Middle East network for Animal Welfare (MENAW) Conference

Presented by CEO of PAF Sarra Ghazi

March 2010 - Cairo

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the Princess Alia Foundation and to be among such a large and diverse group of friends and colleagues from across the globe. In fact it reminds me of the Quranic teachings that humans were “nations and tribes that ye may know one another..Lo the noblest of you in the Sight of God is the one who is best in conduct" and the other familiar teaching that all creatures are also… 'Nations like unto yourselves".

We are told that there is no single part of Creation, be it animate or inanimate which does not Praise and Glorify God. While Creation as a whole is thus united, there is a great difference between Humans and the rest of Creation. Humans often believe that they are wise and responsible and "know it all". The Quran itself tells us that we do NOT comprehend the way in which the rest of Creation Praises God. The rest of creation; animals, plants and nature itself, behave consistently and in conformity with their own essence and nature. Humans have a choice. They are able to transcend themselves and by doing so make truly GOOD use of their faculties and abilities. They are also able to ignore the responsibility of being truly human and degenerate through selfishness and greed and destroy the world around them on their downward slide.

In May of last year, the Princess Alia Foundation was established in Jordan to promote the balance, harmony and respect for all creation. In the months since the establishment of the Foundation we have become keenly aware of the challenges and the scale of work that lies before us all.

Looking around here today, it is clear to see how many of us share the same concerns, passions and will for change. Let us not lose focus as to why we started in this field in the first place. Let us not shift our focus to less important things and forget what it is we are trying to achieve. Surely it is time to put all differences aside and to agree to work together to create a positive, sustainable and true change. Many voices raised together in unison will make themselves heard whereas scattered voices are easily ignored.

Whilst an initial focus of the foundation was the dire need for improved practices in slaughterhouses in Jordan, we also quickly recognized the need for urgent action in other areas. Initiatives have now been commenced to address the welfare of animals in zoos in Jordan; the illegal trade in wildlife in the region, to upgrade Jordan's veterinary service and to introduce a TNR program as an alternative to the shooting and poisoning of stray animals.

We are in the process of creating a school based curriculum and a school program promoting the civic responsibility towards the environment was launched in September.

The Foundation is grateful for the tremendous support and expert advice that we have been provided with by Mr. Helmut Dungler and Dr. Amir Khalil of Vier Ptofen, Dr. Chinny Krishna of the Blue Cross of India, and Animals Australia. We have also been uplifted and encouraged by the support and drive of the Animal Welfare Unit of the Greater Amman Municipality. Through the pooling of all our individual expertise and experience we may achieve a great deal, as we have in a very short period of time. If we continue to work in isolation of each other, unfortunately we gain nothing.

I am sure that we in Jordan are not alone in facing the problem of having government responsibility for animal related issues spread across different ministries. To this end the Foundation has formed working partnerships with these ministries bringing all stakeholders together under one banner. This has provided much clearer channels of communication for all involved and we have seen work progress on many different fronts in a coordinated and constructive fashion

It is clear that effective legislation enforced by authorities is the key to ending unacceptable treatment of animals. A great challenge we all face is to have governments throughout the region acknowledge that they have a responsibility to protect the welfare of animals and then embrace and act on that responsibility. The Princess Alia Foundation has submitted animal protection legislation to the Jordanian government that was prepared by experts in the field. This has been approved and we await now the official passing of the legislation within the month. We are very happy to provide this draft legislation for your review and to support your efforts to have legislation passed.

The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) often related;

'There was once a man walking along a road who became very thirsty. he found a well and so went down into it and drank from it. When he came out, he saw a dog which was panting and eating earth because of its thirst, and he said to himself, "this dog is as thirsty as I was", so he went down into the well again, filled up his shoe with water, and holding it in his mouth, came up again and gave it to the dog to drink. God thanked him for this and forgave him his sins.'

