Should we ban live sheep exports?

In 1986 I was an active member of Animal Liberation. Due to some quirk of regulations, the Government issued us with special passes that allowed us to enter and inspect without notification any place where animals were kept for commercial purposes. At the time, live sheep export was a key animal rights issue in WA. So we made a point to visit the various places involved in this trade: sale-yards, holding facilities, ships, and the abattoir (for those that weren’t exported). We were granted access to all these places except the ship, and we had quite extensive and frank conversations with the workers on site.

What is it like for the sheep?

The entire process is one of great suffering. From their mostly-adequate sheeply existence on a farm, they are herded on the trucks in crowded conditions, driven over noisy and confusing roads to a saleyard, where they are repeatedly moved and shuffled around, prodded by powerful electric prods. Then back on to more trucks, into unfamiliar fields, then on trucks again to the shipyards. More herding and prodding, then weeks on a crowded, unfamiliar ship, with the smells of oil, metal, and sea. Then to port, through the whole procedure a few more times, only to end up in a killing field having their throat cut. It is a barbarous and cruel business.

There are those who will argue that we should not anthropomorphize the sheep. They like being crowded together. We can’t just assume that they would feel as we would feel.

But this is what I saw at the sale-yards on the outskirts of Perth. At the back, out of public eye, behind the sheds, is a pile of dying sheep. Most are not dead yet; they kick, bleat, and quiver from time to time. They are there every day that sales are on. And every day someone from the RSPCA, whose job is to minimize animal suffering, kills them and removes their carcases.

Why are they there? According to the workers we spoke to, these are animals who were too feeble to survive the truck journey. They are old, or weak, or ill. They said that the farmers should really have killed them themselves, but it is cheaper and easier to put them on a truck, so that they are someone else’s problem. And who knows, maybe some will survive and actually fetch a price.

This is, let us remember, just the first stage of the journey. At each stage, there are similar stresses and sufferings for the animals, and at each stage some animals simply cannot stand it and collapse or die. Imagine if, whenever you caught a train, the conditions were so bad that a dozen or more elderly and unwell people died of stress, and this was considered a normal part of train travel. That is comparable to the situation for sheep in the live export trade.

In consequence of this grievous and gratuitous suffering, the live sheep export trade, among the countless atrocities perpetrated on animals by we civilized humans, has consistently been singled out by animal rights activists as particularly heinous.

What has changed?

In the last year or so, as Australian readers will be aware, this has become a hot-button political issue in Australia. A number of high-profile reports on the ABC (the national broadcaster) have depicted the gruesome conditions which the sheep are subjected to in Indonesia and the Middle East. This has sparked an astonishing public response, temporary bans, and new conditions imposed on our trading partners.

To an old animal rights activist like myself, this is all very curious. We have been saying these things for decades, and no-one was interested. Why now? What has changed?

I can only think of one thing that has changed, and that must be at the root of the public’s emotional response: Islamophobia. The ostensible purpose of the trade is, of course, so that the sheep can be slaughtered halal. It is a religious thing, and if one thing has changed in Australian, and more generally Western society, in recent years, it is a growing distrust and dislike of all things Islam. This is why the scenes of mistreatment of sheep in foreign, dusty countries of dark-skinned people cause such outrage, while no-one knows or cares about the dying sheep that are daily tossed on to the pile at the back of a shed in Perth.

This makes the whole issue much more ambiguous. If the trade is such a source of suffering, then is it not justified to leverage the public’s Islamophobia to create a better outcome for the animals? Dubious at best; hypocritical, manipulative, and dangerous at worst.

The best of bad choices

For me the renewed interest in the issue has had one benefit, though. I have thought more carefully about the ethical issues, and I am no longer convinced that we should ban the live sheep export. In fact, strange as it may seem, I think it may well be ethically the best practical outcome for the sheep’s welfare.

I arrived at this counter-intuitive conclusion by simply applying the Golden Rule: do unto others. Consider the options, and ask yourself which you would prefer.

On the one hand, you have the option of being sold for the live export trade, with all its inherent suffering.

