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The Truth About Sheep Used For Food

Live Export Sheep

© CIWF

Sheep are placid, perceptive animals who are smart and deeply emotional. Recent studies have found that sheep and humans have many things in common. For instance, Keith Kendrick, a professor of physics at Gresham College in London, found that sheep can distinguish between different expressions in humans and that they can detect changes in the faces of anxious sheep. He also discovered that sheep recognise the faces of at least 50 other sheep and can remember 50 images for up to two years.

Professor John Webster of the University of Bristol found that, like humans, sheep visibly express emotions. When they experience stress or isolation, they show signs of depression similar to those that humans express by hanging their heads.

Like us, sheep experience fear when they are separated from their social groups or approached by strangers. Their heart rates have been found to increase by 20 beats per minute when they are unable to see any members of their flock and by 84 beats per minute when approached by a man and a dog.

Playful and puppy-like, sheep wag their tails when they are stroked. They also affectionately nuzzle and head-butt to get attention.

Despite clear evidence of intelligence and depth of feeling in sheep, the meat industry continues to abuse them in ways that would warrant cruelty-to-animals charges if dogs or cats were the victims. More than 30 million sheep are slaughtered for their flesh each year in Australia, and approximately 20 million of those killed are lambs. These defenceless animals are crammed onto trucks and transported for up to 48 hours with no access to food or water. A study published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that up to 50 per cent of lambs suffer from dehydration by the time they arrive at the abattoir.

A single abattoir kills thousands of sheep and lambs every day. Their final moments are spent surrounded by the smells of blood and faeces and the screams of their companions. The average Australian will consume the equivalent of 90 sheep in his or her lifetime.

Every year, millions of sheep used for meat – as well as sheep whose wool production has decreased – are loaded onto severely crowded, multi-level cargo ships to endure live export to the Middle East or North Africa. The voyage can last weeks, and the sheep can be exposed to a variety of extreme weather conditions.

During live transport, many sheep fall ill or starve to death because they are not used to the pellet food provided on board. Lame sheep are trampled, unable to lift their heads from the faeces-laden floors. The crowded conditions and heat stress contribute to outbreaks of diseases such as conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) and salmonellosis.

To give just one example of the horrors of live export, in August 2011, the live-animal carrier Al Messilah broke down shortly after leaving Port Adelaide whilst carrying 67,000 sheep. In the first 10 days before the ship returned to port, where the stranded sheep were finally unloaded, 298 animals died. After federal authorities declared the sheep “fit to travel”, they were forced to continue their journey, and 206 more animals died. Many of the sheep died of starvation because they were too sick or frightened to eat.

In 2010, nearly 28,000 sheep died on live-export ships. A mortality rate of up to 2 per cent of sheep and 1 per cent of cattle is considered acceptable by the Australian government.

When the survivors arrive at their destination, they are commonly dragged from the ships and thrown onto trucks and into cars. Most have their throats cut while they are still conscious even though stunning is allowed under the rules of Halal slaughter. Some sheep are slaughtered en masse, while others are taken home and slaughtered by individual purchasers. Muslim countries require that animals be slaughtered according to Halal regulations, but numerous abattoirs in Australia already possess Halal certification, rendering live export completely unnecessary and indefensible.

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