As you are aware ethical treatment towards all animals is in fact very much a part of Islamic teachings. What Islamic teachings clearly are acknowledging is that animals feel. They feel pain, fear, joy and happiness; therefore animals matter and our treatment of them matters. Islamic teachings do not suggest that animals deserve humane treatment because their presence improves our lives or increases our wealth – the case for humane treatment is based purely and simply on the fact that they are equally a part of creation.

With regards to legislation, any legislation passed must include all animals, regardless of the role that they play in our lives or financial interests. In other countries around the world livestock has been excluded from legislative protection– despite the fact that the suffering of animals raised to food is no different than any other animals. We must not allow the same mistake to be made in the Middle East. Our religion decrees that we have a responsibility to provide humane treatment to all of creation.

Clearly there is much work to be done to heal our relationship with all who share the world around us. But the arguments that we can present for change are compelling. Islamic teachings convey to us that it is not enough for us to be human beings – but more importantly we must be humane beings. A great deal of trust has been placed in us – and it is time for us to restore that faith. Treating those who are at our mercy with kindness and compassion evokes the finest elements of our humanity – treating them with indifference, cruelty and malevolence also harms us as human beings through rendering us less humane towards each other.

Our relationship with animals is such a privileged and powerful one. We have the capacity through kindness to evoke trust and loyalty – and we have the capacity through treating them cruelly to evoke fear and aggression. It is time to acknowledge that their judgment of us; their response to us, so clearly mirrors us and our humanity.

Even in the short time that the Princess Alia Foundation has been in operation it has become clear to us that representing the interests, of the voiceless, is perhaps one of the most challenging fields of service. It tests us at every level – and calls upon us to be strong, professional and strategic in our efforts to create change even when faced with the most obvious injustice and terrible suffering.

Whilst this work asks so much of all of us, the importance of this work and the overreaching benefits for all of creation cannot be understated. One only has to reflect on history to see that there has been an evolution of human thought taking place and an examination of every hard fought forward step taken is revealing. Humanity has been continually challenged to recognize and consider the interests of others – no matter how different they may be from us – different colour, different race, different religion.

Clearly, acknowledging the interests of animals presents humanity with the ultimate ethical test – because they are even more different from us – and - because they are at our mercy. But it is what we have in common that we need to remind all of. They share with us the ability to feel joy; they share with us the ability to suffer - and they- just like us- are part of creation.

Animals may be voiceless but their suffering is calling on the finest elements of our humanity to awaken; Our compassion, empathy and selflessness.Our religion is one of mercy. It is now time for governments in the region to pass laws that will reflect, remind and reinforce these principles in our communities, so that wrongs can be righted – and respect and compassion can be restored towards all creation.

For when the time comes that we treat the powerless as precious, and do all in our power to protect them from harm, we will know that we have sought and found the best in ourselves.

The Princess Alia Foundation looks forward to working with you all towards a kinder, more united world.

Presentation by Miss Lyn White

Advisor to the Princess Alia Foundation

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak at this conference and feel very privileged to be doing so on behalf of the Princess Alia Foundation.

I appreciate that it might seem quite strange to have an Australian providing an overview of slaughter and transport issues in the Middle East.  A decade ago, I had never set foot in the region , but since 2003 I have been conducting investigations on behalf of AA in the region  and now find myself more familiar with countries and cities in the Middle East, than I do in Australia – and consider Jordan my second home.

Whilst initially the purpose of my investigations in the region was to gain evidence against Australia's live export trade, I very quickly became passionate about improving the welfare of animals in this region on viewing the treatment of all animals.

I appreciate that talking about animal slaughter is not the most uplifting of topics, but clearly it is one of the most important welfare issues we need to address, considering the tens of millions of animals that are slaughtered in the region each year.   As I know first-hand how distressing witnessing slaughter can be, I will not be showing slaughter vision during this presentation only some photographs that will provide examples of welfare concerns that occur pre slaughter.

