J is for…
DATE: October 2012
LOCATION: Slaughterhouse, Ismailia, Egypt.
As Jacob’s body is forced into a slaughter box*, he panics. The slaughter box is coated in the blood of his kin, whose necks were hacked while fully conscious.
The gentle Brahman steer from Western Australia manages to escape the slaughter box. His left foreleg breaks. Hobbling on three legs, he flees to an outside pen.
Trapped in the pen, Jacob ducks and weaves to escape a slaughterman who descends on him, brandishing a knife. The slaughterman slashes at Jacob’s face and legs with the knife’s blade.
Jacob’s tail swishes, and his broken leg swings in seemingly impossible directions. There is no reprieve. The knife-wielding slaughterman slashes and stabs at Jacob’s body, relentlessly. He stabs the knife into Jacob’s eye, repeatedly.
Eventually, Jacob collapses to the ground. The slaughterman continues to slash at Jacob’s face and legs. He cuts Jacob’s tendons to immobilise him. Jacob attempts to stand.
Horrifically, the slaughterman begins to hack at Jacob’s neck. Blood pours from a gaping wound on Jacob’s neck. Yet, he tries to stand. Again… and again.
Jacob is on his knees in a pool of blood. His white body is stained with patches of blood. He can no longer stand. He continues to move his head, attempting to avoid the knife. He resists death with each breath, with each movement of his head.
It is a fight that he does not win.
WHO: Dr. Mahmoud Abdelwahab, Veterinarian and Lyn White, Campaign Director, Animals Australia.
DATE: April 2013
Sitting in the shade of a large umbrella, Dr. Mahmoud Abdelwahab tells Lyn White about a white steer: Jacob. Above the sounds of birdsong, a video camera captures his words:
…‘And the story of this steer started when they wanted to kill this steer in the box. And they can’t control this steer. So this steer ran out and jumped. So its leg was broken. So the company must bring this cattle. So they ordered the worker – whose name is Essam, he’s a butcher – to kill this animal by any way. Any way.
And they didn’t provide him with any means. Only his knife….So they order him to slash the tendon, to put the knife in his eyes, all this footage what you see….All this bad action, he [was] forced to do these actions’.
Dr. Abdelwahab, a veterinarian, blew the whistle on the brutal treatment of cows at the two Egyptian slaughterhouses approved to slaughter Australian cattle. This includes Ismailia, where Jacob was tortured and killed.
Dr. Abdelwahab leans forward in his seat, and declares:
‘….We haven’t any rules to control bad treatment. I want our government to…to take any step to stop that. But our government not do anything’.
Jacob’s treatment was not an isolated case.
Dr. Abdelwahab informs White that brutality and violence is endemic in the slaughterhouses. He declares that the only concern is for the meat inspection phase. There is no regard – from slaughterhouse management, butchers, or the Egyptian government – for the way in which the cows are killed. He states that there are no consequences for slaughterhouse workers if they engage in the ‘bad treatment’ of animals, such as cutting tendons.
White asks :
‘The veterinarians that are at the abattoirs, do they ever stop bad treatment’?
There is a brief pause before Dr. Abdelwahab answers her question. He is blunt in his response:
‘Lyn we don’t care about…’ A pause. He points to his chest:
‘Not me. I speak about all Egyptians. We don’t care about animal welfare. So, this action happened yesterday, and today, and will happen tomorrow, OK?’
He released the footage to Animals Australia in the hope that the organisation could enact positive change in his country. Dr. Abdelwahab tells White that the footage of Jacob was filmed by slaughterhouse workers as ‘a joke’. This was not a case of undercover activists filming gross acts of brutality. This is a film that was never intended for widespread viewing**.
DATE: 16 May 2013
LOCATION: Parliament House, Canberra, Australia (during Question Time).
Andrew Wilkie, the Federal Member for Denison, ‘has the floor’. He stands:
‘…..Prime Minister, if you won’t end the [live export] trade, will you give an unambiguous, personal guarantee that there’ll be no further animal welfare abuses like this…’
Mr. Wilkie reaches down and retrieves a large object. He unfurls it, and holds it in front of his body. He is silent.
It is a picture of Jacob. His blood-stained face is clearly visible. It looks as though he has been crying tears of blood. This image of Jacob was captured during the final moments of his life.
