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Airline Stops Flying Sheep To Slaughter

August 17, 1994

LONDON (AP) _ Religion and animal rights collided in the cargo holds of British Airways jets, where live sheep from Australia began their journey to ritual slaughters in Saudi Arabia.

After sensational coverage by the tabloid press, which dubbed the practice ″BAA-BARIC,″ and complaints from customers, British Airways said Wednesday it would kick the sheep off its jets.

The carrier’s No. 2 executive, Robert Ayling, defended ″an excellent record for the safe carriage of live animals,″ but said the carrier was reacting to passengers who expressed ″strong views objecting to the carriage of sheep for slaughter.″

The British Airways ban will apply only to sheep destined for slaughter, not to other animals such as lobsters that often are transported by air, an airline spokesman said.

British Airways was not alone in flying sheep destined for rituals in the Middle East, said the spokesman, who as a matter of company policy cannot be quoted by name. The sheep apparently were flown from Australia to Singapore, then taken by ship to Saudi Arabia, although the spokesman said British Airways was only responsible for the flights and had no complete itinerary for the sheep.

The airborne animals contributed little to the carrier’s bottom line, he said, and public complaints were ″obviously enough″ to push British Airways out of the business.

Several airlines contacted by The Associated Press - including the Middle Eastern carrier Emirates - said they do not carry livestock as cargo.

No one was available for comment at Saudi Arabian Airlines, according to a receptionist in London. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in London did not immediately return a reporter’s telephone message.

Animals intended for use as food are not generally shipped by air, but controversies over air transportation of other animals are not new to the industry.

Air France has come under fire for flying monkeys used in laboratories, but the carrier is staying in the business because researchers say the monkey experiments ultimately save human lives, according to London-based spokesman Bernard McCoy.

Air France flies horses, sheep and pigs out of Britain, but they are generally top-class animals destined for breeding, McCoy said.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was ″delighted″ to see British Airways cave in to public pressure, although spokeswoman Charlotte Morrissey said the group had no reason to believe the sheep were mistreated aboard the airline.

Morrissey declined to speculate whether the flight ban might lead to the sheep being put on a more grueling sea journey that takes days instead of hours.

The Saudis ″should rear their own animals,″ she suggested.

″Religious practices need to be taken into account, but we also have to take into account the suffering of the animals.″

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