Whilst the sheer scale of this issue can seem overwhelming, I completely believe in our capacity as animal advocates to create significant and much needed change, due to the strength of the arguments that can be presented on a number of fronts.   Whilst many of you will already have identified the arguments – I will reflect on them today – and how the Princess Alia Foundation has been able to use them to good effect in Jordan.

As an Australian, I in no way stand here representing a country that should be respected for its animal welfare standards.   We are the "world leaders" in the live export trade – a fact that most Australians are horrified by.

Australia is the largest exporter...    Some 150 million Australian animals are exported to the Middle East in the past 30 years.   During that time some 2.5 million sheep have died.

But it is the example that Australia's live export trade sets to the Middle East that I also makes it most unforgiveable.    I'm sure that we would all agree that there is a very real need for animal sentiency to be recognised in the region and for ethical treatment to be encouraged.   Australia's willingness to export 4 million animals to the Middle East fully accepting that hundreds and sometimes thousands will die enroute on each journey presents the terrible example to the region that animals are nothing more than chattels to be traded and slaughtered.   This is not an example that is going to inspire change.

For a few minutes I would like to reflect on the general welfare issues around long distance transportation by sea since most of the animals slaughtered in the Middle East are imported and the Middle East is the major destination for the live export trade

The sinking of the livestock vessel the Danny F off the coast of Lebanon last December with the lost of 44 human lives and nearly 30,000 animal lives is a graphic example of what can go wrong.   The animals had already endured the stresses of a 20 day voyage from South America.  One does not want to think on the terror of either the humans or animals as that ship went down in a storm.   

There are inherent risks that can never be overcome every time a livestock vessel takes to sea.    Hundreds of thousands of animals have died as a result of weather episodes, storms and high temperatures over the years.   We cannot control nature and unfortunately we cannot control human nature, or human failure.   Many thousands of animals have also died as a result of trade disputes over the years – no better example than the Cormo Express incident in 2003 where 53000 sheep were marooned at sea for 11 weeks.

It is the dramatic incidents that get the publicity.     But sadly the tens of thousands of  animals that just suffer and quietly die each year from a variety of ailments directly connected to long distance transport by sea – such as salmonellosis and inanition, failing to eat - just become statistics in a cruel trade that accepts suffering and deaths as part of their daily business.    

Many of the arguments put forward for the continuation of live export are flawed if examined closely.    The scale of imports of live animals vs chilled is less about market forces and and more about the monopolies and business interests of certain companies.    The major importers of live animals into the gulf region and Red sea are also the major importers of chilled meat and they run their own abattoirs.    In Amman chilled imported meat is sold side by side with chilled sheep carcasses from imported animals that endured a 17 day stressful journey.   Last year when the Bahrain Livestock Corporation was unable to source enough livestock to import, they imported chilled meat instead.  

There is no doubt in my mind that if Australia as the major exporter of live animals to the Middle East ended this trade, that the most of this gap would be replaced by chilled meat – except at the time of major religious festivals - so yes Australia's live export trade has a lot to be answerable for in terms of animal suffering.   

Why haven't animal groups been able to stop Australia's live trade?   Because farmers are sacrosanct in the eyes of politicians due a voting system which provides disproportianately greater weight to rural electorates than it should   What our campaigns have achieved is a level of public opposition that would very likely ensure that  the live trade would not survive another shipboard disaster – and sadly another will inevitably happen.

Clearly an increase in chilled meat imports into the region would dramatically reduce the welfare issues relating to transport, slaughter and handling in the Middle East – so encouraging this transition is a crucial one.

Since 2003 I have visited Qatar, Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan on many occasions observing and documenting the treatment of animals as they arrive on ships, in market places and I have been in the majority of slaughterhouses in these countries

The standard in major government slaughterhouses varies dramatically from having modern equipment, processing and hygiene standards in Bahrain and Dubai – to manual slaughter occurring on open slaughter floors in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and here in Egypt if things haven't changed in the past couple years.     

