Green lobby with power to pluck at heartstrings

David Nicholson-Lord on the remarkable growth of the animal rights camp aign

The turbulent confrontations over the export of live farm animals demonstrate the primacy of animal welfare as a "green" issue: it possesses a unique capacity for plucking at the heart strings.

In part this is the result of human affinities with the natural world which underpin the environmental movement. But it also a tribute to a highly successful protest campaign.

This has involved long-established organisations like the RSPCA and newer, more radical groups like Respect for Animals, founded by campaigners against the fur trade. Alongside bodies such as Compassion in World Farming, the International Fund for AnimalWelfare, Advocates for Animals and the Farm Animal Welfare Network , they have not only won the battle for public sympathy but in the process defeated an organisation once noted for its lobbying power and influence in Whitehall - the National Farmers' Union.

The measure of their success was the decision last year by all the major ferry companies to ban the export of live animals, in many cases against more "rational" and commercial judgements and in response to a vigorous demonstration of consumer power.

Stena Sealink, one of the last operators to give in, said it had received "hundreds of thousands" of letters, adding: "We're listening to the wishes of an increasing number of our passengers." When the RSPCA published full-page newspaper advertisements

calling for an eight-hour limit on journeys, 56,000 people rang in to support it.

Given the strength of feeling about animal welfare, such responses are scarcely surprising. Animal issues regularly top the league tables of environmental concern: a survey last month by Mintel, the market research organisation, showed that animal testing was by some distance the most deeply felt green issue, cited by 48 per cent compared with 32 per cent for the ozone layer.

On live exports this underlying reservoir of concern was tapped by copious television news footage of suffering livestock on long Continental journeys and an accumulation of hard data. The RSPCA found that nine out of 10 lorries exceed maximum journey times and one consignment of sheep bound for Holland ended up in Greece two and a half days later with 400 of the 600 animals dead.

The animal welfare case is that once the animals are over the Channel rules on welfare and journey times are pointless. Last month, after European farm ministers failed to reach agreement on maximum journey times - an eight-hour maximum and a 24-hour maximum were both on the table - Britain announced that it was going ahead with its own rules for a 15-hour maximum from 23 January. According to Mark Glover, of Respect for Animals, the rules will be "unworkable": the Continental authorities will simply not enforce them.

About 2.5 million lambs and calves were exported to Europe in 1993. Sheep face long, crowded journeys without food and water. The calves, meanwhile, are sent abroad into veal crates - a veal production system banned in Britain which produces the pale veal favoured by the consumers of Germany, France and Italy.

The paleness is produced by keeping the calves in the dark in tiny crates and giving them a diet which leaves them "on the borders of anaemia". Calves taken from their mothers at a day old are said to cry for them and to spend most of the time in the crates before slaughter licking and nuzzling each other for company.

Mr Glover said: "They are social animals. All they want is to be with their mothers and others of their kind. It is pathetically sad to see them in these conditions."

Slaughtering rules also vary widely across the Continent. Unlike the UK, many countries do not practise pre-stunning, for example. The animal welfare lobby says the live animals trade is unnecessary and blames "over-intellectual" media pundits for denigrating such feelings as "sentimentality". Science, for example, has shown that animals can suffer stress. Mr Glover says emotion, not sentimentality, is what drives the protests, "and there is nothing wrong with emotion . . . it is part of being human".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy