Hopes rise for tougher EU laws on veal trade

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The Independent Online
Britain believes that it will gain support today from its European Union partners on more humane treatment of animals, according to diplomats in Brussels.

A report from the European Commission on the protection of calves, not due to be presented for another two years, is likely to be accelerated and proposals put forward later this year, diplomats and officials said. The new EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler from Austria, is sympathetic to the British case and is likely to push for action "sooner rather than later", the officials said, though they would not put a timescale on legislation.

Agriculture ministers meet today to discuss the issue, which Britain had put on the agenda. William Waldegrave, the Minister of Agriculture, has sent a letter to Mr Fischler asking for action.

Though several of the Mediterranean countries oppose action either on veal crates or on the transportation of livestock, some of the northern countries - Austria, Denmark, and Germany in particular -are sympathetic, and are likely to back British demands.

The entry of three new countries to the EU this month - Austria, Sweden and Finland - is likely to help to underpin the British position on animal welfare. Though none has quite the same concern for animals as Britain, all have relatively well-organised animal welfare groups. The southern member-states do not share Britain's views and indeed regard them as quixotic.

There are already minimum standards in Europe on the treatment of veal calves but these are considerably weaker than those that Britain applies. Britain banned veal crates in 1990, though they are still in widespread use elsewhere.

The Commission's review of 1991 legislation is intended to see if there is a case for tougher action.

A committee of senior veterinary officials from EU states will also meet next month to look at limits on journey times and rest stops for animals. British officials are relatively confident that the meeting will be able to break the existing deadlock over the issue, with some kind of agreement emerging later next month.

n The Essex port of Bright-lingsea is all set for another confrontation with police tomorrow when more lorry loads of sheep are due to be exported to the Continent.

Townspeople have held a meeting to discuss tactics to stop the trucks reaching the single wharf used to export live animals.

One veal farmer, Richard Otley, has said he intends to continue exporting livestock to Belgium from Brightlingsea for the rest of the six-month contract.

Protesters are expected to be out in force again in a bid to turn lorries back and a huge police presence is likely. Police operations are costing £40,000 per day.

n A dead calf with its throat cut has been dumped at the home of a leading animal welfare campaigner.

The victim, a woman who has asked not to be named, found the calf yesterday at her home near Llandyssul, Dyfed, south west Wales.

The woman, who has been helping to co-ordinate protests in Wales over the live export of animals for the veal trade, described those responsible as having "sick minds".