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Australia Has Again Been in Uproar About Revelations of Cruelty in an Egyptian Abattoir

15/05/2013 11:05 BST | Updated 14/07/2013 10:12 BST

A bullock with a broken leg is in a holding pen of an Egyptian slaughterhouse. Blood is pouring from an increasing number of cuts - including one in the eye - as an abattoir worker slashes at its legs and face with a short knife. Meanwhile the buyer is shouting "Blind him, blind him!" The animal eventually collapses from loss of blood. Meanwhile inside the slaughterhouse a bullock with a partially cut throat has escaped from the shackles on which it was hanging. Its gaping neck wound spouts blood as the animal rampages in terror until brought under control. These scenes were caught on film by vet Dr Mahmoud Abdelwahab and sent to the animal welfare group Animals Australia. Consequently there has been a furore in the Australian media.

As a result of Dr Abdelwahab's film the Australian authorities have banned live exports to Egypt. This is not the first time. In 2006 a ban was put in place after tendon cutting (a method of control) was exposed. The trade resumed in 2010 after both governments signed "a memorandum of understanding". Already there are calls for the this most recent prohibition to be rescinded.

A spokesman from the industry acknowledges that the images are "undoubtedly cruel", "unacceptable", "appalling" and "shocking". The media describes the revelations as "the dark side of live exports". As if there could be a bright side; even where the guidealines are followed.

First animals are loaded onto lorries for transporting to feedlots for fattening. Unused to being handled they become panicked and terrified by workers who goad and shout. Days on the road follow when they are bruised and chafed as they knock against each other, unable to lie down, overheating, dehydrated and suffering from motion sickness.

In barren feedlots animals are crammed together and fed a grain-based diet to fatten them quickly. Lacking the fibre they would get from grass they cannot belch as much as they need to. Acid indigestion (also known as grain poisoning) is the consequence. When temperatures sear and shelter is lacking heat stroke is common. And as manure builds up, flies do too. The noise of the bellowing of thousands of animal carries for miles.

Loaded onto ships the sea journey might take up to 35 days depending on the destination and on weather conditions. Animals succumb to heat stress, pneumonia and - when ships roll and pitch - sea sickness. Lack of nourishment causes exhaustion.

Australia is the world leader in the live export of sheep, cattle and goats. Indonesia is their largest market followed by China. In January this year they exported 59,937 head of cattle (42% up on January 2012). But they are not alone. Countries on every continent practice this trade including those in the EU whose markets are in the Middle East, Turkey, Russia and North Africa.

On arrival the animals are unloaded and penned to await slaughter. In Islamic countries meat must be certified halal (that is, "permissible") which means animals must be conscious when their throats are slit. According to Muslim law they should be treated with compassion and death should be quick and humane. The practice is very different. Dr Abdelwahab's film shows a bullock in a restraint box that drips with blood. The box is tipped upside down to expose the throat for cutting. As it turns over some animals begin to choke.

The Australian campaign group Ban Live Exports have catalogued a raft of severe animal welfare abuses in Kuwait, Mauritius, Israel, Indonesia, Pakistan, Quatar and Turkey. To western eyes these might seem exceptionally brutal but the fact is that in any intensive system once animals draw near their slaughter date cruelty rachets up.

Even in western countries that consider their slaughter methods to be humane, animals must be terrified as they are rounded up, transported and penned before being driven into an abattoir. The smell of blood and the petrifying sight and sounds of unfamiliar machinery is hardly different from those in the Egyptian slaughter house or any other abattoir where animals are killed in their thousands. Always there is pressure to get the work done as quickly as possible and as a result stunning is often botched. Several welfare groups have films showing animals struggling as they hang from shackles clearly still conscious or coming round as they bleed to death.

Several animal welfare groups are campaigning to bring an end to live exports. Among them are Animals Australia; the RSPCA; the World Society for the Protection of Animals; and the Compassion in World Farming Trust. They are all pressing for slaughter to be closer to production and for an enlargement in the chilled and frozen meat trade. But the reality is that the live export trade is more profitable.