We catch up with the Bahrain representative for PETA
Time Out Bahrain staff
It’s 35 degrees on the open ocean. The swell of the sea rocks the hull of the ship; the glare of the sun is scorching. Thanks to the lack of facilities, everyone’s defecating on the floor. In fact, everyone has been defecating on the floor for the past 15 days, and by now you’re waist deep in it. There’s nothing to eat, and the way to the water is blocked by the 100,000 or so others all crowding around the water dispensers, desperately trying to hydrate. The dead, of which there are many hundreds, have either been thrown into the ocean or have been left to rot on the floor of the ship.
Thanks to the Middle East’s love of meat, the above is a reality for over 6.5 million sheep that are each year retired from the Australian wool industry only to find themselves with tens of thousands of others on giant cargo vessels bound for Middle Eastern meat markets. Indeed, according to PETA, such is the love of mutton locally, 15 per cent of the sheep exported from Australia to the Middle East are bound for Bahrain. Which is 975,000 sheep – one for practically every person living here.
The exportation of sheep from Australia to the Gulf region, the most gruelling live export route in the world, has long been a focus of international outrage. Curiously enough, in the gluttonous Gulf region, almost nobody questions where the food on their plate has come from. At Time Out Bahrain, we want to know if the piece of meat on our plate came from an animal that went through hell before it was butchered. And we want to be able to send it back to the kitchen if it has. So we joined the protest in Manama last month organised by the People for the ethical Treatment of Animals and caught up with a remarkable Bahraini woman, Zain Al-Thawadi, who is spearheading the campaign to ban live exports in the region, whilst trying to make Bahrain a more compassionate and less cruel place for animals.
Bahrain PETA Representative You were protesting today against the importation of live sheep from Australia. Since Bahrain is not self-sufficient when it comes to food, what’s the alternative? All of the importing countries in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim countries also import chilled lamb and mutton, and the demand is growing. Australia’s chilled meat trade to the Middle East is already worth more than the live export trade. It will only increase if an alternative is provided to live transport. There was a previous ban on live sheep and cattle from Australia to Saudi Arabia between 1991 and 2000, during which there was a 3-fold increase in exports of chilled and frozen mutton and lamb to that market (reported in the Heilbron Report, 2000). This is clear evidence that consumers in the ME will accept meat from animals killed in Australia. The Middle East already imports chilled sheep meat equivalent to more than 3.6 million live sheep annually.
Australia has some 40 certified halal export slaughterhouses, with the slaughter of each animal overseen by Muslim officials who are licensed by importing countries, making live exports completely unnecessary. Both Australia and its importing countries have the facilities and workers to opt for more humane source of mutton. The protests were held shortly before the start of Ramadan.
Is there any significance in the timing? Ramadan and Hajj periods always witness a spike in live animal imports to the Middle East because of the festivities and ceremonies involved with these occasions. Moreover, they are also a time of self reflection, self discipline, worship and self development. So we hope that a protest such as this will raise awareness and trigger people to research the reality of live animal exports and to question whether or not they want to support an inherently cruel and indefensible industry. Millions of sheep discarded by the Australian wool industry are shipped to the Middle East for slaughter every year. They are packed onto enormous, multi-tiered ships where severe overcrowding causes many to be trampled to death or to starve when they cannot reach food and water troughs. Treated as mere cargo, sick or injured sheep may be thrown overboard to drown or be eaten by sharks or tossed alive into shipboard grinders. Would anyone want those who survive the grueling weeks- or months-long voyage in filthy, disease-ridden conditions then to go on your plate for dinner?
Many of the protesters today were from outside of Bahrain. Why weren’t more Bahrainis and Bahrain residents at the protest? It is very hard for me to admit that we Bahraini’s and the Khaleeji’s (GCC citizens) have lost touch with our original culture, which was fundamentally close to nature and animals. History illustrates Arabs sleeping side by side with their Sloogi hounds nestled under their Bisht (long protective garment) in cold winter nights in the desert, sitting in their tents or majlis with Falcons on their arms, and kissing their camels good night. An Arab never quenched his thirst after a long desert journey before his camels had had enough to drink. A very famous Arabic proverb says: ‘The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears’. This is true Arabic culture and I hope that these sentiments can be revived.
What can people living in Bahrain do to ensure they are not supporting the trade in live animals? Contact the local government officials and urge them to ban cruel live-animal imports from Australia. At a minimum, do not buy live sheep from Australia, as these animals have endured the longest journeys. Only purchase animals from facilities where you can ensure the animals have been reared and transported humanely. Ultimately, know where your food is coming from. I cannot stress how important it is to know what you are eating and putting on the table for your family. Clinical tests have even shown that stressed meat releases toxins that could be hazardous to your health; so opting for a more human source of food will even be better for your health. Remember, you are what you eat.
Bahrain is not widely known for its passionate advocacy of animal rights. Are things improving? I have witnessed an ever so slight change in the new generation. But not close to the advocacy one would hope for. Nevertheless, we carry on trying to raise awareness and set an example to encourage people to appreciate the beauty of God’s creatures on earth; you do not need to be an activist to enjoy this. There are proven long lasting benefits of educating people and youngsters on having a healthy bond with pets and the humane treatment of animals. These include better communication skills, psychological contentment, and a recent study in the UK has even shown a potential reduction in crime rate! One of my favorite quotes is, ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’. Mahatma Gandhi said that.
Other than the live imports of animals, what are some of the other common animal rights abuses that occur in this region? I have personally worked on issues such as abandonment, mistreatment, dog fighting, and illegal animal trade. All of which had to be solved by volunteers and concerned animal lovers and not by law enforcement officials. The main step is to formally call for the enforcement of the rules and regulations of animal treatment in the country so that law enforcement officers can be trained on how to deal with such cases rather than brushing them to the side. By Bahraini law, the decapitation and/or abuse of a dog is fined BD20. If I had BD1 for every dog I found tortured and dead, I could make a decent living. Dog fighting is officially illegal in Bahrain, I personally know of seven farms that breed, sell, and host pit bull fighting tournaments. The condition of these poor dogs is an absolute shame on the country, and I am sure that any government would want to abolish such savage customs that have no place in a civilized society.
How did you get involved with PETA? I have been helping animals whenever it is in my power to do so all my life. But decided to join PETA in order to give the organization more presence in the region, and ultimately to support any campaigns in Bahrain. I am a registered member and activist. Every member specifies the scope of work he/she can offer to the organization depending on capabilities, time constraints, and location. I usually do on a lot of paperwork such as gathering information, advising, phone calls, press communication and translation work. But sometimes, such as with this campaign, I have had the occasion to join a protest and do some ground work. For more information and to view investigation footage of Australia’s live transport industry, head to www.savethesheep.com. More info at www.petaasiapacific.org
Live exports in number (statistics supplied by PETA)
6.5 The number, in millions, of sheep transported live from Australia to the Middle East
10 The percentage, of sheep that die during the journey, which can last up to a month
14,500 The average number of sheep that die from heat stress during the arduous journey each year
100,000 The number of sheep some of the larger vessels can pack in
800,000 The number of sheep transported live from the UK to the Middle East each year, demonstrating that the trade is also big in Europe
975,000 Number of sheep imported into Bahrain from Australia each year, a figure equal to the population