On the other hand, you could be slaughtered locally. Doing so you miss out on all the weeks of suffering. But, and here is the crux of the matter, your life would be cut short by several weeks. Sure, several weeks of cruel, suffering, undignified, pointless life; but life nonetheless.

And at the core of all our ethical intuitions is one simple fact: beings love life. They will cling to it even in the most adverse of circumstances. We can all imagine cases where we would prefer death to life. But they are extreme circumstances indeed, and I pray that none of you have to make such a choice.

What would you do if faced with such a choice? Several weeks of uncomfortable, cruel travel towards an inevitable death, or an immediate death? I suspect most of us would choose the longer, more painful journey. Perhaps some would choose to end life quickly. But in either case, there is no clear-cut case that one alternative or the other is really better.

If we are so unsure about our ethical choices for ourselves, how much more uncertain we are in evaluating the sheep’s welfare. We can say, with high confidence, that the sheep suffer on their journey. But can we say that they are worse off than if they had been killed here in Australia? I don’t think so. Perhaps, in truth, we prefer the idea of a quicker kill so that we don’t have to witness their suffering.

Neither option is good. Neither would obtain if we lived in a world that truly valued the happiness and welfare of all sentient beings. But of the two, it seems to me that the extra weeks of life are likely to be of more value for the sheep than the avoidance of the suffering encountered in these weeks.

What, then, are we to do?

Regardless of what one might think of this, however, the main point is this: there is no clear case that one alternative or the other is significantly better for the sheep.

For this reason, I think that we should not waste our efforts trying to have the trade banned. There are plenty of clear, unambiguous ethical issues where our energies are better directed.

None of this is in any way a justification for the trade. I am not saying it is right or good. On the contrary, I believe, as I have for all my adult years, that all commercial use of animals is wrong. In an ideal world, it would be illegal to use another sentient being as a commercial product, full stop. Animals are, like people, ends in themselves, and should not be reduced to merely a means for profit or pleasure.

But this ideal world is a long way from our world. Ethics must, if they are to be anything, be practical. And the practical options in this case are to ban the export, or regulate it to minimize suffering. The latter seems to be the approach taken by the Australian Government so far, and on balance, I think it’s the right thing to do.

50 thoughts on “Should we ban live sheep exports?

  1. A few years ago I was I suppose a senior executive in WA for Australia’s largest agricultural company… One of the main reasons I left is that I believed that my personal gain from trading in livestock and the chemicals conflicted with what I was trying to achieve with my spiritual beliefs and aspirations.

    I can say without a doubt that my colleagues treated and viewed livestock with the utmost respect beyond just the commercial value of these animals and coming from a farming background I know that the majority of farmers do to.

    At the heart of the animals suffering is our desire for meat ! Farmers the livestock trade and everyone else are focused on meeting that demand. If humanity as a whole were prepared to reduce their consumption of red meat and or prepared to pay more for ethically treated produce our fellow beings would have a much easier and if I can say it humane life.

    Ajahn I think you are drawing a long bow putting Australians opposition to live sheep exports down to ethnicity and religion and while there is certainly a proportion of opposition based on this, I think the real reason is that we as a society are evolving and are much better informed than we ever were , social media and the Internet had seen to that. I would also ask that you consider the expotential growth of organic food over the last 10 years … We think more about what we eat than we ever did and that extends to the beings that we consume.

    The farming and transport of livestock will always result in casualties that is certain. The issue is the humane and ethical treatment of animals and the non toleration of ill treatment of animals. I would only support live exports on the basis that what we have now doesn’t work and needs to be fixed and we need some form of treaty with importing countries as to the humane and ethical treatment of animals.

    As to the argument of extra weeks of life.. I am reminded of a quote by paramahansa yogananda… If you are sick one day then it is like you have never been healthy… So it is with these poor animals there extra life is nothing but torture and misery much better a quick death than weeks of torture.

    • Thanks, Bill, for the comments.

