Protests against the export of live animals that brought chaos to British ports a decade ago could be revived after the RSPCA published a report showing a massive increase in live exports of calves for veal.
Exports collapsed in 1996 after mad cow disease was discovered in Britain, followed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, but the RSPCA annual report on animal health said live exports increased from less than 37,104 in 2005 to 530,588 in 2006.
Eric Martlew, Labour chairman of the all-party parliamentary animal welfare group, said: "There is a danger that we will have more demonstrations and I can understand that. They are exporting cruelty."
The RSPCA said that, in the second half of last year alone, over 128,000 live animals were shipped across the Channel, a trade consisting almost solely of young male calves, destined to be fattened and slaughtered for veal in France, Germany and Holland.
The veal crate system, in which calves were reared in small pens, was banned in the EU from January this year, but the RSPCA said concerns about the conditions in which the calves would be reared remained, due to continuing discrepancies between the new EU legislation and UK law.
Exports were banned again this year after a further outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Surrey, but are due to be lifted and did not apply to Scotland. Separate bans have been put on exports because of the spread from the Continent of bluetongue, but they are more limited to the south-east corner of England at the moment.
Welfare campaigners believe that the figures will climb again and Compassion in World Farming warned they could double.
John Callaghan, the director of programmes for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who was involved in the earlier campaigns, said: "A lot of people thought this had died away but it quietly began again. People thought it was finished and would not resume, but it did.
"If these numbers were to rise, we would be extremely concerned and you would get protests."
Exports reached more than one million animals before the trade was banned because of disease. In the mid-1990s, thousands of animal rights campaigners held protests against the live export of veal calves.
There were some clashes with police, and one protester Jill Phipps, 31, was killed when she wrapped beneath a lorry's wheels. An inquest recorded a verdict of accidental death.Reuse content