessary suffering and with the review of EU legislation next year, urges the public to demonstrate its objection to this inhumane trade as a matter or urgency."
Rules on the minimum standards of care for the transit of live animals are flouted regularly, with many in such cramped conditions that they have no room to lie down. In Europe alone, some six million animals are taken on long journeys of up to 70 hours, which often cause extensive suffering.
No investigation is usually conducted into a live export unless more than 2 per cent of these animals die in transit; those in the industry say that 1 per cent will die on their journey – equivalent to about 40,000 sheep dying in inhumane conditions each year.
Campaigners say that humans could also be at risk from the live shipping as diseases such as bird flu are spread more easily. Britain's trade in live animal exports is not on the scale of countries such as Australia, but the coalition wants the practice stopped altogether. In this campaign, the coalition hopes to emulate the success of the veal calf campaign of the 1990s, which saw the export of live calves banned in 1996. One woman even gave her life to the cause as she attempted to stop a cattle lorry at Coventry airport.
But after a decade of keeping the trade at bay, pressure from the farming industry prevailed. Traffic resumed in 2006 when the EU lifted the ban after a downturn in the number of BSE cases in the UK.
Each year, 80,000 live sheep and lambs are taken from Britain to continental Europe, and campaigners believe they could be dealt with more humanely by being slaughtered before transportation. David Bowles of the RSPCA said: "We are urging everyone to support this campaign so that we can stop this cruel and unnecessary trade."
'Live animals were living on top of carcasses'
An undercover Compassion in World Farming investigator tells of seeing zebu cattle arrive in Beirut on a ship from Brazil:
"When I boarded the ship the first thing that hit me was the smell. Even before it had docked you could smell it, a combination of ammonia from the stale excrement, the sweat of the packed cattle, and diesel from the ship.
"I didn't have to look hard to see the effect of this. I saw two cows lying dead as soon as I got on board; the crew had been unable to get them out from among the live animals, who were living virtually on top of their carcasses. I'm not a vet, but it looked like the impact of that journey had been too much for them.
"The crew said there were 2,500 cattle on board, and you had animals falling down that couldn't get up again because they were struggling to find the space to stretch their legs. It was so confined they were constantly pushing against each other, even while the ship was stationary. I dread to think what it would have been like when the ship was moving. It was a very stressful environment; the noise of the engines and the dark made it unbearable for me being down there for just a few hours, but I can't imagine what it was like for the animals on that 17-day journey. In Lebanon, the temperature was in the high 30s, but in the metal hold of a confined ship it was unbearable.
"Because these were zebu from Brazil, they had lived wild on expansive ranches. So when they were moved on to trucks and ships, they didn't understand their environment. They bashed against the confines of the lorry in an attempt to find their way out. And, in an effort to keep them as stationary as possible, the traders had packed them in so closely they could hardly move.
"There was no provision made at all for the fact that what they were dealing with was a living thing, not an inanimate object. It was the same with the ship. The space they were kept in on this three-week trip was simply a metal floor with little or no surface to provide grip; they were keeping wild animals in what was basically a tin.
"And at the end of this brutal process, the very reason for their live transportation seemed defunct, as they were slaughtered in front of each other, a practice not considered Halal by the experts I consulted.
"As we stood there filming, all I could think was, 'This is so unnecessary and so cruel'."
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