Animal welfare groups attack EU `whitewash'

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The Independent Online
New animal transport rules agreed by the European Union were widely condemned by welfare groups yesterday as a "whitewash".

Transport times for animals being carried in lorries fitted with watering and air conditioning systems will increase from 24 hours to 28 plus a one-hour break. Young animals being carried in the same hi-tech lorries will be limited to an 18-hour journey split into two nine-hour periods separated with an hour's break. Animals transported in conventional vehicles will be limited to a maximum journey time of eight hours.

William Waldegrave, the Minister of Agriculture, who pushed for the new rules under mounting pressure from animal welfare groups, described them as the "historic beginning of proper legislation to improve the treatment of animals in transport".

Austria, Denmark and Sweden voted against the agreement because the measures were too lax, but they were passed under EU rules of qualified majority voting. The sticking point in talks has been the demand by animal welfare groups for an eight-hour limit on the journeys. In the end a compromise formula was drawn up whereby longer journeys would be allowed of up to 28 hours but only if the animals are carried in specially equipped vehicles to ensure that they can be watered and kept cool. Questions remain about how the measures will be policed. If drivers are to stop after eight hours - or install proper equipment in their lorries - there must be an efficient system of monitoring.

However, officials in Brussels say it will not be hard to enforce the measures. Drivers will be obliged to carry route-plans showing where they started their journey and how long it has taken them. They will have to show their route plans to inspectors at the journey's end, and could be checked by inspectors or the police anywhere along the route.

Animal welfare groups and opposition politicians attacked the new measures. Gavin Strang, Labour's agriculture spokes man, said the agreement was disappointing, adding: "It is the cruelty which is sometimes inflicted on animals exported from this country and travelling long distances to slaughter houses on the Continent which has caused the greatest concern."

Mark Glover, of Respect for Animals, said the EU and the Government had "totally failed to grasp the significance of the live export issue". He added: "The existing system has failed to protect the interests of animals up until now and there is no reason to believe new and more complicated rules will be enforced any better. The only answer is to ban live exports and we shall continue with the campaign until that end is achieved."

Welsh farmers, who export live lambs, urged the major ferry companies to lift their ban on livestock shipments to the Continent. The new measures are likely to distort further the economics of the live export trade.

Roger Mills, who operates from Brightlingsea in Essex, will probably benefit from the new rules because his ship has onboard lairage facilities. Air transport will receive a boost, but operators through Dover may lose unless hauliers use the hi-tech livestock transporters.