Polite pickets defy farmer's `cruel trade'

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The Independent Online
"Welcome to Swansea Airport.'' The notice, supported by rusting poles, drew ironic comments yesterday from the 50 or so animal welfare campaigners picketing the Welsh aerodrome where an aircraft has been waiting since Tuesday to fly veal calves to the Netherlands.

The export scheme, drawn up by the Farmers Union of Wales, has sent prices shooting up. In Carmarthen market calves, which 10 days ago fetched £35, were being sold for £95. And an industry which is said to be worth more than £10m a year to the Welsh economy seemed set for something of a boost. But if the farmers believed they had struck gold the campaigners were quick to describe it as fools' gold.

"It's a cruel trade. We will not allow animals to be tortured in crates just so that farmers can make money,'' Geraldine Spencer declared. Since early morning she'd been standing outside the gate holding a sign: "Stop the Plane, Stop the Pain.'' Passing

motorists hooted their support. Miss Spencer, 35, speaks with authority. For five years she was a communications officer in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Swansea office.

The campaigners, many of them members of Compassion in World Farming, seemed far removed from tabloid rent-a-mob descriptions. The few New Age travellers were outnumbered by people like Sonia Griffiths and her husband, Malcolm, both retired schoolteachers, who'd driven 25 miles from Neath. "I'm a meat eater, but what happens to calves kept in inhumane conditions just to satisfy a demand for white veal is appalling,'' Mr Griffiths said.

To some the protest was a rerun of old times. Jan Henderson recalled her time nearly a decade ago at the Greenham Common women's camp. Cruise missiles were the target then. Now calves are in the veterans' sights. "I stayed overnight, it was no problem. We are genuinely furious and I'll stay here another night or more until the farmers back down'' she said.

Sporting a "Transport Workers Against Nazis'' badge, Bob Lewis explained why he'd given up driving after 21 years on the road. "I saw the light when I was delivering sheep to France. I just opened the doors and let hundreds out at the quayside at Le Havre. I'm prepared to get arrested if that's what it takes''.

Gareth Wardell, the local MP, arrived to offer support. Swansea City Council leases the airport to a private operator, and Martin Caton, a councillor, claimed the lease contained a clause stipulating it could not be used for "illegal or immoral purposes''. He said he had asked for counsel's opinion to be sought - "The proposal to fly out tiny calves to a life of hell seems pretty immoral to me''.

Such morality appeared not to be at the top of the farmers' agenda. They claim many would face bankruptcy if the export was banned. Bob Parry, the Farmers Union of Wales president, declared: "The protesters should take their case to Brussels. The method

of rearing is still allowed over there but has been banned in Britain.''

Animosity between farmers and animal welfare campaigners is likely to be heightened by the remarks of the FUW'S spokesman Gwylym Thomas, who told a news conference on Wednesday: "Animal welfare organisations in this country have been responsible for moredamage over the past few years than the IRA.''