Protest over slaughter of farm animals: The RSPCA has obtained video evidence of cruel methods in Spanish abattoirs that breach European regulations. Nicholas Schoon reports

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BRITAIN is to protest to the European Commission and Spain after RSPCA investigators filmed horrific scenes in two Spanish abattoirs of sheep, cattle and pigs being slaughtered in ways that contravene European Union animal welfare regulations.

Four sheep were stabbed in the neck with an unsharpened screwdriver before having their throats cut. They had not been stunned beforehand. A bullock was repeatedly stabbed behind the head with a short-bladed knife in order to sever its spinal cord and paralyse it prior to throat-slitting. Under an EU directive, all animals should should be stunned by a mechanically operated device before slaughter.

Nine pigs were seen being incompetently stunned, two of which were then not stuck properly and were still alive several minutes later. They had to be stuck again.

The Ministry of Agriculture had banned British livestock exports to Spain because of public revulsion at slaughterhouse standards. But with the coming this year of the European Single Market, the ministry felt compelled to allow a resumption of exports to avoid possible prosecution under the Treaty of Rome.

Late in 1992 it did, however, reach agreement with Spain that British animals should only go to 68 named slaughterhouses which comply with the new European hygiene standards. Neither of the two abattoirs exposed by the RSPCA - Nerva and Patanegra d'tentadia, near Seville - are on that list. The food minister Nicholas Soames promised yesterday to protest to the Spanish authorities. Luis Esteruelas, Spain's agricultural attache, said his embassy had received many insulting telephone calls.

Alastair Mews, an RSPCA vet, said the list of approved abattoirs met hygiene rather than welfare standards and he believed export controls were so lax that some British animals were being taken to slaughterhouses not on the list.

The RSPCA and the pressure group Compassion in World Farming have condemned the British Government for refusing to back a change in European laws which would reduce exports of farm animals for slaughter. In current negotiations, Germany has proposed an overall time limit for livestock journeys and is winning support from Denmark and the Netherlands.

But Britain, usually a leader in animal welfare issues, is firmly opposed to a legal time limit between the start and finish of livestock journeys. Instead, the UK favours compulsory journey breaks for feeding, watering and rest after a specified number of hours on the road.

If both Germany and Britain backed the limit there would be some chance of overcoming resistance from the French, Italians and other southern European nations which oppose restrictions on the trade. But without UK support the campaigners have little hope.

Peter Stevenson, of Compassion in World Farming, said: 'I'm appalled that our government is not willing to back the German proposal which would put a stop to much of the suffering.'

An overall journey limit of eight hours, which the European Parliament has twice voted for, would virtually end the export trade. But a limit of 15 hours would be regarded by the campaigners as a real victory.

(Photograph omitted)