Coronavirus: the danger of live animal export
27th May 2020
As society shifted from liberty to lockdown, life as we know it changed. This global crisis warrants a global response and that’s what we’re giving it… or are we?
We’ve seen schools close and pop-up hospitals open. As planes sat idle, airlines sought bailouts. Anti-bac became our everyday elixir. We’re now living a life full of hand-sewn face-masks, never-ending Zoom calls and supermarket home-deliveries.
In France police patrol the streets checking people’s permits to stroll outside. In Spain some residents resorted to walking toy dogs in an attempt to dodge imposed restrictions. And finally, after two long months of strict lockdown measures, Italy has taken a collective deep breath of fresh air.
So, as we battle this deadly pandemic, it’s only right that ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ became our quarantine mantra.
As many of us keep safe inside, farmed animals continue to roam — though they too are not free. With a one-way ticket to an international destination of the industry’s choice, they are shipped great distances for ‘fattening’ and butchery.
Earlier this month Animal Equality’s team in Spain released heart-breaking scenes of disorientated young lambs and sheep crammed into trucks and ships.
Forced to travel many miles from where they were born, footage showed them in small metal pens, their hooves caught between the bars and their journeys lasting for days or even weeks. Some are pregnant or become injured along the way; most endure extreme temperatures with little food, water or rest; all are unaware of the chilling fate that awaits them.
Last month animal protection organisations, Eyes on Animals and L214, released undercover footage of calves from Ireland transported on long journeys to France for veal, where they were callously kicked and beaten with sticks.
And just a fortnight ago coverage of a newly published European Commission report highlighted that the welfare of millions of animals exported from the EU is being put at risk by failings, “including heat stress, bad planning and a lack of information from the destination country”.
Here in the UK thousands of live sheep, calves, pigs and even horses continue to be exported to countries in the EU and beyond. The cliffs of Dover are witness to lambs on their way to slaughter.
So, why one rule for the animal agriculture industry and another for the rest of us?
A particularly poignant question at a time when researchers are suggesting that the consumption of animal products may be linked to the coronavirus crisis and when science tells us that 75 percent of new and emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.
Forcing animals to live in intensive conditions, travel great lengths in restless confinement and suffer a merciless death leaves us in a more precarious position than ever before.
Vets and epidemiologists keep sounding the alarm that live animal export significantly increases the likelihood of diseases to spread; coronavirus knows no borders. The animal agriculture industry is making a mockery of everyone’s social distancing efforts and putting us all in grave danger.
Live export is certainly not necessary on animal welfare grounds, nor for reasons of public safety, so why exactly is this practice still permitted in the current health crisis?
As I write, animals are struggling in overcrowded lorries and ships, stuck in even longer queues than usual as COVID-19 further disrupts transport links. We cast-off these blameless animals with no controls in place for how they are to live or die: once they depart British soil, they may as well already be dead to us.
Workers too are in imminent danger. Truckers, vessel crews, animal handlers and others are all in close proximity with these frightened animals and will be amongst the first to catch any deadly pathogens that lurk. No one should be forced to be at risk just to make a living.
Though can we really be all that surprised that the meat industry is prioritising profits over people?
Weeks ago we saw workers stage a walkout of a poultry plant operated by Moy Park — one of the UK’s largest chicken producers, responsible for raising and slaughtering over 312 million birds here each year — due to fears over lack of PPE and inadequate measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.
And stories from slaughterhouses and meat packing facilities continue to dominate our screens, with coronavirus cases especially prevalent in abattoirs throughout the US and Ireland. This from an industry that prides itself on ever-increasing ‘kill line’ speeds, where workers are typically in close proximity and made to work as quickly as possible, all to maximise profits.
Worldwide, an estimated two billion live animals are transported long distances each year. Since we went into lockdown in the UK on 23rd March, over 350 million live animals have been exported around the world. The numbers are staggering… the risk to us all equally so.
Boris himself has spoken out in the past in favour of a ban, claiming that by “abolishing the cruel live shipment of animals” the UK can demonstrate that “we will be able to do things differently” post-Brexit.
Despite this, no legislation has been put in place. Animal Equality is among many animal protection groups calling for action, including Compassion in World Farming, Eurogroup for Animals, KAALE and more.
The export of live animals poses a serious threat to humans and animals and now, more than ever before, we cannot afford the further spread of disease. The Government must end live animal exports.
Abigail Penny is executive director for Animal Equality. Animal Equality will be joining Compassion in World Farming’s global twitterstorm on 14 June 2020 to raise awareness of this issue and to signal to policymakers that this cruel practice must end now. Learn more from its website.