Welfare of cattle transported from Australia to Egypt

Warning: This article contains graphic information which may offend

Written by PM SIDHOLM
18 Belfairs Drive,
Essex, UK

Extract taken from Australian Vet Journal Vol 81, No 6, June 2003 - pages 364 & 365

All over the world, there is concern about the welfare of animals during long distance transportation. I would like to discuss some of the difficulties that occur during the different stages of livestock transportation from Australia to Egypt. Long distance transportation of export animals begins in Australia, where road trains carry animals several hundreds of kilometres to feedlots at the main ports. Their journey continues on board the livestock carriers where they have to cope with many stressors.

I inspected the MV Maysora on 28 February 2001 at the port of Adabaiya in Egypt on its maiden voyage as a livestock carrier and discovered a multitude of shortcomings. The ship was carrying 75,000 sheep, 6970 cattle and 800 goats. In the pens in which sheep were kept (mixed with goats) I observed very crowded conditions adding to the problem of shy feeders.(1) Some animals were down and unable to get up again and others escaped out of the pens into the passage ways.

In the lower decks the high concentration of ammonia was a severe irritant. I had difficulty breathing and the ammonia stung in my eyes. I observed that the vast majority of the cattle showed signs of conjunctivitis and respiratory distress (increased respiratory effort and respiratory sound) and about 20% of them were coughing. In the two lowest decks the manure was 8 to 10 cm deep. The stockmen ran out of bedding and citric acid to counteract the effect of the ammonia. The decks should have been washed down prior to arrival in port, but the crew had not carried this out.

Between 25 and 30% of the water troughs were defective, resulting in a continuous overflow of water, which added to the problem of muddy faeces in the lower decks. Liquid manure flowed into the food troughs, where the food was sodden and soiled with sheep manure from the decks above. I noticed protruding hinges, which according to the stockmen have caused much of the lameness I have seen. I observed tympanic cattle lying flat on their side, unable to get up or even to lift their faces out of liquid manure. According to the stockmen they could not be lifted to a higher deck, because the winch was rendered unserviceable. Three of the cattle showed signs of severe colic. In the upper decks two sheep appeared to have been trampled upon. They were lying flat on their side and did not show any movement when a stockman pulled them to the side of the pen. These animals were in urgent need of euthanasia, but my advice was ignored. Unfortunately the veterinary colleague who accompanied the shipment was not available for any conversation during the 2.5 hours of my presence on board the ship. Also the ventilation system had been altered, adding to the distress of the animals in a country where temperatures can reach 45 to 50° C in summer. Due to the large difference between these extreme temperatures and those of a far milder Australian winter, over 900 cattle died last year on board the MV Becrux.(2)

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I left a list of these and other shortcomings (such as the mixing together of horned and dehorned cattle) with the representative of LiveCorp for the Middle East. Unfortunately, LiveCorp appeared to take no action and I then informed the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. I was later informed that the vessel visited Singapore for repairs prior to its second voyage. Bigger valves were fitted into the watering system and additional shielding to prevent the dung from being deflected into troughs were installed. The cattle lift was modified to increase its capacity by 2000 kg, all hinges were modified and the louvers of the ventilation system were secured ‘to stop adjustment’ (Australian Maritime Safety Authority, personal communication).

Cattle are also distressed by the withdrawal of water (curfew) imposed in order to reduce their weight at the weighbridge and so minimise customs duty. In Egypt I have seen cattle deprived of water for more then 36 hours before going on the long journey through the desert to quarantine stations, feedlots and slaughterhouses. Delays are further caused by an insufficient number of lorries and the odd working hours of customs and veterinary services. The animals are loaded onto trucks by lorry drivers and untrained local stevedores who frequently hit the animals with long sticks armed with rusty nails, with metal bars and sometimes even with hammers. The Australian stockmen have to watch helplessly, since their authority ends at the beginning of the ramp. In addition to the pain it inflicts, this awful treatment and the stress it causes later on affects meat quality, a fact well known by the industry.