Source: Animals Australia
There are jeers from other members of the Parliament. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, appears to look at the image briefly, then spins in her seat, putting her back to Mr. Wilkie who continues to hold the image aloft.
The Speaker of the House is heard ordering Mr. Wilkie to ‘remove the prop’. Eventually, he folds up the picture, and takes his seat.
The Prime Minister stands:
‘…I think all members of this House, members of the Australian community in general, are appalled by animal cruelty. I think we all share those sentiments, and to the extent that we ever see images of animal cruelty we are all revulsed by those images. I understand that, and the live export industry understands that as well…’
The Prime Minister asserts that the live export industry is important for employment, particularly in the north of Australia. She discusses recent government measures to improve regulation of the industry, specifically tracking and tracing of cattle. Clearly, her government is not prepared to ‘take on’ the live export industry. She concludes:
‘…The purpose of having tracking and tracing is so that you can find instances where people have done the wrong thing and you can act on those instances. That is the approach we are taking to the live animal export industry and the approach that we will continue to take’.
The Prime Minister returns to her seat, and in doing so she turns her back on Jacob and his kin.
Australia’s Live Export Trade
In 2012, Australia exported 617,301 ‘head’ of live cattle (cows) to overseas markets. The largest market for Australian cattle is Indonesia (278,581 head in 2012), followed by China (56,026 in 2012). Australia exports beef and dairy cattle, as well as goats and sheep. Other countries that receive live animals from Australia include: Malaysia, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Libya, the Philippines, Turkey, Israel, and Pakistan. And Egypt.
In the 6 months to January 2013, Australia exported 15,300 live cows to Egypt. This represents a 5% increase on the previous 6-monthly figures. The Egyptian trade is worth $25 million annually.
The live export industry claims that Australia is ‘the world leader in the export of live cattle, sheep and goats’. The industry states: ‘Of the 109 countries exporting livestock globally, Australia is the only country in the world that invests in animal welfare beyond its borders’. The industry boasts that Australia sets a global ‘benchmark’ for ‘animal welfare performance’.
By no stretch of the imagination can Jacob’s treatment be regarded as a ‘global benchmark’.
This is not the first time the live export trade has come under the spotlight for gross animal abuses in Egypt. In light of this, and Dr Abdelwahab’s comments about endemic ‘bad treatment’ and lack of regard for animal welfare, one is entitled to ask: Did the Australian live export industry know that Australian cattle were still being subjected to brutality in Egypt?
Interestingly, when the live export industry discovered that Animals Australia possessed footage of the slaughter of animals inside Egyptian slaughterhouses, they ordered an immediate suspension of trade to Egypt. This suspension is still in force.
Steps are being taken to re-open the trade at the conclusion of an investigation by Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).
In 2011, it was revealed that Australian cattle were subject to acts of brutality in Indonesian slaughterhouses (Warning: very graphic images). The Australian government responded by suspending the live animal trade with Indonesia, despite an outcry from the industry.
Ultimately, the Indonesian trade resumed and the government implemented the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). This is the ‘tracking and tracing’ system that the Prime Minister referred to in her response to Mr. Wilkie.
However, Australian cattle in Egypt are not subject to the ESCAS.
In Egypt, Australian cows are killed without prior stunning. Their throats are cut with a knife while they are restrained and fully conscious. Death is not instantaneous. That is the best case scenario.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and LiveCorp co-published a document in 2012, called: Standard Operating Procedures for the Welfare of Cattle in Overseas Markets. This document contains standard operating procedures (SOPs) pertaining to the ‘pre-slaughter and slaughter management of cattle in overseas markets’.
There are 6 SOPs – animal handling, land transport, feedlot operations, lairage, slaughter with stunning, and slaughter without stunning.
What is the standard operating procedure for slaughter without stunning? What does the SOP say about the manner in which Jacob should have been killed?
The SOP for slaughter- without stunning commences with a standard from the intergovernmental organisation, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). It states:
‘Restraining methods that immobilise by injury- such as breaking legs, cutting leg tendons, or severing the spinal cord – cause severe pain and stress and must never be used’.
Jacob endured the pain of severed leg tendons, and Dr. Abdelwahab indicated that this type of ‘bad treatment’ was meted out in Egyptian slaughterhouses. Clearly, Australian cows have been subjected to a practice that is in breach of this OIE standard.
