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VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED: The biggest animal welfare crisis you’ve never heard of

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More than 20 million animals die every year before they reach a slaughterhouse because of factors including physical trauma, slipping and falling in their own waste, lack of food and water, and extreme heat or cold.

SOPHIE KEVANI: In 2019, a shocking accident at sea drew the world’s attention to one of the meat industry’s cruelest practices: the transport of live farm animals on long, perilous, and often fatal journeys by ship. Late that year, the Queen Hind, an export ship carrying more than 14,000 sheep from Romania for slaughter in Saudi Arabia, capsized, resulting in the drowning of nearly every animal. Disturbing images emerged of the corpses of sheep floating in the Black Sea.

That sinking was one of the deadliest for animals in recent history, but it wasn’t unique. High-profile reports of animals drowned or abused on ships have prompted a growing movement in Europe and other regions to end the live export of farm animals for slaughter. While the global live animal trade isn’t a focus for the farm animal welfare movement in North America, where exports are relatively less common and tend to occur by land rather than sea, in Europe, it’s excoriated for its cruelty and has emerged as one of the most visible — and potentially winnable — fights for animal advocates…

In October, Germany became the biggest economy to announce it would end live export to countries outside the European Union, and called for an EU-wide ban on the practice. That came as a surprising policy reversal, given the importance of the livestock trade to the country. The EU is the world’s biggest livestock exporter, and Germany is one of the top players in that bloc, selling almost 315 million cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry birds to other EU countries and almost 9 million animals outside the EU in 2019…

Almost 2 billion of the world’s 80 billion or so land animals raised for food every year, the majority of them chickens, are exported alive to different countries, according to 2021 data from the United Nations. This can happen for a host of reasons: In an interconnected global economy, farm animals are traded just like other commodities, and different countries have become hyper-specialized in different parts of the livestock supply chain. Some nations produce a surplus of animals — either deliberately or as a by-product of their livestock industries — which are exported to other buyers…

But animals aren’t inanimate widgets on a spreadsheet, and when they’re hauled hundreds of miles by land and sea, they’re treated as cargo, not passengers, which means their welfare is the least of anyone’s concerns. And animal transport is inherently stressful. Trucks and ships are miserable places for animals to be crowded into, and painful tools like electric prods, boards, and sticks are used to force them on board. In the US, too, being trucked to slaughter is among the worst parts of a farm animal’s life.

American truck transport conditions are so dire that, according to a recent analysis by the Guardian, more than 20 million animals die every year before they reach a slaughterhouse because of factors including physical trauma, slipping and falling in their own waste, lack of food and water, and extreme heat or cold. As bad as being transported by land can be, sea transport is even worse, increasing the length of time animals spend in transit to weeks or even months…

Although much of what happens at sea goes unnoticed by the public, a run of recent tragedies pushed livestock shipping into international headlines. After the Queen Hind accident in 2019, a company tasked with bringing the ship back to shore discovered secret, unauthorized decks on the vessel, raising concerns that it might have been carrying an unsafe number of animals…

Even when a livestock ship arrives at its destination without incident, what happens next is just as controversial. In the EU, slaughter regulations typically require that animals be stunned to render them unconscious before killing to reduce pain and distress, but in North Africa and the Middle East, this is often avoided or limited in accordance with kosher and halal slaughter rules…

Activists often use videos of slaughter abroad to draw attention to what they see as the horrors of live export. Just ahead of Germany’s announcement that it would end exports, the minister of food and agriculture, Cem Özdemir, received undercover footage from the organization Animals International that appeared to show workers in two Lebanese slaughterhouses using ropes to bring cows down onto an already bloody floor…

Arguments for a ban are currently being tested in Romania, a country that exported over 1.8 million sheep outside the EU in 2019. Dragoş Popescu, a progressive senator there, has championed legislation to end live exports by 2025. But he’s faced steep challenges, with his own party deserting him on the issue, which meant he had to introduce the bill by himself in December, he told Vox.

The challenge is to make people aware of live export’s cruelty, he said. “People don’t know about the treatment of the animals. We will need a campaign to raise awareness,” Popescu explained. His campaign will aim to build on the Queen Hind tragedy. “People were shocked by the Queen Hind, by the reality of live export,” he said. SOURCE…

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