Run sheep run.
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  • Middle Eastern meat distributor Al Mawashi has been cleared to leave East London with a huge shipment of live sheep.
  • The NSPCA had won a temporary interdict halting the ship due to carry it, on the argument that such live animal transportation is inherently cruel.
  • But the high court in Grahamstown now says 56,000 sheep may start their journey to slaughter, as long as the SA government keeps an eye on the welfare of the animals.
  • South African farmers will come to regret that, predicts advocacy group Humane Society International – commercially.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A huge shipment of live sheep is now cleared to depart a feedlot in the Eastern Cape, be loaded onto a waiting ship in East London, and then likely to be transported to the Middle East for slaughter.

That, says exporting company Al Mawashi, will be to the considerable economic benefit of that province, and eventually more of the country as it builds a pipeline of live animals to Kuwait and beyond.

But the farmers and meat industry that are now so enthusiastic about the prospect of a new market will come to regret it, one animal-rights advocacy group warns – and will eventually feel it in their pockets.

In June the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) obtained an interim interdict preventing Al Mawashi from loading the ship Al Messilah, leaving both the immediate shipment and the future of such deals in limbo.

However, the high court in Grahamstown has now ordered that 56,000 sheep waiting in a feedlot in Berlin, in the Eastern Cape, may be on their way. The department of agriculture, the court said, must monitor the initial transportation of the animals, and ensure that they will be treated in accordance with prescripts for the transport of animals by sea. If that is the case, their export may be cleared.

Al Mawashi welcomed the ruling with a statement referring to future procurement, and said it intends "to award further off-take agreements to expand our footprint deeper into South Africa."

In July the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO), which had until then been sceptical about large-scale live export of animals, came out in support of the Al Mawashi shipment. Opening up trade to the Middle East could significantly benefit local farmers, it said, and it was satisfied that the welfare of the sheep would be adequately safeguarded.

But lobbying and advocacy groups have warned that farmers are making a mistake that will cost them early in the end.

"We’re not insensitive to the point that the Eastern Cape desperately needs investment," Tony Gerrans, executive director of Humane Society International Africa (HSI-Africa) told Business Insider South Africa. But "we don’t understand why commercial interests, meat interests, would pursue this."

Like the NSPCA, HSI-Africa believes it is inherently, and unavoidably, inhumane to ship live animals en mass by sea, on journeys of several weeks. Eventually, says Gerrans, that is going to bite the red meat industry.

"We would like to see industry accept that public sentiment is ultimately not going to accept this trade, even if it has some short-term benefits," he said.

HSI-Africa predicts that farmers will become reliant on the live trade to the Middle East, then see it evaporate, one way or the other, be it due to regulatory constraints or because the likes of Al Mawashi find a better buying ground elsewhere in the world.

At that point it foresees a commercial crunch, with no way to deal with the sudden oversupply of meat 

Meanwhile, animal rights groups "just haven’t seen coherent argument yet" why sheep can not be slaughtered in SA, then shipped as frozen carcasses, says Gerrans.

The high court has promised the reasons for its ruling by mid-September at the latest. It is not clear whether the Al Messilah will be able to depart by then. 

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