In rural areas – the situation is usually far worse - slaughterhouses inevitably are large empty rooms with blood drains where all of the slaughter occurs on the floor.   The lack of raceways between holding pens and slaughter areas and the lack of infrastructure within facilities means that practices like this – regularly occur – which as you can see cause the animals immense distress prior to slaughter.       

There is always great focus on the welfare impacts of the actual slaughter of animals, in that a sheep whose throat is cut whilst fully conscious can remain conscious of what they are enduring for up to 20 seconds and for cattle up to 2 minutes   – but I believe that the issue that equally needs to be addressed is the minutes and sometimes hours of stress and suffering that animals endure prior to slaughter during handling and transport.

Whilst in many countries in the Middle East legislation exists to prohibit the killing of animals at private premises – it still occurs – and of course peaks -  during the Eid al Adha.     All countries I have visited have feedlots and animal markets from which animals can be individually bought all year round for home or private slaughter or alternatively purchased and taken to an abattoir for slaughter.

As you are aware the normal and very accepted method of transportation of individually purchased animals in all countries I have visited is by car boot.  

The experience of animals purchased at market places for private slaughter presents one of the most serious welfare issues.  It is standard practice for the selected animal to be dragged from its flock, thrown on its side, and to have its legs trussed together before being shoved into car boots.   I witnessed this occur many hundreds of times throughout the Middle East and the impact on the animal.  Without fail the chest of the animal heaving rapidly, their eye wide with fear – and with local breeds of sheep and goats they enunciate their fear and distress vocally in a way that is heart-wrenching and undeniable.

I have seen sheep put in boots in 45 degree temperatures so summer months adding an additional welfare issues of dire concern.

Undoubted the worst five days of animal suffering in the Middle East are the days before and leading up to the Eid al Adha.     I have been in the region for the past five documenting the purchasing, handling, transport and slaughter of sacrificial animals.   All of the welfare issues aforementioned that relate to privately purchased animals increase dramatically during the Eid.   Due to the sheer scale of numbers of animals being purchased merchants and their workers inevitably brutally handle animals in their rush to complete one purchase and get to the next.  On many occasions I have seen trussed sheep thrown through the air onto trucks or utes like they were bags of wheat. The days of the Eid of course are full of severe welfare problems.   Last year, at Dubai's main abattoir the line of cars with animals in boots waiting to have animals slaughtered was two kms long and it was taking 90 minutes from the end of the line to reach the slaughter. Abattoirs work at at least 10 times their normal capacity resulting in impatient and tired workers giving little or no consideration to the the animal roughly and sometimes brutally handling them, and due to the additional pressure botched throat cuts occur regularly with animals being processed at times whilst still conscious. The issues around private slaughter are also severe since the individual slaughtering the animal may only do so once a year.    I have seen animals sacrificed in stairwells, dragged up 3 flights of stairs to be slaughtered in a toilet and of course street slaughter is common in a number of countries and especially here in Egypt.

It is very difficult to determine the percentage of the population that actively participate in purchasing their own animal for sacrifice.    Suffice to say that we know that it is still at such a scale as to present animal welfare concerns of great magnitude.

It is sad to have to recognise that the two of the major religious festivals in the world – Christmas and the Eid al Adha are the two times of peak animal suffering each year – enough for the heavens to weep at the suffering that occurs in the name of religion.    

What avenues can we possibly explore to reduce the suffering of animals during the Eid?

All countries now have a voucher system in place for people to fulfil their Eid obligations without having to purchase and slaughter a live animal.      Clearly this is a system that we need to encourage.   

Since slaughter in private premises is already illegal in many countries for health and hygiene reasons, the challenge for us is to get governments to enforce the law.   Clearly there are strong arguments to be made regarding the hygienic aspects of blood going into water courses.

Since choosing one's own animal to be slaughtered during the Eid and right throughout the year is still the desire of a % of the population  the obvious answer – is for the animal market to be situated at the slaughterhouses, appropriate raceways to be put in place to move animals to the slaughterhouse – and for regulations to be in place that all animals purchased have to be killed at the slaughterhouse.  