      Do you really think it’s such a long bow, though? The things I saw in Australia were worse than anything I have seen on the ABC reports (although I have not seen the full reports, only bits and pieces). But frankly I can’t imagine anything words than that pile of dying sheep. So why the outrage? What else, if not racism, explains why we ignore one and make a national outcry over the other?

    • We have to distinguish between moral outrage and racism in this case. Australians are morally outraged at the brutality shown in the media and not because of religion per se. Just tonight ABC TV on 7.30 Report showed Australian cattle being subjected to horrific physical abuse at an Israeli abattoir. Would we call Australians anti-Semitic?

      That abattoir is approved under the new export welfare regulations brought in last year in response to a ABC Four Corners report on Australian cattle being brutalized in Indonesia. The frequency of reports of non-compliance with these new welfare requirements point strongly to the difficulty in monitoring and compliance in foreign countries where we have no jurisdiction. Faced with these continuing problems the logical decision would be to ban live exports.

    • Thanks, Albert, i wasn’t aware of that new program. That’s a very good point: if we are to use a pragmatic rather than idealistic approach to this difficult problem, we have to bear in mind that requiring compliance for regulations is by no means an easy matter, especially overseas. On the other hand, perhaps this could be a good thing, if it became a means to create more humane standards internationally.

      Would we call Australians anti-Semitic?

      I don’t know: what has been the response to this? As the issue broadens, perhaps we will see a more nuanced understanding of the issue. The real test, of course, is what people do when they see horrific abuse happening in Australia. And as I said, activists have been pointing these things out and trying to gain attention to them for years, with little response.

      I realize that using the racism word is a trigger. No one likes to think of themselves or their nation as racist. I should have been more careful to explain what I meant, and will try to do a longer post on that very topic soon.

    • Alberts comments are very pertinent , but i simply believe its a human thing… its easier to see whats wrong with your neighbours yard , children etc than it is your own.

  2. Hmm – I think I would choose to skip those extra weeks of stress, discomfort and fear! (That’s the decision we usually make on behalf of a dog or other beloved animal that I suffering when there is no hope of improvement, isn’t it?)

    • It is, but what would you decide for yourself? Remember, while the experience is without doubt one of suffering, it is, for the most part, not the kind of intense suffering associated with, say, a terminal illness. It’s mostly discomfort and confusion, with isolated experiences of more intense fear or pain.

    • I think I would choose the earlier death for myself . It’s something I think about with reference to my mother’s slow decline with Alzheimer’s – ‘mostly discomfort and confusion, with isolated experiences of more intense fear or pain’. I try to discover whether I am the one who is suffering, watching this happen, or whether she is suffering. I think she has suffered/ is suffering very much, and cannot derive any benefit from her suffering, as we might hope to when our brains are still working. I have wondered whether I would pull the plug on myself if I got Alzheimer’s, tending to the answer ‘yes’, and I’m applying that to the sheep!

    • Thank you for your compassionate reply on the vitakka thread!

      I don’t think all beings love life, they are blindly programmed to strive in it (ignorance) and instinctively fear the end of it.

      The young Gotama did not love life, otherwise we would not have the Buddha. He wanted to know the solution to and cause of the orignation of this whole mass of suffering.

      You could be mistaken if your argument is based on kamma. Some buddhist might think the sheep better go trough (the journey to be slaughtered) this sooner than later. Otherwise they will experience the fruitation of this in another life. This is wrong because we don’t know what and how much there is to fruitate. It could possibly be that the kammic result of life as a sheep in horrible conditions has completely ended when it is killed quickly.

      However speculating about the fruitation of kamma is very dangerous and even impossible (when we are still unenlightened).

      Since we are not sheep living in those conditions and don’t know their minds it would be better not to choose between two deeply evil ways that will end their lives.

      As a compassionate human being and a buddhist i just say no to cruelty against living beings in every form.

      May all beings be happy!

    • Gotamist,

      Your point about kammic results makes sense, but what about the kammic formations of those who participate in unnecessary cruelty toward other beings? Would the Buddha have said that Angulimala was just an innocent agent of his victims’ kammic results, or would he have said that Angulimala (like the rest of us) are the heirs of the results of our actions?

