Animal export rules tightened

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The Independent Online
The Government will this week announce tough new regulations to control the transport of live animals - and new powers to take trucks with the worst conditions off the road.

The move will underscore ministers' determination to go further than ever before to improve the condition of animals being transported to slaughter, following the wave of protests over their plight.

Jack Cunningham, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will lay new regulations on Tuesday specifying the maximum journey and minimum rest times for different species.

The Welfare of Animals (transport) Order will also create powers to disqualify transporters who seriously or persistently break the regulations on animal welfare.

Vets will be given the ability to take action against them even if the abuses take place outside the UK. Ministers are said to be determined to prevent animals travelling "first class in Britain, then third class abroad". Currently the authorities must pursue those responsible through costly and time-consuming court procedures.

The animal transport regulations are the latest in a series of populist announcements made by the Blair administration since it was elected on 1 May.

Last week a Gallup poll showed that other moves, including reopening the question of compensation to Gulf War Syndrome victims, banning tobacco company sports sponsorship and handguns, and a commitment to end the use of landmines had helped Tony Blair set a new popularity record of 82 per cent approval.

Mr Cunningham's new powers, which will come into force on 1 July, will also enable his department to insist on staff being properly trained and having practical experience in handling animals.

Ministers see the move as part of their attempt to improve the image of Maff, which became one of the most criticised arms of government following successive scares over food safety and the crisis over BSE and the "beef war". Already the Government has announced plans to set up a Food Standards Agency, and ministers want to rename Maff to highlight the changes taking place there.

The export of live animals provoked mass protests at a number of ports when protesters blocked roads and blockaded ports. At Brightlingsea in Essex on one occasion in 1995, 250 police were deployed and 21 people were arrested. The campaign against the trade enlisted high-profile support, including the comedian Spike Milligan, and was given political clout by its middle-class backers.

A government source said: "Animal welfare is an issue which people understandably feel very strongly about. We would rather exports were on the hook, than on the hoof. But if long-distance transport is to take place we want to ensure higher standards of animal welfare".

Last month Elliot Morley, a junior Agriculture Minister, said: "Everyone in the industry knows that there have been abuses in the export of animals and they want something done about it. I want this issue addressed as quickly as possible."

The last government was severely embarrassed by the long-running row over animal exports, particularly when it was revealed that a Cabinet minister, William Waldegrave, used veal crates to move male calves from his farm.