Letter: A fearful journey to the sheep market

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The Independent Online
Sir: The RSPCA understands the imperative for Nicholas Soames, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry for Food and Agriculture (Profile, 11 December), to respond to public concerns over the long- distance live transport of animals, given that more than 100,000 letters have been received by the ministry this year.

However, rather than attacking our efforts to improve the lot of these unfortunate animals, the minister might be better advised to declare himself in favour of a maximum journey time for animals going for slaughter: this is supported by the Netherlands and Denmark, both leading meat producers. The RSPCA wants a maximum eight-hour journey time for such animals, in line with German foreign policy and with the votes of more than half of all MEPs: a massive 271 out of 279 supported our position in the European Parliament last Wednesday.

The RSPCA regrets that the UK has not argued for giving sheep, which form the vast majority of the nearly two million animals transported from the UK each year, anything other than a 24- hour feeding and watering interval time. Not only is this twice the 12- hour period which used to apply for sheep in the UK, but this policy offers only an impractical solution. British sheep are the best quality in the world. But sheep need to be rested for 48 hours after transport if they are to maintain their condition. Dehydration, hunger, stress and bruising affect live sheep, but not carcasses. The fact is that live sheep deteriorate in quality during transport.

There is a potential conjunction here of animal welfare interests and of the effective marketing of an important British product. It is not farmers but the meat trade which is taking short-term gains on the live export market, for example, by helping cause the closure of a number of regional abattoirs. The result could be to put at risk our aim of being the prime lamb supplier to Europe as well as to question our oft-quoted claim of being the most animal welfare- conscious country in Europe.

Yours faithfully,

PETER DAVIES

Director General

RSPCA

Horsham, West Sussex

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