Leading Article: Too little, too late for suffering livestock

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THE SECRETARY of State for Agriculture, William Waldegrave, evidently hopes that the measures announced yesterday to improve the welfare of livestock on long journeys will persuade the ferry companies to lift their bans, or threatened bans, on the transport of animal exports. It has been estimated that these could lose British farmers sales worth up to pounds 200m a year. But the ferry companies appear to be unimpressed, and with good reason.

It is one thing to turn journey plans into legal declarations and to threaten any haulier who deviates from them with criminal prosecution. It is quite another to catch those who commit this new offence. Unless several successful prosecutions take place soon after the new controls come into force, hauliers who succeed in reaching the Continent are unlikely to take Mr Waldegrave's new regime very seriously. So far, bilateral arrangements for checks at trading posts have been made only with the French and Dutch, though it is hoped others will follow.

As even the Secretary of State felt obliged to admit yesterday, this is a Europe-wide issue, and only animal protection measures applying across the Continent will produce a significant raising of the present often shocking standards. Within the European Union, agreement in this sensitive field has proved elusive.

The ferry companies were led to introduce their ban by the reactions of their human cargos to the manifest suffering of sheep and cattle packed into huge transport vehicles. More and more people are coming to view the manner in which animals are reared, transported and slaughtered as a matter of acute concern.

If the hauliers had been less ruthless in packing their animals so densely and in depriving them for long periods of food and water, and if farmers had been less tolerant of this cruelty, they would not be in their present difficulties.

Mr Waldegrave's move comes after 20 years of inertia in the face of growing public concern. Existing laws have consistently been flouted, and there seems little hope that his new measures will prove any more effective.