      On the Buddha’s view of life, he did love life, though to understand his love for living beings might require us to rethink his view of love, which clearly was not the same as what passes for love in a worldly sense.

    • Ratanadhammo: Your point about kammic results makes sense, but what about the kammic formations of those who participate in unnecessary cruelty toward other beings? Would the Buddha have said that Angulimala was just an innocent agent of his victims’ kammic results, or would he have said that Angulimala (like the rest of us) are the heirs of the results of our actions?

      Gotamist: Angulimala had nothing to with the kammic fate of those being murdered by his hands but everything to do with actually doing the killing. So no, Angulimala is not a passive innocent agent of fruitating kamma but a brutal killer. His deeds and character were not formated by his victim’s kamma, they just magnetically linked together.

      Ratanadhammo: On the Buddha’s view of life, he did love life, though to understand his love for living beings might require us to rethink his view of love, which clearly was not the same as what passes for love in a worldly sense.

      Gotamist: He loved living beings (their feelings etc…) He did not love birth aging and death. So he had sympathy for the participants not for the system which is life.

    • Gotamist: So no, Angulimala is not a passive innocent agent of fruitating kamma but a brutal killer. His deeds and character were not formated by his victim’s kamma, they just magnetically linked together.

      Ratanadhammo: Your earlier point seemed to ignore the responsibility of those who create unnecessarily cruel conditions for the sheep, and create their own kamma.

      On the Buddha loving life, your earlier point would seem to suggest that he encouraged arahants to end theirs upon achieving the goal. He didn’t. He continued to live for decades after becoming the Buddha. See DN 23 for an argument about remaining alive until its natural end.

    • Ratanadhammo: Your earlier point seemed to ignore the responsibility of those who create unnecessarily cruel conditions for the sheep, and create their own kamma.

      Gotamist: No i didn’t ignore it, it just wasn’t the issue.

      Ratanadhammo: On the Buddha loving life, your earlier point would seem to suggest that he encouraged arahants to end theirs upon achieving the goal. He didn’t. He continued to live for decades after becoming the Buddha. See DN 23 for an argument about remaining alive until its natural end.

      Gotamist: That would mean a craving for annihilation. An arahant does not crave existence nor non-existence. So why would they have to end their life? I said the young Gotama didn’t love life/existence. If he did he would not have searched for something beyond it (birth, aging, sickness and death).

  3. Phew. This is all very well, but I think we stand a better chance of benefitting sheep if we fOcus on how we can be kind to sheep, rather than speculate on sheep’s kamma and all that.

    • This was exactly my point. It’s not just about whether the sheep have kammic results to work out, but about whether the human beings who are doing the harm should be thinking about their own kammic formations. Glad you agree!

  4. After reading the comments this morning the thought struck me that “Whats so different between human life and the life of a sheep” ? Our lives are not in our control even though we like to think differently, we are all headed to the same destination – death! and invariably our lives end with great suffering! We are most likely less fortunate than the sheep because our level of consciousness makes us more aware of “our lot”

    Well over half of humanity lives in desperate conditions are our lives that different?

    • You are right! Buddhism for intelligent thinkers does not disagree. I became a buddhist because of the animal value about 16 years ago.

    • “Whats so different between human life and the life of a sheep” ? Our lives are not in our control even though we like to think differently, we are all headed to the same destination – death! and invariably our lives end with great suffering! We are most likely less fortunate than the sheep because our level of consciousness makes us more aware of “our lot.”

      While all living beings are headed towards death there are many differences notably humans have much more freedom than farmed animals who are unable to escape from their human controllers and hence have to endure whatever comes. Humans can speak out but who listens to an animal’s call for help at the killing floor?

      We don’t have their teeth and beaks clipped, tails docked, castrated or dehorned all without anaesthesia. Neither do we have to endure confinement in cages, sow stalls, farrowing crates, transported long distances in trucks and ships or being slaughtered for our bodies to be cooked and eaten while we are still in the prime of life.

