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Festival of Sacrifice Sparks Annual Live Export Outcry

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By MarEx 2016-09-19 20:24:13

Last week, many Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Adha or Bakrid. Live animals are exported to the Middle East from around the world to support the “festival of sacrifice” with key exporters in Canada, South America, Australia and Africa. 

Australia’s Welfare Groups Concerned

In Australia, Eid is a time for complaints from animal welfare groups that would like to see the nation’s live export trade in slaughter animals stopped. This year, like previous years, investigators from the animal welfare organization Animals Australia returned from the Middle East and South East Asia with documented breaches of Australian live export regulations. 

Under Australia’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) protocols, Australian livestock cannot be purchased for home slaughter or for slaughter at facilities that have not been approved as meeting international animal welfare standards. Australian regulations require animal handling and slaughter in the importing country conforms to World Organisation for Animal Health standards.

The standards call for sharp knives (sharpening between each animal), single cuts of the throat (not repetitive blunt hacking) and effective restraint to minimise animal stress and make the cut more efficient as well as low stress animal handling. However, the standards do not require that animals are stunned before having their throats cut, as many animal welfare groups believe is necessary for humane killing.

In the UAE, Animals Australia claims that the major livestock markets in Dubai, Sharjah and Al Ain were selling Australian sheep for home slaughter.

In Lebanon, Animals Australia says Australian sheep were being sold for sacrifice to individual buyers and being slaughtered on concreted slabs at feedlots.

In Kuwait, Australian sheep have suffered illegal and brutal slaughter every year since Australia’s regulations were introduced, yet exporters are still permitted to send animals to the region during this high-risk period, says Animals Australia.

In Malaysia, blatant breaches relating to Australian sheep and goats were widespread with Australian animals even being advertised for sale and sacrifice on Facebook. Australian cattle were also being offered for sacrificial slaughter.

Animals Australia reported the breaches detected in various markets to the Department of Agriculture as information came to hand, and is currently compiling evidence collected by its investigators in order to formulate legal complaints.

Exporters Proactive

It is an animal welfare problem that the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) is also concerned about. This year, exporters invested more time and effort than ever to minimize the risks of poor animal welfare practices during the festival, which constitutes a significant spike in demand for Australian sheep.

ALEC Chairman Simon Crean toured Middle East markets during the week before the Festival of Sacrifice, and Australian livestock export industry representatives have been proactive in key Eid festival supply chains in the Middle East where Australian sheep have been detected outside of approved slaughter facilities.

ALEC CEO Simon Westaway says that despite the ESCAS-compliance measures in place, the industry was aware of the risk that some Australian animals would be traded outside of the approved supply chain. The percentage of animals “leaked” was very small, says ALEC. 

“Such leakage, while reflecting the commercial desperation of local traders to offer Australian sheep to the public, undermines the significant collaborative efforts of exporters in the market to develop the special livestock management systems for Eid.”

ALEC is working on the issue, says Westaway, and there is a greater level of transparency, accountability and self-reporting by exporters than ever before. “ESCAS breaches, especially supply chain leakage, are a constant risk in the Middle East, and we must remain vigilant at all times.”

In the past, ALEC has removed non-compliant facilities from ESCAS supply chains or increased auditing of high risk facilities. Exporters have provided additional training to staff at facilities, appointing animal welfare officers and security and transport operators at facilities.

This year there are a number of important new initiatives directly targeting the leakage risk, for example, the emergence of closed-loop feedlot and abattoir facilities and investment in modern feedlot facilities which ensure sheep have access to sufficient water, food and shade.

The ‘Mecca Model’ ticket system in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, where tickets for carcasses are sold leading up to and during Eid, which aims to remove all interaction between the livestock and customers, has also been expanded to embrace home delivery. This is being backed by the launch of a new home delivery app, with the prospect of free transport and slaughter services also on the horizon for future Eid festivals.

Exporters also once again supported charity slaughtering whereby large numbers of Australian sheep are processed at ESCAS facilities and distributed to the poor, thus removing individual sales and selection pressures.

While Australians debate both the Eid trade and the ethics of the live export trade in general, both exporters and animal welfare groups generally agree the Australia’s trade is more humane that that of other live export nations, especially those in Africa. 

Somaliland 

Unlike Australia, where boxed meat exports contribute seven times more to the Australian economy than the live animal trade, Somaliland is heavily reliant on its live export trade. 

Somaliland has one of the lowest gross domestic products per head in the world and a youth unemployment rate close to 70 percent.

Up to 80 percent of Somaliland's export income is generated by sales of sheep, goats, camels and cattle, and Al Jazeera reports that up to one million sheep and goats were exported from the port town of Berbera for Eid this year. Animals arrive from markets around the Horn of Africa and are shipped across the Gulf of Aden to Saudi Arabia, a nation that has not agreed to Australia’s standards and so Australia does not export live animals to.

Over five million animals were exported from greater Somalia's three territories of Somaliland, Puntland and South Central in 2015, a six percent increase on the previous year. Between Berbera and the neighboring ports of Djibouti and Bosaso, this sea trade of live animals is one of the largest in the world.

A Different Kind of Sacrifice

While Eid is an annual focus for animal welfare organizations, the live export trade globally may have to deal with more public outcry in the future, not just from Australia. Some Muslims do not see Eid as a time for animal sacrifice and claim this interpretation is at odds with scriptures, which they say does not state that an animal must be sacrificed. Rather, the idea of sacrifice is interpreted as the faithful themselves donating some of the food they have to the needy. The food does not have to be meat. 

A Muslim man in India has demonstrated this by celebrating Eid this year by the cutting of a cake with a goat drawn on it - instead of sacrificing a live animal. Syed Hasan Kauser from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh said he wanted to spread the message that the killing of animals during religious festivals is unnecessary.