Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baa Baa Barbaric (?)

The air around my house reeks of animal excrement, and it is not emanating from the garden; it is coming from the nearby port at Fremantle. The stench has gotten so overpowering that I have had to shut all the doors and windows. The weather is hot and moderately humid, the air is still, and the smell is thickly carried from the cargo ship docked in the harbor, loaded with sheep for live export.

Last year, I spotted signs around Perth shouting the slogan:

Baa Baa Barbaric: Stop Live Animal Export

Given the current stench in the air, I am inclined to agree.

Even seeing those ships empty is disturbing, level after level of cage bars, who knows how many deep or across. I don't eat much meat, but when I do, as with all our food, I like to keep the source as local as possible. From what I understand, these sheep are shipped to the Middle East and Indonesia. They can be onboard in tight cages exposed to the elements for up to 3 weeks. The smell has been telling me about their presence in the harbor for at least the past two days. The conditions must be abysmal.

It is difficult to consider this issue in a fully rational way. I try to understand the perspective of the farmers, the importers and exporters...but I can't get past the thought that humanely slaughtered and rapidly frozen meat would be a far better option for import/export. What do I mean by "better"? More humane, healthier, better quality meat...I imagine. I cannot imagine that I would want to eat mutton that comes from a sheep in these live export conditions as opposed to sheep direct from the farm to the local slaughterhouse, shipped frozen to my country far away. I can't imagine the price difference would be the reconciling factor, though I can understand the preference for what appears to be fresh meat, slaughtered by your known local butcher. If the problem is purity, wouldn't it be fairly simple to conduct HALAL certification onsite before slaughter/freezing/shipping? Hmm.

I have lived in the Middle East. I know the food culture involves a lot of lamb, perhaps a lot of mutton, parading as lamb. Perhaps sheep from ships like these. I wonder if the average consumer considers how it got there (or if they even care). Are the sheep shot full of antibiotics to help them survive the journey? Are the majority of the animals in reasonable health after the trip? What is the level of ammonia in the meat? I don't know the answers to these and other questions. I haven't looked into it. I don't plan on becoming an activist, but the smell currently makes the issue hard to ignore. I'm not so sure I should ignore it in the first place.

Any thoughts on the issue of live exports?

After writing this up, I felt I should drive over to Freo and snap some photos of the ship so you could see for yourself. As luck would have it, the ship got underway as I typed. By the time I drove over, the only shots I could get with my little point-and-shoot were from quite a distance (it's the ship furthest to the left).

You can see that the sheep are transported on a cargo ship. What looks containers from this distance are the cages I described. Given the size, you can only guess how many sheep might be onboard.

I'm not trying to start some kind of morality battleground over this, but an open-minded discussion would be most welcome.

Have you considered this issue before?
Do you have some new facts to throw in the file?
Even if this topic is new to you, what are your thoughts?

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