How on earth has this happened? I understand that at a meeting of the EU council of agricultural ministers in Luxembourg today, you plan to support new proposals that do not include a limit on the overall journey time for slaughter animals.

You have made it clear that you are opposed to such a limit and that you will use Britain's vote to support these hopeless new proposals, which are in fact only minute adjustments to the pitiful regulations designed to protect animals during transport.

Under the present rules, every 22 hours animals are supposed to be fed, and every 15 hours given some water. There is no limit to the time they can be left on lorries. Even if they were enforced, these laws would result in - and I quote from the European Commission itself - 'very poor welfare and often in high mortality'. But it admits that they are flouted systematically, resulting in sickening misery for animals.

And as for prosecuting the offenders . . . what about the Birmingham abattoir which has in the past year received 500 animals dead or 'recumbent' - too ill to stand? Some came from Spain and Poland, but most were travelling within the UK. Has there been one prosecution? No, not one. Why, Mrs Shephard? Why did you tell me at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food headquarters that you hated cruelty to animals and wanted the support of the British people so that you could take our message of humane compassion to the EU negotiating table? Compassion in World Farming produced sacks of postcards, over 50,000 written by people deploring this dreadful trade. Isn't that support?

And what about our own meat trade: slaughterhouses here are being closed down or are only half-filled as animals are sent abroad. How about introducing mobile slaughterhouses and the chilled carcass trade - wouldn't that help farmers in remote areas, and provide jobs for long distance drivers, who, unskilled in animal husbandry, drive terrified animals for up to 40 hours, never feeding or watering them once?

The Dean and Chapter of Canterbury wrote to you; they sent a copy of that letter to me. 'In the current European negotiations, we would urge you to put humane considerations first and seek, at least, to persuade your colleagues in the Community to impose a maximum eight-hour duration on such journeys throughout Europe.

Surely in a country which prides itself on a humane attitude to animals, we should not be prepared to prolong the suffering involved in their slaughter for commercial considerations.'

It strikes me as sinister that the meeting today has been moved forward a week while Greece, which supports the new proposals, holds the presidency of the agricultural council. The next presidency, starting in less than two weeks on 1 July, will be held by Germany, which supports overall journey limits.

Please think again, Mrs Shephard. This widespread indignation will turn to real rage as we, the people, speak to our government and again the deaf ear is turned. Ignore us at your peril, temporary leaders of our land.

Yours sincerely, Joanna Lumley

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