The Meat Industry Smell Test: Cape Town calls Bull


Livestock carrier causes big stink on animal agriculture. The Mother City smelt it, but who dealt it?

As Sir Paul McCartney famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” Though even if out-of-sight, Capetonians had a first hand experience of how it isn’t necessarily always out-of-smell. This week we’ve had a foul, olfactory reminder of the realities of animal farming when a ship, the Al Kuwait, carrying around 19,000 cattle made a stop at the city port resulting in a debilitating stench that polluted the CBD and surrounding areas.

While the NSPCA and other animal protection services investigate the conditions of the vessel – reportedly housing a number of dead cattle, with others living among feces and a build-up of ammonia so potent as to be wafting over the mother city and surrounding suburbs – it’s definitely not a case of whoever smelt it dealt it, and South Africans should view this as reminder of all the issues and maladies inherent in the farmed animal industry.

On Monday, Capetonians woke up to a horrid reek which became so severe that some companies let their staff go home for the day. The vessel in question had been at sea for the past eight days, en route from Brazil to Iran when it made an emergency landing at the Cape Town harbour ahead of another stop at East London harbour to take on yet more livestock. The stench on board has been said to be unimaginable, highlighting the filthy conditions, stresses, crowded confinement, exhaustion and even death imposed on animals in transit, but apart from decrying this as a symptom of  poorly executed logistics and animal care, South Africans now have yet another self-evident reason to question why we eat so much meat. 

Of course, the average consumer wouldn’t buy their steak marinated excrement. That would be absurd. Animal products bought off of supermarket shelves appear cleanly presented and appealing, packaged for maximised marketing to consumers. With that said we have no excuse to ignore the grime inherent in the process that conveyed it to our own refrigerators.

Naturally once the ship departs so will its distressing odours; but it should linger as a reminder of all of the procedures that we don’t casually see with regards to animal agriculture and how far removed the average person is from the squalid meat-grinder of farm to table.

Food purveyors in the animal sector typically try to portray their products as healthy and sustainable, placating buyers with a rosy narrative and idyllic terms such as “free-range” and “organic,” vaguely defined and often poorly enforced – when in fact the meat industry stinks top to bottom, a fact which rapidly becoming undeniable once one looks at what goes on behind closed doors, or as now, even smells it .

Coincidentally the 20th of February is the United National World Day of Social Justice, which is an acknowledgement of the need to build a more just and inclusive world, including in our food system and its many detriments. Can we extend this idea of social justice to how we treat our animals? Tell someone what you eat and you simultaneously tell them what you are.

Setting aside the myriad cruelties visited upon by animals incarcerated in agriculture, bred for slaughter, living harsh and sordid lives; we need to admit to the vast resources that go into sustaining this industry. It takes around 25 kilograms of feed and hundreds of litres of water just to produce 1 kilogram of beef, and not to mention enormous land use, with mass deforestation happening on account of having more space to grow more produce, to feed yet more animals – a trend which will continue and worsen for as long as we’re reliant on animal products. World hunger is a problem that can be solved in short order if the grains, pulses, beans and other foodstuffs that are ploughed into the animal industry would be repurposed for use by people if we were to reduce or eliminate our appetite for livestock.

Slaughterhouses are petri dishes for disease and hotspots for zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, MERS, antibiotic resistant bacteria and various other illnesses that we have today – and even more crucially – the inevitable pandemics of the future. Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, numerous cancers, high cholesterol, even Alzheimers’ and dementia have all been strongly linked to animal product consumption – particularly processed meats.  Since the 1990s, studies have shown that large-scale animal feeding operations are far more concentrated in areas with a high population of black people, indigenous people, and people of colour – producing a staggering amount of waste. Animal farms are significant polluters of adjacent air, water, and soil, and frequently put the health of communities at risk.

Animal-based foods are responsible for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while livestock production is responsible for around 32 percent of global anthropogenic methane emissions, a gas far more potent than CO2. Plant-based foods, on the other hand, have a much smaller environmental impact. It is estimated that moving to more plant-based diets could reduce agricultural emissions in high-income countries by 6 percent. In 2023 the United Nations Conference of the Parties [COP28] emphasised the importance of food system transformation for countries to reach their carbon emissions targets. Decreased animal agriculture is now on the plate as a mitigating strategy for global warming.

Shifting to more plant-based diets and food systems allows us to ease and reduce all these dire consequences.  By limiting our consumption of animal-based products, we can lessen and avoid many of the pernicious social injustices that are an essential part of industrialised animal agriculture. Plant-based diets represent a powerful opportunity to build a world that is healthier, fairer, and more sustainable.

While it can be tempting for South Africa to think that because the animals currently ailing on the Al Kuwait are not destined for our own shelves that it’s not our problem, and that the problem at hand here is merely one of inept transportation – it is in fact a blatant and pungent insight into the filth, detritus and brutality of the animal industry, and its consequences in general. 

Considering the sweeping ethical, social, environmental and healthcare impacts, and the indignity with which we treat livestock; the price that we pay is far greater than the till slip from a visit to the supermarket or butchery. All food products are not equal. If we’re seeking a just, equitable and sustainable world; then the future is plant-based.

When it comes to the animal industry we need to wake up and smell the manure: and this week in Cape Town many people have done just that.


Media Contact

ProVeg South Africa – Wikus Engelbrecht – Communications Manager:; +27 64 172 0120

About ProVeg South Africa:

ProVeg South Africa is the local branch of ProVeg International. ProVeg is an international food awareness organisation working to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives.

ProVeg works with international decision-making bodies, governments, food producers, investors, the media, and the general public to help the world transition to a society and economy that are less dependent on animal agriculture and more sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet.