Travel rules ease animal suffering

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The Independent Online
New rules aimed at curbing the suffering of farm animals exported alive for slaughter were introduced by the Government yesterday.

But Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, said Britain would be seeking a special opt-out for pedigree pigs, which already travel in relatively luxurious conditions.

The new rules, which come into force on 1 July, implement a 1995 European Union directive on the transport of live animals six months late. Half of the union's member states failed to meet the legal deadline for implementing the directive through their own laws.

But the European Commission has also broken a deadline for implementing the law, which animal welfare groups had long campaigned for. It is more than a year late in producing detailed specifications for lorries which carry farm animals for more than eight hours. In the absence of these specifications, Britain will continue with its own 22-year-old vehicle standards for live animal transport.

The UK's new regulations lay down maximum journey and rest times for animals and give ministers new powers to disqualify carriers who seriously or persistently break welfare regulations.

Young farm animals can travel for nine hours before a minimum rest period off the vehicle of one hour, followed by a further nine hours' travel. Adult cattle and sheep can travel for 14 hours before a minimum rest of one hour, followed by a further 14 hours' travel.

All staff involved in journeys longer than eight hours will have to have training in looking after farm animals and understanding their condition.

Carriers wanting to take cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for journeys over eight hours and for all journeys overseas will need a government authorisation.

Live cattle exports from Britain have ceased following the BSE ban on UK beef exports. The trade in live sheep and lambs has also declined sharply. Last year some 760,000 were carried, only about half the number for 1995.

Britain also exports valuable pedigree pigs to the continent in a trade worth nearly pounds 100m a year. The maximum journey time for pigs under the new regulations is 24 hours, but Mr Cunningham wants an exception made for these animals. They travel with plenty of space, ventilation, food, and water, and because they are certified as disease-free the exporters want them to stay confined until they reach their final destination.

Dr Cunningham added that the Government strongly preferred export of meat rather than live animals, for the sake of animal welfare and because it provided more work for British abattoirs and meat processors.

Julia Wrathall, a farm animal welfare expert with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the EU directive failed to give farm animals sufficient protection from suffering in long journeys in crowded lorries. She had doubts about enforcement, but welcomed the Government's intention of reviewing how the rules were working after one year.