It’s possible to make a strong economic argument as to why Australia should not export live animals for slaughter to the Middle East. Animal welfare groups are now getting far more commercially savvy and adept at taking on industry groups in their own terminology and framing their submissions in terms of Australian jobs and market imperatives.
But this time their analysis is largely wasted. Some forms of barbarity are so depraved that they are beyond economic salvation. It demeans the human condition to even suggest that certain forms of cruelty can be condoned. Such is the case with live animal exports from Australia.
For years Australia’s live export industry was happy to provide cattle to Cairo’s main abattoir despite knowing that cattle routinely had their leg tendons slashed and eyes stabbed to disable them prior to slaughter. The fear and pain inflicted on animals in this process exceeds the human capacity to describe it.
Animals hurt in the same way as humans. There are not different types of suffering, only different degrees and intensities. The physiological process by which pain is generated and felt is the same in humans and animals. The intensity with which animals feel pain or distress is no less than humans. Anyone that has seen the cowering of a dog in response to a raised angry hand can be left in no doubt of that.
The fact that an entity can experience suffering terminates all questions regarding its moral standing. The only commonality shared by humans who command our concern and respect is that they can hurt. The capacity to sense pain gives humans, no matter how marginalised, pitiably deranged or behaviourally maladaptive, moral status. Animals command our moral standing for exactly the same reason.
The inability of animals to precisely articulate in words that resonate with us their level of suffering is no excuse for ignoring their terrified screams. To the contrary, this places a higher burden on supposedly morally enlightened communities to hear their screams and redress them.
This is what the Australian Government did when the revelations of the tendon slashing and eye stabbing in Egypt were aired on national television in February 2006. The government suspended live animal exports. However, this was lifted following a signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Minister McGauran and his Egyptian counterpart.
The MOU contains very basic requirements for the treating of animals, in accordance with OIE World Animal Health Organisation standards. At the time, Animals Australia (which first exposed the mistreatment) informed McGauran that due to the amount of on-selling of Australian animals, and Egypt's lack of animal protection laws, the Egyptian Government had neither the capacity nor desire to enforce the standards. The MOU was simply a token, formal method for circumventing our most basic of moral responsibilities.
Despite this, the boatloads of animal misery and human barbarity recommenced on October 11, 2006 when a shipment of Australian sheep left Portland for Egypt.
Animal Australia investigators in Cairo in late December 2006 predictably observed egregious breaches of the MOU. Australian sheep were sold by merchants from seven different locations in Cairo. Individual buyers were purchasing sheep to take home to sacrifice on the morning of the Eid. In the process sheep were thrown from trucks, dragged on their stomachs, tied up and transported on car roof racks and jammed into car boots for journeys of up to two hours.
Despite Egypt’s disregard for the MOU, and treatment of Australian animals he calls “appalling”, Minister McGauran is permitting further shipments to Egypt. His excuse? That by continuing to trade we can improve welfare in Egypt. This claim is nearly as illogical as the treatment of Australian animals in Egypt is cruel. Contrary to the Minister’s spin, our willingness to supply animals to Egypt and the Middle East only entrenches in the minds of locals the view that Australians approve of their brutal treatment.
The only minimally morally decent approach to live animal exports from Australia is to stop it. This is not to reject the religious mandates of Muslims regarding the manner in which they require their animals to be killed.
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