Firm set up for live meat trade

Ban opened way to make £200m, writes Danny Penman

International Traders Ferries, the subject of violent clashes at Shoreham, was founded to revive the exporting of live animals, a trade that was, in effect, killed in November when the last big ferry operator pulled out.

Immediately after that self-imposed ban, exporters scrambled to revive the £200m trade. Now the export of more than 2.5 million animals a year is controlled by fewer than 20 people, who claim they provide a service to farmers.

The most lucrative part of the trade is in calves. Before the ban, half a million were exported a year - predominantly to veal crates - a system so cruel that it was banned in Britain in 1990.

After that move, two air routes were established. One operated from Aldergrove airport in Northern Ireland using Russian-built Antonov freighters. The other used Coventry airport until a crash near there killed five people on 21 December.

Phoenix Aviation, the Coventry operator, also flew out of Bournemouth airport before protesters forced them to leave. They are now embroiled in a legal dispute with Coventry City Council, which owns the airport, and is trying to get them to leave.

Phoenix operates in conjunction with CC Freight, a company, like ITF, formed to circumvent the voluntary ban on exports. The company shares at least one director with a livestock exporter, Albert Hall Farms Limited, which stands trial from today on sevencharges of cruelty to animals in the company's care.

Phoenix Aviation and CC Freight will restart the trade from Coventry within a week.

Since the Coventry aircrash, Millbay docks in Plymouth, operated by Associated British Ports, is the only harbour running a viable service to the continent.

Phillip Lacey, general manager of the port of Shoreham, and ITF, hope to capitalise on the lack of transport links.

Despite vehement local opposition, Mr Lacey is determined to use the trade to reverse the 35 per cent decline in the port's trade since he took control 10 years ago.

He claims the port cannot refuse any legal cargo under the terms of the 1847 Harbours, Docks and Piers Act.

However, shipping agents at the port claim he can now refuse the trade on the ground of the civil unrest the business is causing in the local community.

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