      In our society we allow people to die with dignity and privacy. Hospitals and nursing homes take care of the old, sick and dying. I have yet to see a farmed animal bred to feed humans being allowed to die with dignity. Slaughter houses are manned by low-paid workers who take short cuts that inevitably result in more pain and suffering for their victims. Sadly that’s the ugly truth but that should not mean that we do nothing to improve the treatment of our fellow sentient beings.

    • Albert what you sayid pretty true for us in Australia or any other developed nation but even in rich countries the life of the poor and underprivileged is much different to what you describe. Think of the untouchables in India, most women in Islamic countries , the teeming millions of rural poor in china and the Billions of people in the world who live in abject poverty… How different is their life to that of a sheep ????

    • Its not like that in some societies/countries, some old dont die with dignity…
      some young dont live in grace…some place, people still squat on streets to do their business…and have no water, food or shelter. Let all those who have adequate do our parts by minimal consumption of all things, food & all…..

  5. i like sheep, they look cuddly (tho i hvnt cuddled any yet). they give wool tht keep ppl warm when cold especially during winter. n no its not nice to kill nor slaughter them for our food coz there’s alot of other food tht is plenty without having to kill. but i think gradual and moderation in all aspects is preferable… ehmmm… the middle path? _/\_

  6. Thanks so much everyone for all your thoughtful comments. Another comment came through from Andrea on Facebook, where this article was reposted. It raises some interesting points, so I will add it here and respond below:

    “I”d much rather die sooner than go through that. I still believe we should ban live sheep and cattle exports. I think there are many situations where death is preferable to suffering but that’s not my argument against your position. If one holds your view that would also suggest that you are against euthenasia for our pets when they are old and suffering. Is that your view also? Strangely i am more inclined towards letting animals die of old age from natural causes than the sheep decision. I think with the banning of live sheep exports, there is no guarantee that the animals would die sooner because there is no guarantee that that meat market still exists. So even from that angle, its possible that one might prevent suffering and even death itself. The market might be smaller but that’s an economic problem not an ethical problem. The last point is my main argument against your latest position. Otherwise i am just against the live animal trade. Its unnecessary suffering.”

    Re euthanisia for pets, which was raised in an earlier comment also, I would make a couple of points. First is that the fact that we think it is right to euthanize suffering pets does not mean that it is right. Perhaps what it implies, rather, is that we are used to doing it that way, so it makes it easier to accept.

    More important, however, is that this raises yet another “slippery slope” ethical question, which has no absolute right or wrong answers. Let us agree that it is the right and compassionate thing to euthanize pets in some cases of extreme, hopeless suffering. Let us also agree that it is wrong to simply kill a healthy animal just because its convenient. Where, then, is the boundary line? Obviously, there is no clear cut line, it is simply one of those things that, at each time, we have to decide as best we can.

    The first case, that of extreme, hopeless suffering, is what I saw in the sheep in the pile behind the shed. In that case I have no hesitation in saying that the actions of the RSPCA in killing the sheep were right and compassionate.

    But this is not what I saw in the sheep yards, the holding lots, the trucks, and the ships. I saw discomfort and unpleasantness, but mostly not extreme suffering. We have thousands of examples of what humans do in such circumstances: concentration camps, some prisons, some refugee camps, and the like. These conditions seem to me to be pretty comparable to what the sheep experience, and we know what almost every human does in those conditions: hang on to dear life.

    Imagine there was a concentration camp, with crowded, unhealthy conditions, dirty, brutal, with little food, and rampant disease. And in three weeks time, all the inhabitants of that camp were scheduled for mass slaughter. But we have the chance to simply kill them all, now. Is that better? Would we take it on ourselves to make that choice for others?

    Regarding your other point about possible market changes, this is a valid point, which a more detailed consideration would have to take into account. I had assumed that the market would remain pretty much the same, just that the halal slaughter would happen in Australia, not overseas.

    • Ajahn..

      I think we are all in a terrible place! regardless of whether we are human or a sheep. I think of those stories of plane crashes and shipwrecks where the survivors cannibalise each other to survive! Or the stories of the doomed flight or voyage where there will be no survivors! Thats us we are stuck on this planet with an desperate desire to live, and to do so we have to eat other beings, animal and plants and no matter what, in the end we will all die and our planet the ship we are traveling on is doomed as well……along the way there is plenty of suffering…. in many ways our existence is a horror story!