The greatest difficulty that we face is that from what I have witnessed the selection, purchase and slaughter of an animal is a key part of the Eid festivities.   The Dubai Livestock market is like being at a carnival.   The sense of celebration is so clearly at odds with the stress and suffering of the animals involved. 

As the Eid is a key religious festival – an obvious pathway to explore would be to  provide evidence of the mistreatment of animals to religious authorities and ask them to speak to this issue.    

The reality is though, that historically, it has taken legislation to end any human behaviour that has been deemed unacceptable, which again highlights the importance of a major focus of this conference the need for animal cruelty legislation and enforcement.

The other welfare issue which is of major concern is the increasing numbers of both local and imported cattle that are being slaughtered in the region.

The greatest cruelties I have witnessed have been inflicted on cattle through trying to restrain them for the throat cut.   Here in Egypt I have witnessed the slashing of leg tendons in Basateen abattoir, in a private slaughterhouse and also in the street during the Eid.    This has obviously been standard practice for decades since a 1961 decree stated that it was a prohibited practice.   Unfortunately this decree has not been enforced and does not have penalty provisions.

In a street in central Dubai on the morning of the Eid this steer was surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd, had its legs tied before together, being jumped on and thrown to the ground.   The eyes of the animal reveal its terror and note the knife that was about to be used – a saw.

In Jordan, this method of restraint was developed in a rural abattoir by workers terrified of wild Australian cattle.    What this animal endured over a 15 minute period was one of the worst cases of suffering I have witnessed – yet I knew there was not a hint of malice in the workers, they were seeking to deal with a situation for which they were not equipped and which they should never have had to deal with.    My anger documenting this was not directed towards the workers but towards my countries live export industry.

Thankfully what this animal endured was not in vain and as a result of HRH's intervention no further cattle are being subjected to this terrible treatment.

There was a time when I thought that the news of a cattle restraint device being installed represented the solution.   Having now witnessed these in operation I know that we are just talking about different levels of unacceptable suffering.

In the Greater Amman abattoir I observed a cattle restraint device installed by Australia's live export industry in operation.   The device was designed to capture the feet of the animal in a standing position and then tip it on its side for the throat cut.    The nature of this device meant that it caused the restrained animal significant stress and a clean cut of the throat was impossible resulting in elongated death.  

Whilst other rotating restraint devices that close in on the side of the animal in some slaughterhouses in the middle East might restrain the animal more effectively – the still cause cattle fear and significant stress by inverting them and of course they are fully conscious of their throats being cut.      The simple reality is that due to the size and strength of cattle there is no remotely humane way to slaughter them without rendering them unconscious first.

I am therefore very pleased to be able to convey that in the Greater Amman Abattoir new equipment has been installed.

Both cattle and sheep are now being stunned prior to slaughter – sheep electrically – which had been standard practice for some years at the abattoir – and cattle are percussion stunned.    As both methods of stunning render the animal unconscious rather than killing it, they have been deemed to comply with Islamic principals as they effectively reduce the suffering of animals during the slaughter process.     

Importantly, the new raceways, equipment and methods have been embraced by workers at the abattoir who have benefited from a safer working environment.

The progress in Jordan whilst still a work in motion, does provide reason to believe that change is achievable.   Nearly all of the handling and slaughter that I have witnessed throughout the Middle East has been contrary to Islamic principals and therefore we have an indisputable argument that change is needed. 

The case for stunning being introduced into the Middle East is a compelling one.  The vast majority of halal chilled meat imported and consumed in the region has been stunned as part of the slaughter process.    There is no Islamic Quranic or Hadith prohibition of stunning.   An animal is not required to be conscious when it is slaughtered. In fact – it could be argued that rendering an animal insensible prior to the throat cut so that it cannot feel pain and fear is in fact the only way that allows animals to treated mercifully and kindly in accordance with Islamic principals -  yet we all recognise that it is an issue that can evokes strong sentiments, and therefore one that needs to be forwarded sensitively and strategically.    

