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130.000 sheep from Romania expected to die due to the Suez bottleneck

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You might think the Suez crisis is over, but not for the hundreds of thousands of live animals which are still trapped in the Suez crossing, animals that are now running out of food and water. There are a total of over 200.000 live animals coming from Colombia, Spain, and more than half from Romania which have not yet reached destination. They are very likely to die as feed and water are quickly running out in the overcrowded ships that take them to their slaughter - writes Cristian Gherasim

The maritime blockade generated by the Ever Given might have passed but there are still a great many ships caring live animals over thousands of kilometers that haven’t even crossed the Suez despite expectations that they might have been given priority due to the fragile cargo and the fact that they are days behind schedule.

Animal welfare NGOs explained that even though the EU legislation demands transporters to load 25 percent more food than planned for their trip in case of delays, that rarely happens.

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Animal rights NGOs say that even with the 25 percent buffer, these ships would now run out of animal feed long before they arrive in port.

For example, ships that left Romania on 16 March was scheduled to arrive in Jordan on 23 March, but instead it would now reach port on 1 April at the earliest. That is a nine-day delay. Even if the ship had the required 25 percent additional animal feed, it would only have lasted for 1.5 days

Some of the 11 ships full to the brim that left Romania carrying 130.000 live animals to Persian Gulf states have ran out of food and water even before the Ever Given was dislodged. Romania authorities said in a press release that they have been informed that priority will be given to this ships but nothing of that sort happened, said NGOs.

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It is very likely that we will never know the magnitude of the worst maritime animal welfare disaster in history, as transporters regularly throw dead animals overboard to hide the evidence. More so, Romania would not release that information either, because it would not look good and authorities know that it would lead to investigations.

Live animals are slowly baked alive in the scorching heat from those confined metal containers.

Repeated investigations showed animals exported to Gulf countries dying from the high temperatures, being unloaded violently off ships, squeezed into car trunks, and slaughtered by unskilled butchers

Romania exports a great deal of live animals despite the appalling conditions. It has been singled out by the European Commission for its bad practices regarding live-animal exports. Only last year more than 14,000 sheep drowned when a cargo vessel capsized off the Black Sea coast. A year before the EU commissioner for food safety called for live exports to be suspended due to the heat. Romania doubled then their exports.

Live animal exports are not only cruel but also detrimental to the economy. Farmers lacking local meat processing facilities say that they are losing money having to ship their livestock overseas. Live animals are being sold 10 times cheaper than if the meat were to be processed in the country and then exported.

Live animal exports from Romania remains unabated even during the hot summer months despite the repeated warnings from Brussels, despite the fact countries such as Australia and New Zeeland put a stop to that, and despite this being an economical nonsense. Experts and studies show that processed and refrigerated meat would be more beneficial, bring economic advantages and higher returns

Animal welfare

Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the animal health sector in Belgium

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The European Commission is conducting unannounced inspections at the premises of a pharmaceutical company active in animal health in Belgium.

The Commission has concerns that the inspected company may have infringed the EU antitrust rules that prohibit the abuse of a dominant position. The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the Belgian competition authority.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are being found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

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The Commission fully respects the rights of defence in its antitrust proceedings, in particular the right of companies to be heard.

The inspections are conducted in compliance with all coronavirus health and safety protocols to ensure the security of those involved.

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

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Animal welfare

Jewish groups challenge European Court of Justice ruling on religious slaughter

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European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin

The Belgian Constitutional Court upheld a ruling of the European Court of Justice that member states of the European Union can ban religious slaughter without pre-stunning. The ban voted by the Flemish and Walloon regions has been challenged by Jewish groups who argue that under freedom of religion, which is protected by the European Union as a human right, EU legislation allows exemption on religious grounds for non-stunned slaughter provided that they take place in authorised slaughterhouses, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“The Belgian Constitutional Court has shamefully upheld a decision that is openly hostile to a fundamental pillar of Jewish practice,’’ stated Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, in a reaction to the decision by Belgium’s Constitutional Court on Thursday to uphold a decision by the European Court of Justice banning religious slaughter without pre-stunning, thereby also upholding a similar decision by the Belgian Walloon and Flemish regions. Lamenting the court decision, he said however that provided an opportunity for European countries to show their support to Jewish communities and protect this central tenet of faith and practice. “What gets to the Jewish Communities the most is the two-faced approach of some countries towards Jewish Communities. On the one side they are solidly supportive when it comes to the fight against antisemitism, on the other they have no difficulty in effectively legislating Jewish faith and practice out of existence. ‘ Rabbi Margolin continued, “Worse still these countries are blissfully ignorant of this massive contradiction and its catastrophic effects on Jews across Europe. This decision, if replicated, is a real threat to Jewish life across Europe. Every bit as threatening as rising antisemitism, and in a sense even worse as it directly targets the very tenets of our beliefs. Now is the time for European countries to stand behind their Jewish communities and leave Belgium isolated and an outlier of how not to treat Jews”. The European Jewish Association is a Brussels-based advocacy group representing Jewish communities across Europe.