      Obviously the buddha clearly saw this and asked the question how the hell to i get away from this continuous macabre existence.

      I suppose the point I am trying to make is that the planet is actually structured for suffering where all beings are pretty much forced to consume each other to survive … death is built into the ecology of life on this planet through predation, illness,disease and ageing which in the end along with the awareness of our predicament(for us humans)…. produces much suffering….

      The question I pose as I write this …. Is it like this so that we can transcend what we are presented with? or is existence just like this… personally I think its the former for to be anything else would make in senseless and I cant accept a universe built on senseless suffering.

      So are the issues that we have discussed with respect to sheep and our treatment of animals generally, presented to us as opportunities to recognise suffering and rise above and transcend it or are they just there because thats the way its is because we live in a brutal place of senseless suffering. If its the former then suffering is a necessary part of growth and evolution and to avoid it is an error, if its the later then euthanasia in all its forms is a wise move.

      hope i am making sense :)

    • I think we need to be very wary about thinking of suffering as something that has a purpose (beyond the obvious evolutionary benefits). It just is, and we have to respond to it. It has no meaning in and of itself, it is simply that the world is conditioned, and conditions are like this. We find meaning in our response to suffering. As long as we persist in samsara we cannot escape suffering completely, nor can we completely remove anyone else’s suffering. But if we can alleviate some of the more severe forms of suffering, is that not a first step towards a meaningful response?

    • Hi Bhante, thanks for your response. I’ll just respond to the part about the concentration camp. This is the second attempt so my answer is going to be briefer.

      The main difference between the sheep issue and the prisoner of war/concentration camp detainees is that imminent death is certain for the sheep. The latter usually have a good chance of survival. But you scenario has it that all of them will certainly die and we all know that. If they are also going to be subject to a cruel death – as is the case with the sheep, then i think most people would prefer to be humanely killed earlier in order to avoid that added suffering.

      But if we just take prisoners of war/concentration camp detainees in the usual scenario where we don’t know if all will killed, or even if any – which is usual way – then the comparison is a bad one. They suggestion you’ve made is a hypothetical that does not reflect our history because in history no one knew what would happen to those people and there was reasonable hope that people would survive.

    • Hi Andrea,

      Yes, that’s true in the case of an ordinary concentration camp. But I was thinking of a true death camp, where everyone was going to be killed, and they knew it.

  7. Wilc88 and Jacquie, I thought that what I left unwritten would be pretty obvious so here it is. A farmed animal from birth to death is controlled by humans. At every stage of its life humans control its movements, food and even sleep. It has no free choice whereas a person living in grinding poverty is still able to move about. A sow in a sow stall cannot turn around because it’s that incredibly confining. Egg laying chickens kept in cages have the space of an A4 sheet of paper and that’s legal in Australia.

    Comparing the human condition with the animal condition without mentioning the latter did not have the choice in the first place is misleading and moot. As the latter is human created it is certainly within our ability to do something about it.

    • A lot of suffering people are also created by our greed…same with the poor sheep, chicken etc…
      Greed for excess food, material things, this and that…..
      More for us, less for others….the world is not in balance…
      But who am I to change the world,
      I can hardly change myself…
      Many of us could do with less weight, less cars, less many things, myself included…
      Its greed that makes me eat extra piece of cake I dont need, if 1,000,000,0000 eats extra piece of cake, then the earth is out of balance by consumption…
      That is what I mean, we must do our best to eleviate the suffering of all beings, including sheep, by minimal consumption…and free the humans, chicken, sheep etc to graze on the grass and roam in the field in peace, without fear….