Moreover, the SOP requires that animals be restrained when slaughtered. Once the animal is restrained (in a slaughter box, for example), workers are instructed to cut the animals throat using ‘a single, uninterrupted fast stroke of the knife‘. The SOP states that workers must refrain from using ‘the point of the [knife] blade to make the incision’. Rather, the incision must ‘sever both carotid arteries’.
Who is to blame for Jacob’s mistreatment?
In light of the Prime Minister’s comments about acting on instances where ‘people have done the wrong thing’, who is in the ‘wrong’ here?
Is it Essam, the butcher? Is it the slaughterhouse management? Is it the Egyptian government? The live export industry? Is it the Australian government?
The tip of the iceberg: Additional footage emerges from Egypt
Animals Australia has obtained additional, disturbing footage of Australian cows (warning: graphic images of animal suffering) in both of the slaughterhouses…..
A conscious steer with a severed throat attempts to stand. Cows are hoisted by their back legs before verification that they are dead. Bellowing, salivating, and struggling animals. A blood stained slaughter box. Disturbingly, a white steer stands. His throat is missing – in its place a gaping hole. He is conscious….
These images are very graphic and disturbing. The animals captured in this footage endured immense and inconceivable suffering.
It is difficult and confronting to bear witness to the suffering of Jacob and his kin. But, our distress in viewing these images pales in comparison to the suffering of the animals subjected to this brutality.
Some opponents of the live export trade argue that all animals destined for overseas markets should be slaughtered in Australian slaughterhouses, and their bodies (carcase) shipped in chilled vessels. It is argued that this would provide jobs in Australia and improve ‘animal welfare’. A ‘win-win’. Currently, Australia exports ‘red meat products’ to numerous overseas markets.
I am horrified by the treatment of animals subjected to the live export trade, but I do not regard the killing of animals in Australia as a happy solution. While watching the video of Jacob, it was palpably clear to me that he wanted to live. He fought with every ounce of his diminishing strength.
He fought from the outset- he refused to allow his body to be forced into the slaughter box.
Moreover, it is incorrect to assume that animals do not suffer in Australian slaughterhouses. It is convenient to believe that horrific abuse occurs only in overseas markets – but it is simply not true.
Footage from a turkey slaughterhouse in Sydney and images of the brutal treatment of newborn calves by slaughterhouse workers in Victoria demonstrate that torture and brutality is meted out in slaughterhouses on Australian soil.
At a bare minimum, animals in slaughterhouses experience the sights, sounds, and smells of their kin being slaughtered. Regardless of the manner in which they are killed -whether they have been stunned or tortured- animals do not willingly give their lives to humans.
As an ethical vegan, I want to see an end to live export. It is undeniable that this trade inflicts immense suffering on animals. As an ethical vegan, I want to see an end to the suffering that industries inflict on animals for profit.
An end to live export?
On Monday (27 May), Andrew Wilkie, MP, tabled a private member’s Bill in Federal Parliament. The proposed legislation, Live Animal Export (Restriction and Prohibition) Bill 2013, would see the end of Australia’s live animal export trade by July 2017.
Wilkie asserts that the trade, and the Australian government, are ‘out of last chances’.
*Slaughter box – a box designed to immobilise conscious animals while their throats are cut. Click here to see one. Warning: These are graphic images. The slaughter box looks like a torture device. The animals are clearly distressed.
** The video of Jacob’s torture begins with footage of Jacob in the outside pen. I wasn’t going to watch the video. But I did. I knew that I couldn’t write an accurate portrayal of his death if I didn’t watch the video. I told myself: ‘Jacob isn’t suffering now. Watching the video will not add to his suffering’.
The video does not show Jacob’s final moments. It ends while he is still alive. It is hard to watch, of course. I waited until I was alone. I did not want my children to view or hear the video, inadvertently. On my first attempt, I couldn’t make it through to the end. I paused the video. I closed it down. I cried. Then I steeled myself and went back.
I am not suggesting that you have to watch it. One thing is clear. No animal deserves to be treated in this way. It is wrong. You can see the video here. (There is a point where you are told to stop watching if you do not want to see the graphic images).
In my A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!