What Everyone Should Know About Live Animal Exports

Every year, the global demand for meat and other animal products subjects millions of cows, sheep, and other animals to unimaginable suffering via live export. Also known as “live animal exports” and “live transport,” this practice involves transporting thousands of animals at once across long distances, often overseas and to countries with less stringent animal welfare laws. 

Here’s everything you need to know about live animal export:

A ship carrying between 20,000 and 30,000 sheep and cows from Australia to Israel arrives at the Haifa port after almost three weeks at sea. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Israel Against Live Shipments / We Animals Media

Extreme Stress and Physical Suffering

Imagine being crammed into a small, tightly packed space with no room to move, unable to escape the oppressive heat or the stench of urine and feces for days or weeks. This is the sad reality for animals in the live export trade.

Behind-the-scenes footage shows cows crammed into tiny areas—trapped behind metal bars on ships with poor ventilation that weren’t built to transport animals. Reports show that nearly 80% of ships used for live export were built for other purposes. 

In addition to causing physical injuries and psychological torment, live export creates an environment that is ripe for the spread of diseases. Animals suffer from respiratory distress, heatstroke, and other health issues due to inadequate care during transportation. Dead or dying animals are often simply tossed overboard. 

Inhumane Handling and Mistreatment

A 2022 Mercy For Animals Brazil video reveals that cows arriving at a Brazilian port had come from rural farms hundreds of miles away. Already exhausted from their journey on transport trucks, some animals had to wait at the port for days before being forced onto ships for the next stretch of their journey. Mercy For Animals and other groups have documented animals being hit with metal rods and electric prods to force them aboard. 

The nature of long-distance transportation makes monitoring the treatment of animals difficult. Animals are at the mercy of profit-driven companies that typically prioritize efficiency over animal welfare. In some cases, transport conditions blatantly violate even the most basic standards of care.

When animals are exported to countries with lower animal welfare standards, they face an even bleaker fate. Animals may end up in slaughterhouses that use killing methods that cause immense suffering and prolonged deaths. A Mercy For Animals investigation uncovered cows being transported to faraway countries where slaughterhouse workers stabbed and slashed the legs of fully conscious animals—a slaughter practice that is illegal in Brazil where the animals came from. 

After sheep and cows are offloaded from a ship, they are loaded onto trucks that carry them to quarantine, feed lots, or slaughter. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Israel Against Live Shipments / We Animals Media

Brazil and New Zealand Just Banned Live Export

On April 27, 2023, a Brazilian federal court made the historic ruling to ban live animal exports from all of its ports. The ruling came after the National Forum for the Protection and Defense of Animals filed a lawsuit in 2017. 

“Animals are not things,” said Judge Djalma Gomes in her ruling. “They are sentient living beings, that is, individuals who feel hunger, thirst, pain, cold, anguish, fear.” 

The good news from Brazil came just days before New Zealand’s live export ban took effect on April 30, 2023. New Zealand, which previously exported live cows to be used for the dairy industry, decided to ban all live exports after 41 crew members and 6,000 cows died when a ship sank during a storm.

What’s Next?   

While activists in the European Union, in Australia, and elsewhere in the world work to ban this horrific practice in their countries, we can all help animals suffering transport cruelty. Even farmed animals transported domestically are forced into extreme confinement, endure weather extremes, and sometimes go for days without food or water. 

Help animals by choosing more plant-based foods and speaking up for animals harmed by transport in the United States. Urge your Congress members to support the Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act, legislation that addresses some of the cruelest practices in the meat industry, including exposure to extreme temperatures in transport.

*Featured image: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media