  8. Great to see you back in such fine form Bhante, once more provoking thought with unconventional perspectives on significant issues…

    Your description of the experience of sheep in transportation reminds me of recent experiences of my own in planes (in cattle class, ahem) and buses on bumpy Thai roads… although a more accurate comparison would probably be a description of the experiences of prisoners of war being transported across Germany to Dresden that I read recently in Kurt Vonnegut’s wonderful book Slaughterhouse 5. Would I want to endure such experiences if the endpoint was certain to be death shortly upon arrival? I tend to agree with you – I think I’d choose life even under such extreme conditions.

    But another way to argue from your premises is to say that even if a fair bit of islamophobia (or xenophobia generally) lies beneath public outrage about the treatment of cattle for export, this doesn’t mean that there is no compassion mixed with the outrage. Insofar as the media coverage has provoked compassion and not just prejudice and anger, we might be optimistic that this could be extended to the local cases you describe. You say that ethical strategies must be practical, but I think sometimes they also need to be visionary. Even ‘practical’ ethics can involve imagining a better world than the one we already have – surely the old Animal Liberationist in you must agree with that? Rather than abandoning the fight, we could broaden it to include the Australian cases.

    Your remarks suggest that ethical action needs to be well-motivated, that is not driven by anger or prejudice. I agree with that point, too, although it is controversial – a lot of people think anger is necessary as a motive for change. I tend to think that anger can be useful in showing us where change is needed – that is where WE need to change (as opposed to where the objects of our anger need to change). If so many Australians are angry about the way foreigners treat animals, I’d see this as a clear sign that at some level we know we need to change in our attitudes toward the treatment of animals in this country. But this isn’t to say that we should be getting angry with ourselves instead of with others, although we might let ourselves feel sad about what is happening here (as well as elsewhere). Anger in itself can’t guide ethical change – for that compassion and clear understanding are essential.

    • Hi Juzzeau, thanks for the remarks, thoughtful as always.

      The “racism”, or better, as you say, “xenophobia”, is probably the most difficult ethical aspect of the whole situation. I did not mean to imply that there was no compassion in the objections to live sheep export, on the contrary, there is clearly a strong ethical and compassionate basis to it.

      What’s interesting, though, is how irrational our ethical impulses are. We are outraged cruelty to cats–remember the “cat in a bin” lady from a year years ago?–because they’re cute and we love them, while the far greater, systematic abuses perpetrated on, say, pigs, are ignored. This is not to say that the impulse to protect kittens is wrong, merely that it is incomplete and underdeveloped. Probably this is how human ethical consciousness works: we have to start with the closest, most identifiable ethical concerns, then gradually extend them.

      If outrage over the conditions experienced by the sheep overseas can help improve conditions here, that would be fantastic. Any evidence of it actually happening?

    • Having been actively involved in animal advocacy and with first hand knowledge I would like to offer my thoughts though in no way would it be a comprehensive answer.

      The study of changing attitudes towards animal cruelty is worth a few doctorate theses because it is so wide ranging and multidimensional.

      Nowadays animal advocacy is not restricted as before to small informal groups that were labelled as “fringe” and “extremist” by farmers and stockmen. This is not to say such groups do not exist any more but Instead they have been overtaken in the last few years by well organized and privately funded organizations accepted in mainstream society. Such groups as Animals Australia are respected voices for animals and have developed credibility through meticulously documenting cruelty and then getting the media to investigate and publicize the stories.

      We all know that public relations must be involved as most people are offended by animal cruelty and the big stories get the most publicity however, a lot of work goes behind the scenes.

      To change public attitudes campaigns have to be run continuously against factory farming and drilled down to the severe confinement in sow stalls, farrowing crates and cages, the killing of day old male chicks, the slaughter of male calves as a dairy industry byproduct, the deliberate omission of anesthesia for operative procedures such as castration, dehorning, beak trimming, teeth clipping, tail docking, the use of antibiotics as prophylactic treatment against mass sickness in a closed environment plus a whole lot more animal welfare issues.

      With active campaigning the major supermarket chain Coles has decided its own branded pork products would be sow stall free from 1st January next year and their own branded eggs would be cage free also. The other major chain Woolworths is not far behind and is committed to compete with Coles. Such major changes would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

      The momentum is on the side of better animal welfare and Animals Australia recently launched a campaign to make factory farming history. Let’s hope they are successful for the welfare and benefit of animals as well as humans. Become involved. Fence sitting won’t make you Enlightened.

