End of E.U. live cattle export subsidies may change Eid al-Adha
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2006:
BERUIT, BRUSSELS–Eid al-Adha slaughters on January 10,
2006 marked both the end of the haj, the season of pilgrimage to
Mecca for the Islamic devout, and the end of nearly $80 million per
year in European Union live cattle export subsidies.
Much of the money underwrote the sale of cattle killed during
the annual Eid al-Adha ritual bloodbath.
Most of the cattle killed for Eid al-Adha this year were
shipped before the European Union cancelled the subsidies on December
European Union Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
Mariann Fischer Boel emphasized the importance of animal welfare
considerations in persuading the electorate.
“This is tremendous news for the welfare of cattle,” added
United Kingdom Member of the European Parliament Neil Parish.
“British taxpayers have been unwittingly sponsoring this abhorrent
trade for too long. The subsidy is not necessary,” Parish asserted,
“as cattle can be slaughtered under humane conditions in the E.U. and
shipped abroad on the hook, rather than on the hoof.”
“The decision removes incentives for farmers to send their
cattle to the Middle East for slaughter, a trade repeatedly exposed
for immense cruelty,” said Compassion in World Farming chief
executive Philip Lymbery. Quick to claim victory, after 12 years of
CIWF campaigning against the subsidies, Lymbery predicted that the
E.U. action “should reduce the number of animals being exported.
Live exports are inherently cruel,” Lymbery emphasized, “and all
too often expose animals to long, stressful journeys and appalling
Agreed Animals’ Angels founder Christa Blanke, “For years we
have been documenting offences and violations in connection with
these live animal transports.”
Blanke cited as an example a recent investigation of the
traffic in bulls shipped from Europe to Lebanon.
“One of the last incidents that brought about the E.U.
decision,” said Blanke, “was a report by the German TV station ZDF.
Cordial thanks also go to the Deutscher Tierschutzbund,” whose
videography ZDF used. “The video once again showed injured animals
with chains around their feet, being unloaded by crane; animals
with broken legs dragging themselves along; live animals being
thrown into containers; and animals being killed without stunning,”
“For E.U. cattle this torture is over,” Blanke said.
“However, for the animals from other exporting nations the ordeal
Blanke predicted that “the stop of subsidies for cattle exports will
not improve the situation of the animals in the long term. It will
only result in the trade shifting to new markets. Even today,”
Blanke said, “Lebanon is importing 10,000 to 15,000 live cattle from
“The ship’s journey took 21 days,” Blanke continued.
“Unloading cattle from the ship to the trucks has improved, due to
the introduction of a mobile unloading platform. Nevertheless,
cattle who are unable to walk are still unloaded by crane, which
under Lebanese law is not permitted.”
CIWF has similar concerns, Lymbery said, and is now
“focusing on the trades from Australia and Brazil to the Middle East.”
Further, even without the subsidies, “The threat still
looms that cattle exports may resume from the U.K.,” Lymbery warned,
“so we are gearing up for yet another battle. We’ll appeal to
British farmers not to send their cattle overseas for slaughter, and
will lead our supporters in peaceful protest against this latest
While animal welfare concerns were the issue most often cited
in public debate over the subsidies, a second factor of note was
pressure from organized labor, which has long sought to keep
slaughtering jobs in Europe.
The Eid al-Adha tradition of amateur slaughter and
individually commissioned custom slaughter have been invoked by some
Middle Eastern governments as a pretext for permitting only imports
of live animals.
This functions as an indirect subsidy in support of
western-style slaughterhouses recently built in many Middle Eastern
port cities. The year-round cattle import industry has gradually
grown larger, at some ports, than the import of cattle for Eid
This in turn has produced an awkward alliance of animal
advocates with European slaughter workers, in agreement that live
exports should be replaced by the sale of frozen carcasses.
The anti-subsidy campaign was also supported by the
Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Taxpayers’ Association of Europe.
