Romania is going ahead with the controversial export of 70,000 live sheep to the Persian Gulf.
That is despite Brussels urging them not to because “extreme temperatures would make it impossible to guarantee the animals would not suffer in transit".
“We have received footage showing terrible conditions in which animals were transported by livestock vessels to the Persian Gulf during the summer,” said Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety in a letter to Romania’s agriculture and rural development minister, Petre Daea.
“Taking into account the weather forecast in the Persian Gulf area during July, where temperatures will reach 46℃ … I would urge you, as a gesture of responsibility, to stop the imminent export of sheep.”
The 70,000 live sheep are believed to be heading to Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for the August “Festival of Sacrifice”, according to Eurogroup for Animals.
Daea said on Romanian television that under no condition would he consider the halting of the export.
'Romania turning a blind eye'
The spat between Bucharest and Brussels comes as the EU is putting pressure on member states to limit exports.
Australia, the former top exporter of live sheep, announced a three-month ban on live trade to the Middle East during the hot summer season, planning to phase out the industry in the next five years.
But Romania's exports of live sheep and goats have been increasing since 2015, according to figures from the International Trade Centre.
It is the largest exporter of live animals to third-party countries in the EU.
“We find it deeply regrettable that while other countries are recognising the true horrors of live export, including to the Middle East, Romania is turning a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of sheep and thousands of cattle suffering long journeys to the Middle East in extremes of heat, resulting in unimaginable suffering,” Vanessa Hudson, leader of the Animal Welfare Party, told Euronews.
“We see this as a regressive step, out of touch with the growing interest in animal protection around the world.”
'Animals cooked alive'
Animal rights activists say that the trading of live animals is both cruel and unnecessary.
“The animals are literally cooked alive in the scorching temperatures onboard crammed ships that take over 8 days to reach their destination,” Gabriel Paun, Animals International EU Director, told Euronews.
“The heat exceeds 60℃ despite EU legislation banning the shipping of animals when the temperature is over 30℃.
The investigation into the exports of sheep and cattle transported by sea from Romania to Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip has been carried out by Animals International and cannot be independently verified by Euronews.
“We aim to shine a light on the failure of Romanian authorities to monitor the export of animals, transported and slaughtered in ways that defy the EU and international laws”, said Paun.
Recordings that Animals International presented to the Romanian government show sheep and cattle dying from the soaring temperatures, brutally unloaded off ships, squeezed in car trunks and slaughtered fully conscious by unskilled butchers in the middle of the street.
In another situation involving exports from Romania, dead animals were reportedly thrown overboard and washed up on beaches in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh.
Some countries, such as Israel, have decided to stop imports from Romania, as the animals, due to poor conditions, arrived dead or ill at the destination and presented a health risk to consumers.
'We need to take advantage of every opportunity'
Contacted by e-mail, Velizar Barbuli, general director of Romania’s National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority, who has responsibility for the welfare of animals during transport, said national legislation is being updated to prevent issues regarding the transport of animals by sea.
Putting ethics aside, industry players are split over whether live trade benefits the economy or not.
“Life’s not easy for the animal breeder and we need to sell the animals in order to keep our business afloat. I think that both carcasses and live animals should continue to be exported. I am against cruel treatment of animals but we need to take advantage of every opportunity out there. I care about animals and what happens with halal and practices is beyond my control,” Iancu Polifronie, president of the Sheep Breeders Association from Dobrogea told Euronews.
Other industry representatives say the export of live animals isn’t benefiting Romania’s economy.
Mary Pana, president of the Associations of Breeders and Exporters of Cattle, Sheep and Pigs told Euronews that Romania is losing money by exporting live animals instead of carcasses and processed meat with a higher added value.
“The animals should be kept in the country, and processed here after they reach target slaughter weights”, Pana said.
Romanian small farmers aren’t happy either because of the low prices per live animal as opposed to exporting processed and refrigerated meat.
“It is a disadvantage for the entire Romanian food supply chain, Petre Magureanu, farmer and cattle breeder told Euronews.
The global need for live meat
At every moment of the day, animals are being moved huge distances. Millions worldwide are loaded onto ships, trucks and planes each year as they endure weeks-long trips half-way around the world.
This high rise in exports is fuelled by a rising demand for meat all over the world.
Muslims countries are particularly interested in live trade, mainly because of halal slaughter practices and the demand for newly slaughtered lamb and beef. The Quran requires that the animals need to be killed while fully conscious, without any stunning, in order for the meat to be halal.