    • Thank you so much for this, that’s great news. I’d love to be kept up to date on developments–as it happens, I got an email from Animals Australia today.

  9. With due respect to all the opinions expressed here, unless each and everyone of us makes a firm commitment to not eating animal flesh or at least reducing our own consupmtion of meat, the lives of the sheep that are exported and 30 odd billions of others who are being killed every year are not going to get any better. I hope this discussion will lead everyone towards positive action… _/\_

    • I fully agree with you Guptila. Use our conscience to guide us and not use dogma to justify meat eating.

    • Yes, Gupta, that’s how I feel too. But so far I have not been able to persuade even my own family – only andrew has half agreed!

    • I feel the dont eat meat argument is far to simplistic a solution to a complex issue.

      Humans by evolution are meat eaters and realistically we need the protein to be healthy !!

      The other thing is that who said plants etc don’t have consciousness … They are definitely alive … Whatever you eat some level of being is going to perish.. Then we get the argument that animal life is superior to plant etc personally it’s all bunkum.

      Me I an not and never will be guilty about eating meat nor should I be .. What I should be guilty about is allowing animals to be treated in inhumane and brutal ways . I must do something about that.

    • Hi Kim, You should be glad that Andrew is atleast half convinced…..somewhere I read that by being vegetarian one avoids slaughter of 50 lives a year (don’t know how this was calculated – I didn’t do the maths!) so if this is correct Andrew is causing 25 less slaughters a year and that is something to be happy about. If only, half the population can be just half convinced….what a difference would that make to the animals!

  10. In anything, we can only said our piece and lead by example……
    I know I cant even get my husband to give up his dinner, and I have been trying for 5 plus years, I dont eat at night, dont cook his meals at night, but he’s soldiers on :)

  11. Dear Bhante,
    I am sorry for asking you here,
    Its been on my mind for the past year, and I have done a fair bit of reading and research, but am still confused.
    What are your thoughts on human evolution?
    How do we tie in with spirituality?
    I have asked my yoga teachers, and was advised that we are no accidents, that the amazing beings that we are is an act of the divine…
    I am not so sure….I could be an ape….

    http://www.becominghuman.org/

    • Hi Jacquie,

      Well, that’s a big question, could you be more specific?

      At its most general level, the basic picture of evolution as painted by contemporary biology is obviously true. At the same time, I suspect it is less that a full picture; it seems to me that consciousness plays a far more fundamental role than most materialists think. We can, in addition, meaningfully speak of the evolution of consciousness, both in terms of overall patterns of evolution (brains get bigger), and in individuals, although in that context “development of consciousness” is perhaps a better term.

    • Dear Bhante,
      Thank you for your reply. Specifically in relation to rebirth and karma…
      As homosapiens appeared only to be around for 40,000 years..before that, various human like beings….
      An increase in consciousness give rise to a new species, us?
      And possibly we evolve from here to another different species in 40,000 years? Or changed by the environment to be so?
      Just focusing on earth realms so far.
      Or is it there truly nothing in the end?
      And yes,,even if its nothing in the end, all our meditative & yogic practices sure still bring us plenty of goodness & heart felt joy in this lifetime…

    • Yes, you can’t really reconcile the process of biological evolution with the details as found in the Suttas, but the overall principles are not so different.

  12. Sorry, i meant around 170,000 yrs ago….around 40,000 to 50,000 yrs ago, we started exhibiting modern behavioural patterns, so speculated…

    • Thank you, Bhante, yes, i cant reconcile it with any of the yoga philosophy either…
      Maybe its as you put it with sufferings,
      Life just is…

  13. If you ban the live sheep trade, sheep might be killed earlier it’s true, but there will also be less sheep for farmers to breed due to less demand, less profit.

    It reminds me of the pro-meat campaign ‘If we didn’t have cows roaming in fields, you’d only get to see one in a zoo’. I’m fine with that, I don’t see elephants roaming in fields…

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