Transporting live animals over long distances is one more cruelty that is often overshadowed by flagrant atrocities, like what happens in slaughterhouses, but that is usually an indispensable condition for its tragic end. Let’s see what the export of live animals consists of and what role – key – Spain plays in this practice as brutal as it is guaranteed by law.
Of all the barbarities allowed by the European regulation concerning the protection of animals during transport -the more welfarist of the world, eye – the vital space assigned to each animal during a sea voyage draws attention. Two examples, among dozens: five sheared sheep weighing 50 kilos each can go from Cartagena to Beirut –more than 3,300 kilometers– crammed into a space of 1 square meter. A bull weighing 700 kilos barely has 2 square meters allocated, but if it is a cow and is pregnant, the law establishes a plus of 10% more space.
Go ahead, the animal welfare laws seem to this author a real nonsense. Less is nothing, of course, but a regulation that allows, literally, the use of electric guns for “adult cattle and pigs that refuse to move” cannot be considered a success, even if in other regions of the world there is not an asterisk to the law that requires that the shock is not used “repetitively if the animal does not react.”
Inspections: the evidence of abuse
But if the theory leaves the door open to unworthy shipping conditions, suffering and death on board, the practice is horrifying. Animal Welfare Foundation recorded last summer –the images are harsh– in the vicinity of the port of Cartagena. They documented animals with obvious symptoms of heat stress, exhausted calves, bulls unable to stand up on their own, major injuries such as broken horns, and various vehicles where the animals were covered in their own feces. The water and ventilation systems are turned off during the long waiting time for the boat, a problem that can be lethal: you wait for them in the sun.
The AWF veterinarians describe it like this: “Many vehicles spent more than four hours with the animals on board. We came to observe more than ten trucks parked at the same time in an unofficial waiting area, without any type of animal facilities. They waited for hours in the sun, without shade, without water and without mechanical ventilation systems turned on. During this long waiting time, the drivers were waiting inside the bar without checking the welfare conditions of their animals. ”
When the wait comes to an end, another torture begins: the burden. The report points to the employees of the Blázquez Maritime Agency, who are disfigured by unprofessional conduct, misuse of electric rods and stressful, chaotic and longer than necessary loads. All this translates into atrocious suffering that is only the prelude to what is to come.
Hell on board
Maritime transport is dangerous by nature, not because of the risk of sinking but because of the conditions in which the animals are transported. Far from being treated like passengers, they have the status of merchandise and are treated as mere objects to be eaten, drunk and breathed. Little more.
According to the veterinary team signing the AWF report, the main risk to animals during long sea voyages is trauma due to rough seas and respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. On long-haul voyages, the accumulation of wet feces on live animal export ships can cause livestock to become covered in excrement. In addition to being distressing and unsanitary, animals covered in feces cannot dissipate heat through the surface of their bodies and are at increased risk of heat stress, which can be lethal.
Well, all this is so because there is a regulation that allows exports of live animals. Point. The law regulates, yes: minimums so that the animals, as far as possible, do not die on board.
The capitalist logic – minimize costs to maximize profits – leads us to the conclusion that, with the law in hand, it is cheaper for the meat industry to pack containers with live animals, charter a ship and cross thousands of kilometers by sea to that they kill said animals in lawless – welfare – territories than simply murder them in national slaughterhouses.
A doubly perverse logic, since it not only considers live animals a commodity but also allows us to avoid European regulations Relative to the protection of animals at the time of slaughter. This is another law welfarist -Which of course is better than nothing-, and that in theory it should avoid the suffering of animals at the time of their death.
The final agony
The Matanzas people of the European Union countries must “stun” – legal euphemism to say “render unconscious” – the animals before killing them. In all states except the Nordic countries, Switzerland, Slovenia and the Belgian regions of Flanders and Wallonia there is an exception to the norm: halal and kosher religious rituals.
Without going too deep – since it is not the purpose of this article – the traditions of animal slaughter of Muslims and Jews do not contemplate the possibility that the animal is “stunned” at the moment of slitting its neck. That brings excruciating suffering and pain that we cannot imagine.
The point is that these unfortunate animals that embark in Tarragona and Cartagena disembark in ports and are transferred to slaughterhouses where conditions are even more pitiful than in the infamous Spanish slaughterhouses. We are talking about Libya and Lebanon, mainly, where the AWF volunteers found cow’s ears with the tags they use to register them. There they will have a few last hours of sheer terror and a horrible death that will end a life that, in most cases, will have been miserable.
Leaders in import and export of “farm” animals
The situation is especially serious in Spain. The Ministry of Agriculture – on whom the animals we are talking about depend – published a detailed report on the weight of Spain in terms of export and import of live animals. It should not be an honor that the Spanish State is a leader in both categories, but the harsh reality is what it is: Spain exports and imports live animals at large. Specifically, 195,000 cattle, 750,000 sheep and goats, and almost 13 million chicks in 2019.
Let’s look at the fine print. In Spain, live animals leave from two ports: Cartagena (Murcia Region) and Tarragona (Catalunya). Sheep and goats travel to Libya – some to Lebanon – while live cattle are shipped by boat, mainly to Lebanon and Libya and, to a lesser extent, to Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.
Spain is likely to be the leader because of the 1,200 commercial ports that the EU has, only 13 export live animals. There are them in France, Croatia, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and those of Cartagena and Tarragona in Spain. But how could Spain export 195,000 calves in 2018? How could 84 ships leave Tarragona and 130 from Cartagena, loaded in total with more than 950,000 sheep, goats, cows and calves?
The secret Spanish is that the homeland industry buys many calves at bargain prices from other EU countries, which are producers of milk and not meat (remember that for a cow to give milk you have to get her pregnant, the calf that is born from this aberration is considered a by-product of the dairy industry). Then the business is to fatten them as quickly as possible and send them to a Libyan or Lebanese slaughterhouse. And, be careful, because according to the same report, the State is in talks with other countries to send live animals to be killed there. The list is diverse: Armenia, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Colombia, Peru, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Cape Verde. The agreement with Saudi Arabia has already been signed.
Abolitionism: the only option
The situation invites pessimism. If the most guaranteeing law in the world allows the suffering in transport and the death of “European” animals in lawless slaughterhouses, there is only one option left: the abolition of the transport of live animals over long distances. Various animalistic entities they already press to the EU to do so. We will see.
Author’s note: The issue of non-stunning rituals is not as residual in Spain as one would expect from a country where there is only 2.6% Muslim population and less than 0.1% consider themselves Jewish. In Catalonia, which exports a lot of meat to Arab countries and to France – where about six million Muslims live – 40% of the calves and half of the lambs are already killed without being stunned following the halal rite.