Sheep & goats
The end of the European Union live cattle export subsidies
will not affect the majority of animals shipped to the Middle East
each year for Eid al-Adha slaughter. Sheep or goats are the most
frequent victims, and are usually killed by the celebrants
Any animal considered edible may be killed for Eid al-Adha,
however. The poorest participants kill poultry. Cattle are most
often selected by people wealthy enough to job out the killing to
The Eid al-Adha slaughter is supposed to commemorate the
incident common to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scripture in
which God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but as
Abraham started to comply, sent a ram to be sacrificed instead.
Ritually killing animals for the Eid al-Adha feast, and
similar occasions by different names, long precedes Islam,
Christianity, Judaism, and any other religion with documented
sacrificial practices. Historically, such slaughters coincided with
a need to thin herds and flocks to get through winter.
Of concern even in the Prophet Mohammed’s time were the
economic impacts of excessive Eid al-Adha slaughter, the effects on
sanitation, and the cruelty to animals–and mention was made of the
emotional influence on small children who saw it, with attempts
introduced to restrict participation in the killing to men who had
come of age.
Mohammed taught that any surplus meat from animals killed at
Eid al-Adha should be given promptly to the poor. This was already
common practice–and so were excesses of killing ordered by people
trying to show off wealth or win public favor.
Mohammed deplored observing Eid al-Adha as either an
opportunity for ostentatiousness or as an orgy of public mayhem.
Quoting Mohammed, Islamic scholars and public officials in
Muslim nations have warned for centuries that animals should not be
killed if their meat will be wasted, and have reminded the faithful
that monetary donations to help the poor are just as acceptable to
God as distributing raw meat.
Countering the warnings of imams and civil servants and even
the Prophet himself, however, are cultural habit and the interest
of the livestock industry in selling as many animals as possible.
Over the centuries, Eid al-Adha has become very profitable
not only for animal brokers within the Islamic world, but also for
exporters of cattle, sheep, and goats from predominantly Christian
parts of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and from India,
which is more than 90% Hindu.
Having few other profitable ways to dispose of surplus cattle
and calves, Indian dairy farmers long ago developed an elaborate
system of subterfuges through which surplus cattle and calves are
conveyed to slaughter across the Arabian Sea, either through ports
in Kerala state or by longer and more circuitous routes leading
The European Union export subsidies chiefly helped European
cattle producers to compete with India.
In recent years, after repeated interruptions of live
exports from Australia and New Zealand, for reasons involving animal
welfare, disease control, and Middle Eastern trade protectionism,
China has emerged as a growing source of Eid al-Adha livestock.
This in turn has stimulated efforts by exporters in Australia
and New Zealand to keep their markets, while government agencies move
to both placate and quell opposition.
Western Australia state in November 2005 initiated
prosecution of a firm called Emanuel Exports and two individual
company directors, after Animals Australia produced video, still
photographs, and witness reports documenting the suffering of dead,
dying, and blind sheep aboard the livestock carrier MV Al Kuwait
between November 10 and November 14, 2003.
Activist opposition, however, could not prevent Roberts
Ltd. of Tasmania from exporting 45,000 sheep to Kuwait aboard the
Merino Express, formerly named the Cormo Express. The cargo sailed
from Devonshire on January 14, 2006.
About 5,500 sheep died during 12 weeks at sea aboard the
Cormo Express in 2003, after Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refused to
allow the ship to unload, on the claim that the sheep were diseased.
The surviving sheep were eventually donated to Eritrea.
As the Merino Express departed, Australian agriculture
minister Peter McGuaran announced that the government would introduce
new legislation to penalize activists who obstruct live animal
Activist Ralph Hahnheuser admitted adding shredded pork to
the water and feed given to sheep at a feedlot in Portland, South
Australia, in November 2003, one day before the sheep were to be
shipped to Kuwait.
Since Islamic dietary law forbids eating pork or having
contact with it. Hahnheuser hoped that the sheep would not be
exported if they were known to have possibly consumed pork. The
shipment of about 70,000 sheep was delayed for two weeks.
Representatives of two sheep exporting firms estimated that the
action cost them $1.3 million (Australian funds). Hahnheuser was
acquitted of any wrongdoing at a May 2005 jury trial.