Just in time for the celebration of Eid-al-Adha,†Australia and three of its main sheep marketsóBahrain, Qatar and Kuwaitóhave come to an historic agreement. Sheep exported live to the Middle East will have to be killed in slaughter facilities that adhere to global animal welfare standards.
The agreement ends the practice of families buying sheep from holding pens, stuffing them into vehicle trunks and slaughtering them at home. Timing of the announcement is significant, coming just before the festival of sacrifice.
Eid-al-Adha commemorates Abraham’s obedience to Allah, who told him in a dream that he was to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. At the last minute,†God took pity on Abraham and substituted a lamb.†Centuries later, Muslims continue to commemorate Abraham’s act of obedience by slaughtering a sheep, goat or some other animal for Eid-al-Adha.†They give away a third of the meat to the poor. Another third they share with family and friends. The remaining third they keep for their own use.
Home slaughter is still common, though in Abu Dhabi it is no longer legal. Officials warn of the risk of parasites and disease. They say unlicensed butchers do not sterilize their knives and may slaughter animals on the ground, where the meat can become contaminated. Elsewhere the practice of home slaughter is gradually losing favor, though it is still traditional.
So arriving at an agreement was likely easier for Australia than it would have been a decade ago. Although officially the change does not take place until 2012, timing of the anouncement, just before Eid-al-Adha begins November 6th, emphasizes the cultural shift.
More Change Is Needed
The plan will shave some of the profits off livestock balance sheets, as breeders will have to pick up at least part of the cost of advertising, educating about and monitoring the changes. The live export industry already received a major economic hit earlier in the year when shipments were stopped after videotapes from Indonesian slaughterhouses showed workers brutally mistreating cattle.
The new plan addresses only some of the concerns of animal welfare advocates. There is still no requirement that animals be stunned before slaughter. Live animals will continue to endure the long ship passage from Australia, and the changes will not be easy to monitor. Animals Australia and the RSPCA give dozens of reasons to halt the shipments on their†Ban Live Export site.
Insisting that exporters and importers adhere to higher standards is a step in the right direction. However, ending the abuse of animals will require our becoming far more aware of and compassionate toward the lives of our fellow creatures.
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