But what of the treatment of livestock prior to slaughter.

I know that we would all agree that for animal welfare to become an issue of significance for the community it first needs to become a priority for governments and religious authorities.   Hand in hand, legislation and religious guidance could create change very quickly.

All of the countries are signatories to the OIE yet rarely have OIE guidelines been introduced into legislation and where they have, they are not being enforced.   Clearly this presents an issue for the OIE itself which it needs to as a priority address– in that until obligations to the OIE are taken seriously by signatory governments it will remain ineffectual in influencing change.     

The OIE guidelines were deliberately written in a way that they would be achieveable standards for all countries.    If regulated and enforced the worst cruelties both in transportation and in handling prior to slaughter would be prevented.

From our perspective the fact that countries are signatories still provides us with a strong political lobbying angle for the guidelines to be introduced into legislation.    

When it comes to lobbying we should not take for granted that governments or religious authorities know what occurs in their abattoirs, livestock markets or in private premises.     My experience has taught me the value of documenting and providing evidence, as evidence is indisputable and provides opportunities  - whether it be through political lobbying, public awareness or the media.

Evidence documented in Bahrain at the government feedlot for sheep being thrown into boots and trucks forced the Bahraini government to introduce a ban on the transportation of sheep in inappropriate vehicles.  Fear of where my colleague and I were going to turn up with our camera this past Eid forced the Al Mawashi livestock company in Qatar to also stop the transportation of sheep in boots.  In Jordan footage of the terrible beating and slaughter of one white bull changed one very important life – and started the progress that is now underway in Jordan.     But there is no better example of the power of evidence that this photo -      which on it s own caused the Australian government to ban the export of sheep to Egypt on animal welfare grounds.  

The challenge that lies before us is to form the strategy that will create much needed change.    To this end, for those advocates passionate about this issue, the PAF would like to offer to lead a working group and host a meeting in Jordan in the 2nd half of this year.   


This is an enormously challenging area to create change – but I do believe in our capacity to create it.

I am not one who believes that the solution for animals is found in promoting rights – more that it will come through identifying and addressing human wrongs.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting on a flight from Melbourne to Dubai and I  decided to watch a movie.    The movie that came on the screen was called Amazing Grace.    It was the story of a great man British politician William Wilburforce and his fight to end the slave trade – that terrible shipboard trade of living beings between nations that caused such terrible suffering.

I listened to the excuses that the British put forward in defence of their trade – the profits for Britain, if they didn't do it the French would – and that the slaves weren't like us and therefore why should be consider their interests and provide them with kind treatment.

As I sat there I realised that some 200 years later these are the excuses being put forward for the continuation of the live export trade.

I have not a single doubt that the live export trade will be condemned by history in the very same way that all nations now condemn the slave trade.    Similarly that a day will come when people will look back and wonder how we could have shoved animals into car boots or imprisoned them in factory farms or made them perform in circuses.

What shone through life, the struggle and the extraordinary achievements of William Wilburforce is that the voice calling for an end to cruelty must never waver, it must never become disheartened, it must always keep revealing the truth – as even when a small group of people unite with pure motive – they can end even the greatest of injustices.

 In the Middle East you can mount an argument for change that I truly wish I had in Australia – you have the religion of mercy and all of its principals to underpin your arguments that change is needed.

Rarely during my investigations in the region did I witness gratuitious cruelty.   It was mainly people doing what they deemed practical and had become conditioned to believe is acceptable.

Which is why I would like to conclude this presentation with the very relevant and insightful words of Nobel peace prize winner Dr Albert Sweitzer who was a passionate animal advocate– words and wisdom that transcend countries, cultures and religions.   

 "Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty, therefore, are not so much strong as widespread.

But the time will come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought.

"Let us work that this time may come."