Thursday, April 15

Transporting live animals, against the ropes | Ecology | Climate and Environment

A crane unloads a dead calf from the Elbeik ship in Cartagena.
A crane unloads a dead calf from the Elbeik ship in Cartagena.AITOR GARMENDIA / FOUR PAWS

The painful voyage of two ships crammed with calves (1789 in the Elbeik and 895 in the Karim Allah), who left Spain last December on their way to Turkey and ended up wandering the Mediterranean Sea for more than two months, took a terrible toll on the animals and brought to light the debate on whether the transport of live animals is ethical or should prohibit. These episodes also highlighted the meager control that the authorities exercise over this type of transfer. The minutes of the ship’s Health inspection Elbeik on March 19 in the port of Cartagena before the calves were slaughtered, he noted their deterioration: in addition to the 170 animals that died during the journey, the veterinarians found overcrowded and starving calves with bones “visible to the naked eye”, some living with corpses and their excrement, no place to lie down, non-working drinking fountains … great social rejection and the denunciation of organizations such as Animal Equality, which for years have asked to eliminate the trade in live animals. An objective that collides with the economic importance that exports represent for the sector.

Spain is the European Union country that exports the most live animals to North Africa and the Middle East, especially cattle and cattle. Each year between 800,000 and 900,000 lambs leave for Saudi Arabia, Libya and Lebanon and about 250,000 calves for Libya, Lebanon and Turkey, 10% of the total slaughter of both sectors. In the case of cattle, the animals are of a quality and weight equal to those consumed in Spain. The lambs, however, are larger, about 40 kilos, and the largest remittances correspond to Ramadan, which this year is celebrated in April and May, and the feast of the lamb, which falls in July. During the pandemic, Arab countries have absorbed the surpluses caused by the closure of the hotel industry.

“It is a very unknown trade, people do not see livestock, much less in a boat, they see trucks on highways”, explains Anja Hazekamp, ​​observer of the Commission of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport created by the European Parliament last year (ANIT). Hazekamp was in the port of Cartagena invited to enter the Elbeik ship by the owners of the animals and check the status of the animals, but the Ministry of Agriculture did not allow her access. “They told me that the workers were going to feel uncomfortable while they were slaughtering the animals and that there could be health problems,” he says.

Calves on the Elbeik ship.
Calves on the Elbeik ship.

The only solution for Hazekamp is “to ban the trade in live animals, because when the shipments leave the European Union we have no authority and we cannot monitor their welfare.” He also warns that, although in Europe there is great concern about animal welfare since the legislation came into force in 2005, “so far nothing has changed.” The European Commission has received “more than 200 reports on infringements” since 2007, which has led the commission of inquiry created by the European Parliament to investigate “the alleged failure by the Commission to act upon the existence of evidence of serious infringements and systems ”of the animal welfare regulation during the transport of live animals through the Union and to third countries.

Ban in various countries

There are countries that are moving. The Netherlands reported last year that it will not approve exports of live animals to non-EU countries when animal welfare cannot be guaranteed. An example followed by several states in Germany that suspended this trade to or through Russia due to the lack of checkpoints to monitor compliance with regulations. The United Kingdom, already outside the EU, announced that at the end of 2021 it will ban the sale of live animals for slaughter and fattening from England and Wales.

The calves left Cartagena and Tarragona on December 18, heading to Turkey, with all the certificates in order, the ministry indicates. They arrived at port about 10 days later, knowing they were going to have problems. The Turkish authorities had informed the Ministry of Agriculture a few days after leaving that they were not going to accept the animals because they came from Aragon, where an outbreak of bluetongue disease had been detected in a farm in Huesca. The operators tried to sell the cattle in Libya, which also did not take care of the animals. Thus began the drift of ships through Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Menorca … With the added problem that they were not allowed to dock in many ports. When the scandal broke out, two months after his departure, Spain returned the ships to Cartagena, where all the animals were slaughtered due to their poor condition. The last sacrifices took place last Sunday. Ministry sources assure that once the ship leaves Spain they have no jurisdiction over the cargo, in addition to the fact that due to European legislation they cannot re-enter community territory.

Why was it not acted before ?, wonders Silvia Barquero, executive director of Animal Equality. “It has been shown that the State cannot guarantee neither the welfare nor the health of the animals, therefore it should not authorize this trade.” To this is added that “in the destination countries they are slaughtered without prior stunning and the animals bleed while awake, which makes their death more painful.” In Europe, prior stunning is required, but there are special permits granted to the Jewish and Muslim communities to slaughter animals according to their own ritual, always under the supervision and according to the instructions of the veterinarian.

“Animals always suffer in transfers, not only when there are problems like those of these two boats,” explains Barquero. Animal Equality has carried out several investigations. The latest, in May last year, documented the conditions in which 100,000 lambs traveled to Saudi Arabia to be slaughtered. “After a long journey by truck, they are thrown by the operators, grabbed by the legs to prevent them from going backwards and not getting on the boat, in addition to withstanding high temperatures”, describes Barquero.

Return without justification

The Ministry of Agriculture continues to investigate what happened to the boats Karim Allah and Elbeik, because, according to official sources, they do not find any justification for the return of Turkey and, in fact, they have demanded explanations from the Spanish Embassy in Ankara. In the meetings held between senior officials of the departments of the two countries, the same sources point out, no problem arose. ” We signed the corresponding certificates, because everything was in order “, says Valentín Almansa, general director of Animal Health. “These were shipments of calves from different parts of Spain, including from various areas of Aragon, and in all cases, from farms more than 150 kilometers from those affected by bluetongue in that Autonomous Community.”

The director general and Matilde Moro, the head of the Association of Beef Producers, point out that there was a breach by the Turkish authorities of the community guidelines and of the International Office of Epizootics itself in the face of this type of disease to avoid blocking all a sector. They add that they had the approval of that body and that there may be other reasons derived from the relations between the authorities of that country and the cargo operators, but never due to sanitary irregularities in the operation.

Sergio García Torres, general director of Animal Welfare (dependent on the Vice Presidency of Social Affairs) maintains that it is necessary to “advance throughout the legislature towards a mechanism that allows the transport of animals not to be live, because so much suffering of the animals is unnecessary ”. In addition, he considers that the entire process should be controlled, even if the cattle leave Spain. Meanwhile, the European Investigation Commission on irregularities in transport has asked the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, to inform it of the causes and responsibilities in the case of ships Karim Allah and Elbeik.

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