Author Topic: Finding the will to stop the live kill.  (Read 1495 times)

WA Export News

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6669
  • Karma: +4/-0
Finding the will to stop the live kill.
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2014, 10:46:12 AM »

  THE festival of Eid al-Adha is a busy time in the abattoirs of Gaza, as it is all over Islam. During this festival, which commemorates the sacrifice or non-sacrifice of his son by the patriarch Abraham, sheep, goats and cattle are slaughtered ("sacrificed") on a large scale - some 100 million beasts worldwide, it is said.
The handlers at the abattoirs have no time to rest; more than likely the management has to bring in casual labour (to kill an ox you don't need a certificate in butchery, they reason, just strong nerves and a knife). People who run abattoirs (a French word - the more down-to-earth English word is shambles) don't generally advertise their activities. In parts of the United States, they have even made the filming of their activities a crime, economic terrorism.

      Illustration: Eric Lobbecke height=366Illustration: Eric Lobbecke Source: Supplied   
The abattoir owners in Gaza are more easygoing. Last October, they allowed, or failed to prevent, the filming of some of what was going on in their premises. Footage shows cattle being battered with steel bars, having their eyes put out, having the tendons of their legs cut and so forth, preparatory to having their throats slashed. They show cattle in a state of extreme terror as the realisation dawns on them that they are about to die and there is no way out.

They show cattle bucking and kicking and generally fighting to stay alive. Or at least to prolong their lives a few minutes. They show these same animals, their gullets and arteries and tendons of their necks severed, twitching and gasping as life ebbs away.

The cattle on the day of the filming happened to be Australian; that is to say, had spent their short lives in Australia (short lives because, in human terms, slaughter beasts are teenagers when they die). Of course these cattle did not think of themselves as Australian or Paraguayan or anything else.

But among abattoir workers Australian cattle have a bad reputation. Australian cattle do not go docilely to their death. On the contrary, they fight to stay alive. It is a struggle, abattoir workers complain, to get these large, powerful, deeply unco-operative animals to stand still so their throats can be cut, and then to keep them from making a mess as they thrash around in the paroxysms of dying. With such unco-operative animals, they say, one sometimes has to use unorthodox means, like the eye-gouge or the steel bar, to show who is boss. Abattoir work is not for sissies. For abattoir work, one may need to be a bit hard-handed, even a bit cruel.

The scenes of cruelty filmed in Gaza are very similar to the scenes filmed in Indonesia in 2011 and subsequently screened on Australian television (with a warning to sensitive viewers that the scenes they were about to witness might upset them); also to scenes filmed in Pakistan, in Kuwait, in Israel, and elsewhere. In Australia, these scenes caused outrage and protest among viewers. Why can't the animals be killed here at home, people asked, where we practise humane methods of slaughter, and then exported as refrigerated carcasses? And, if for some reason or other they do indeed have to be exported live, why can't we see to it that the slaughterers conform to Australian standards?

The short answer to these questions is that in Asia and the Middle East there is a demand for live slaughter stock which, if not met by Australian exporters, will be met by someone else; also that Australia lacks the means, the authority and, finally, the will to impose its standards on foreign abattoirs. Furthermore, for Canberra to terminate the export trade will not decrease the sum of suffering that goes on in the abattoirs of Gaza. The only change will be that, whereas formerly Australian cattle had their eyes gouged out, Paraguayan cattle will now have their eyes gouged out.

The scenes from the killing floor that we witness on television are not isolated events. Something similar happens in the abattoirs of the world on most working days. At this very moment, somewhere or other, intelligent mammals are meeting their end in a storm of blood and pain and terror. Getting the authorities in Indonesia or Egypt or Pakistan to enact animal welfare legislation parallel to our own, and to police the regulations vigorously and with conviction, is a bit of a pipe dream.

In Merrie England of yore, animals were routinely tortured to death for the amusement of spectators. It took a century of bitter campaigning to win the most limited protection for animals against gratuitous cruelty. Like the movement to end slavery, the movement to limit cruelty to animals was very much an Anglo-Saxon affair, an aspect of their history in which the British can take pride.

If to Australians it seems right and natural that animals should be slaughtered humanely, that is only because Australia has inherited a British conception of what humaneness is, and why it is natural. Transplanting British humaneness to the Middle East would be no less difficult than transplanting US democracy.

The graziers who load their livestock on to the floating stockyards say they are as horrified as anyone by the abattoir footage. There is no reason to doubt their word. They would prefer to be exporting refrigerated carcasses, they say, not live animals. But, they also say, if the live trade is to be terminated to satisfy a public outcry, where will that leave them? Where will they find alternative markets for their livestock? Why should they be left to foot the bill for other people's moral outrage?

The outrage of the Australian public is entirely justified. But the trade has grown with the backing of successive governments, and all Australians, including those who protest most loudly, have directly or indirectly benefited from it. It is time for the trade to be ended.

If taxpayers' money has to be used to subsidise the graziers while they are weaned from practices that have become a national disgrace, so be it. Ending Australia's part in the trade may not make the world a better place for animals, but at least it may help us sleep more easily.

John M Coetzee is a novelist and literary critic. He is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and two-time winner of the Booker Prize. Coetzee is a Patron for Voiceless, the animal protection institute.