The trucks are ‘general cargo’ trucks, often without any bedding and always without any shelter against the blazing sun. During the last 3 years while I have been visiting different ports as well as various feedlots and quarantine stations all over Egypt, I have not seen a single animal transporter.

If you follow the animals to the Egyptian slaughterhouses the situation becomes even worse. I have visited several slaughterhouses in Egypt, the biggest one located in Bassatin, on the outskirts of Cairo. On a normal day, 69 veterinarians and more than 400 slaughtermen work there in one shift. During Ramadan and Eid el Kabir they run up to three shifts. Egyptian slaughtermen are accustomed to the calm and tame Egyptian cattle and buffalos, which often are led by children into the slaughterhouse. Thus the untamed Australian cattle create a major threat, not least because they have caused serious injury and death to several slaughtermen during recent years (M Kitkat, personal communication).

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Fear of the huge, uncontrollable cattle has led to inconceivably cruel slaughter methods. For example at Bassatin, initially four or five cattle are driven from their pens into a narrow gangway. The exit to this gangway remains bolted and the animals line up behind each other. A slaughterman then approaches from the outside and cuts the Achilles tendon of the right hind-leg of all the animals, some 20 cm above the hoof line. This is done so that the animals do not escape when led across a sand path, via a ramp, to a landing in front of the slaughter room. The landing is surrounded by horizontal bars; the floor is soiled with blood and excrement, and very slippery.

A group of four or five cattle is driven onto the landing, where the slaughter men spread themselves around the huddled animals and begin to cut more tendons on the front and the hind legs. Whenever a slaughterman is able to approach an animal from behind or from the side, he strikes out with his knife at a tendon. The affected animal then attempts to hobble in the opposite direction where another slaughterman waits to strike. The knee and elbow joints are also targeted for destruction and the eyes knocked or stabbed out. To get the broken animal to drag itself into the main slaughter hall I have seen the and stab them in anus and/or vulva. I have observed a slaughterman, cutting the tongue from an animal and stuffing it into his shirt directly after its throat was cut and while the animal was still conscious and struggling with its head raised above the ground. I was advised that, for some of the assistant labourers, parts of the body are the only reward they get for their work.

I have spoken to the representative of LiveCorp in the Middle East who has visited the Bassatin slaughterhouse and realised the extent of cruelties Australian cattle are subjected to. There is an urgent need for suitable humane slaughter-boxes for the cattle exported to Egypt from Australia (203,206 in 2001) with Egypt being still the second largest importer of Australian cattle in 2002.(3)

In March 2001, I negotiated a range of measures to improve the situation with representatives of LiveCorp, but none has yet been put into practice. During a groundbreaking conference at the world’s biggest Islamic University, the influential Al Azhar University in Egypt, on 9 and 10 February 2002, animal welfare issues in relation to the Islamic way of slaughtering were discussed.(4) The conference, under the auspices of Dr MS Tantawi, Sheik of Al Azkhar, acknowledged that brutal slaughter methods and cruel treatment during other stages of the import process violated Islamic law. Improvements were agreed and implementation planned, but financial and logistical help from outside is urgently needed. Egypt is ready for improvements, but are Australian exporters ready to take responsibility and ease the incredible suffering of their cattle?

(1). MAF NZ. www.maf.govt.nz/biosecurity/animal-welfare/codes/seatransportsheep.pdf - Retrieved 20 March 2000

(2) Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australia. Live animal export fatality reports. www.affa.gov.au. Retrieved 20 March 2003.

(3). Livecorp. www.livecorp.com.au/download/Cattle Dest 2003.pdf. Retrieved 20 March 2003.

(4). Omar MA. Slaughtering animals between Islamic Sharia and actual practice; results and recommendations. Salah-Kemel Research Institute for Islamic Economies, ALAzhar University, Egypt, 2002.

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To read Dr Petra Sidholm's response to Livecorp click here.



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