The fate of 70 000 sheep will be decided by the Grahamstown High Court on Thursday, after the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) approached it to stop the transport of the animals to the Middle East by exporting company Al Mawashi on the grounds of cruelty.
The case between Al Mawashi, a South African subsidiary of Kuwait-listed livestock trading and exporting company KLTT, and the NSPCA has resulted in a stand-off between the two parties.
Aside from approaching the Grahamstown High Court in Makhanda for an interim interdict preventing the transportation of any live animals from South Africa, especially of the 70 000 sheep – which are already at the Al Mawashi-owned Berlin Castledale feedlot in Berlin, near East London – the NSPCA intends to fight to ban the live animal exportation industry permanently.
The exportation of live animals by sea from South Africa is currently legal.
The public altercation between the two opposing groups has become increasingly acrimonious and any decision the court makes will most likely be contested by the losing party.
Grace de Lange, senior inspector and manager of the farm animal protection unit at the NSPCA, told City Press this week that animal cruelty on ships was the main reason the organisation wants the exportation of livestock banned in the country.
“The NSPCA is opposed to the live export of animals by sea. We aren’t opposed to farming, as long as it’s done in an ethical and humane manner. But we do believe there’s animal cruelty on board ships and the evidence [supporting that belief] will clearly come out during the court proceedings,” said De Lange.
“We’ve also opened a criminal charge from last year against Al Mawashi for cruelty to animals at the Berlin Castledale feedlot, as well as at the harbour in East London. So there’s already cruelty [even before the voyage begins].”
She said the Middle East was already receiving carcasses from South Africa and that, instead of shipping live animals, more abattoirs should be built in the country to create more jobs. In this way, animals would be slaughtered in South Africa and their carcasses flown out while they were still fresh.
De Lange said live animals endured all sorts of problems associated with welfare while on board a ship.
“We’ve received footage and documentaries of the way animals are slaughtered in other countries, including Mauritius, and those in the Middle East and Indonesia.
“The methods used are horrendous. We understand that there are cultural beliefs attached to these things, as there are in our own country, but, in South Africa, slaughtering is governed under the Animal Protection Act to ensure that the animals have a humane death,” she said.
In an interview with City Press on Wednesday, Ilyaas Ally, managing director of Al Mawashi, denied all the NSPCA’s allegations. He said the company’s livestock were well taken care of, both at the feedlot and on board the ship, until they reached their destination in the Middle East.
He said that, despite the criticism from the NSPCA, his organisation had exceeded all expectations in terms of the mortality rate of animals in its previous shipments to the Middle East.
“Two live sheep export shipments were undertaken in October 2019 and March 2020. In the October shipment, Al Mawashi recorded a 0.17% mortality rate and during the March shipment, a mortality rate of 0.14% was recorded. These figures are below the prescribed 2% mortality rate,” said Ally.
He said the evidence and video footage the NSPCA refers to had nothing to do with Al Mawashi’s livestock or its operating procedures.
“The NSPCA has been working with Animals Australia [AA], a group that contests live exports. AA supplied the NSPCA with damning video footage of animal abuse during live exports on ships from Australia to the Middle East and other parts of the world. That footage isn’t of South African live exports to the Middle East,” said Ally.
“Live exports are opposed by the NSPCA on the grounds that this is an inherently cruel practice. The chief concern of the NSPCA is heat stress to the animals.”
Asked why Al Mawashi did not export meat in carcass form instead, Ally said: “The exportation of live animals is primarily undertaken for many reasons. The first relates to consumer preference, as the Middle Eastern market prefers freshly slaughtered meat, rather than frozen meat.
“Secondly, and most importantly, just as the slaughter of animals is permitted in South Africa for religious and cultural reasons, it is also a cultural and religious requirement in Middle Eastern countries. Consumer preference in the Middle East has always been – and will always be – for live animals.”
Ally said there was a huge demand for live animals abroad and, as a result, his organisation had set a target of four to six shipments of sheep to the Middle East per year, equating to roughly 280 000 to 420 000 head of sheep. The average value of each transaction involving the shipment of livestock was R150 million.
He said Al Mawashi took all the necessary steps to ensure that animals were safe on board, and there were teams of veterinarians and animal handlers to see to their wellbeing. He added that conditions on the Australia to Middle East route could not be compared with the South African experience.
“We believe that the South Africa to Middle East shipping route is safer. We say this for the following reasons: Firstly, South Africa to Middle East voyages are shorter in both distance and duration.
“Secondly, the climatic conditions of South Africa, particularly the Eastern Cape, offer a strategic advantage over Australia. Finally, it’s well known that the Merino breed of sheep, which we primarily export, is well adapted to heat,” said Ally.
He accused the NSPCA of “fighting dirty”, after the organisation had tried to attach Al Mawashi’s R400 million ship as surety for its legal costs. When that failed, the NSPCA wanted 500 sheep as surety. It had visited the Berlin Castledale feedlot about seven times, including on Wednesday this week.
Ally said he was confident his company would win the case and would then immediately begin loading the sheep on to its vessel.
“I have 70 000 sheep in my feedlot. Why would anyone want 500 sheep? The NSPCA does this for sensationalism. I don’t know why it’s so hell-bent on shutting us down. For what? If that happened, 81 people would also lose their jobs.
“Most of the farmers, including emerging commercial farmers who actually benefit from what we do, would go under. Why would the NSPCA want to put down a billion-rand industry?” asked Ally.
In a statement on its website, the NSPCA declared: “The undeniable suffering that these animals experience during these journeys to the Middle East is both unnecessary and unacceptable.
“Animals are essentially transported in vessels and remain in transit for up to 21 days. They travel in immense heat, in a completely unnatural environment, with minimal access to feed and water due to the unbalanced quantity of sheep and feed/water:trough ratio.
“The vessel isn’t cleaned out for the entire journey, so the sheep are forced to live in their own excrement with inadequate ventilation. The lights remain on for the entire journey, which means the animals suffer stress due to the exhaustion of not being able to rest.”