Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel paid a surprise visit Wednesday to a vessel that was carrying 3,000 cattle and 1,500 sheep, bound for slaughterhouses in Israel. In recent weeks, animal rights groups have been protesting the shipment of live animals by ship to Israel, claiming that the animals on these ships are made to suffer and essentially undergo torture.
Ariel said that he decided to pay the surprise visit in order to see the situation for himself. “We have a terrific staff in the Veterinary Service that does amazing work in preventing harm to animals,” he said. “We have a mitzvah, tzaar baalei chaim, to avoid cruelty to animals, and we see our mission of preventing such cruelty both as moral and professional.” Conditions on the ship, which transported the animals from Portugal, were found to be acceptable.
Most of the animals slaughtered for fresh meat are transported to Israel from Australia, a long voyage that has been the subject of much controversy both in Israel and in Australia. One reason for the need to transport live animals – instead of slaughtering animals in their home countries and just importing the fresh meat, as is the case with frozen meat – is because Agriculture Ministry regulations require fresh meat to be sold within 45 days of slaughter, and if the animals are slaughtered in their home countries, the meat will be taken off the shelves very soon after arriving in Israel.
The Ministry is considering extending the shelf life of fresh meat to 90 or even 120 days, a period that health officials say is not excessive, and will allow slaughter of animals abroad, Ariel said.