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Animal testing

European Parliament to vote on animal-free research, testing and education

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Anyone who is familiar with Ralph, a test rabbit mascot that is subject to Draize eye irritancy test in cosmetics labs and suffers from blindness, will wonder how such cruelty is still acceptable in an age of advanced science and technology. The Save Ralph video went viral all over the world and became most probably the reason why Mexico recently joined the ranks of states, which banned animal testing for cosmetics. So did the EU back in 2013. The EU plans to go even further by adopting a resolution on “a co-ordinated Union-level action to facilitate the transition to innovation without the use of animals in research, testing and education” this week (15 September), writes Eli Hadzhieva.

Although the EU encourages the use of non-animal methods, such as the new organ-on-chip technology, computer simulations and 3-D cultures of human cells, research shows that archaic methods, such as “50 percent lethal dose” killing half of the millions of test animals, are still widely in use. Moreover, evidence growingly shows that some animals, such as rabbits and rodents, are completely different species from humans to be seen as reliable proxies for the protection of human health from chemical risks. For example, drugs, such as thalidomide, TGN1412 or fialuridine, aimed at treating morning sickness, leukaemia and Hepatitis B respectively, proved totally safe for animals but could not be tolerated by humans.

According to the European Commission, the European chemicals strategy for sustainability increased support for use of Non-Animal Methodologies (NAMs) in Chemicals Risk Assessment, especially with several Horizon 2020 projects (ASPIS Cluster comprising RISK-HUNT3R, ONTOX and PrecisionTOX projects), the upcoming REACH and Cosmetics Regulation revisions, the new project of the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches on NAMs use in risk assessment, PARC with the objective of transitioning to next generation risk assessment and a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda. The global acceptance of non-animal and innovative approaches to chemical safety is also high on the OECD agenda.

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A webinar organised on 9 September by EU-ToxRisk and PATROLS, two multi-stakeholder projects funded by the EU’s H2020 Program, illustrated the limitations of the existing in vitro (test-tube experiments) and in silico (computer-simulated experiments) hazard detection systems while showcasing a new toolbox to conduct animal-free assessments for chemicals and nanomaterials. EU-ToxRisk project coordinator Bob van der Water from Leiden University highlighted his vision “to drive a paradigm shift in toxicology towards an animal-free, mechanism-based integrated approach to chemical safety assessment” through an established NAM toolbox based on in vitro and in silico tools and novel next generation NAM toolbox components. He emphasised advanced novel test systems, such as CRISPR-based fluorescent reporters in stem cells, stem-cell derived multi-liver-cell model, diseased liver micro-tissues and four-organ-chip while highlighting that NAMs should rapidly be integrated into regulatory testing frameworks.

Shareen Doak, the Coordinator of PATROLS from Swansea University highlighted the knowledge gaps regarding long term effects of realistic engineered nanomaterial (ENM) exposures for human and health environment while demonstrating innovative methods, such as extrinsic ENM properties, advanced ecotoxicity tests, heterotypic in vitro models of the lung, GIT and liver etc. “These methods are tailored to better understand human and environmental hazards and should be implemented as part of the EU’s safe and sustainable-by-design strategy to minimise the need for animal testing”, she said.

“The biggest challenge is the acceptance and the implementation of NAMs. Standard validation requirements are too long and the applicability domain of NAMs needs to be established considering new emerging technologies”, she added.

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In an earlier statement, the ASPIS Cluster expressed support for the motion for resolution of the European Parliament describing it as “timely to accelerate an animal-free transition and meet EU ambition to lead on the next generation for risk assessment in Europe and worldwide” all by welcoming EU efforts “which will translate into regulatory and industrial practices that will better protect human health and the ecosystems, by enabling us to identify, classify and ultimately remove hazardous substances from the environment”.

The moderator of the webinar MEP Tilly Metz (Greens, Luxembourg), also shadowing the European Parliament’s resolution, said that she hopes that the final resolution will contain the following elements: “Concrete steps to phase out animal testing, precise roadmaps and studies, a coordinated approach by EU agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency and fast implementation of new advanced methods”.

This gives a lot of food for thought for policymakers in a make-or-break moment for Ralph and his animal and human friends. It’s time that words translate into action and the regulatory environment evolves in line with new realities on the ground while giving a breathing space to these promising and safe animal-free technologies by adopting a dynamic approach to accept and use them. This will not only allow us to live up to the zero-pollution ambition in the Green Deal but will also deliver “a toxic-free environment” both for animals and humans.

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