The Cruelty of Live Farm Animal Export

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Live calves being exported for veal production

On World Farm Animal Day, Dr Emma Milne BVSc MRCVS, is my guest blogger.  TV vet, author and animal welfare enthusiast, Emma is a great supporter and friend to Compassion in World Farming.  Here she shares her thoughts on the cruelty of live farm animal export.

I’ve been a vet, an ethics and welfare nut and a meat-eater for a very long time. With this combination of training and my dietary choices, I have always strived to make sure that the products from the animals that I eat, as far as possible, have had a good life and, equally as importantly, a compassionate death. I understand that sometimes in animal welfare we have to make compromises, but no matter how I look at the subject of exporting live farm animals for fattening or slaughter I just can’t make any sense of it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that as well as being indefensible on welfare grounds, it’s pure lunacy!

Why is it indefensible?

One of the ways to assess animal welfare is the well-known ‘five welfare needs’. These include the need for suitable food and water, the need to be with or without other animals, the need to express normal behaviour, the need for a suitable environment and the need to be protected from pain, injury and disease.

Distressed young calves being exported

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that being transported on long journeys in a cramped lorry or ship (or in many cases both), isn’t going to meet any of these needs for extended periods of time. Although animals have to be provided with stops where they have access to food and water, this can still be too infrequent for many, especially in the heat of summer or the warmer climes of importing countries. The conditions in the lorries and ships are often cramped because the exporters want to maximise the numbers travelling. The animals can’t move around, can’t escape encounters of conflict and there are many instances of injury and even animals dying during transportation. With lengthy periods of travel some animals will have agonising injuries such as broken limbs, which may go unnoticed for many hours. 

Sheep being exported from Ramsgate, UK earlier this year

Every time we send an animal elsewhere to be slaughtered in lower welfare or non-stun situations, the country of export is absolutely complicit in the suffering in the last few weeks, days and hours of those animals’ lives. I don’t like the bury-the-head-in-the-sand approach that if we can’t see how they’re treated or slaughtered it’s not our concern. It most certainly is.

Simply put, the export of animals for slaughter shouldn’t be tolerated in this day and age. Sometimes it is only so that a country can label the meat as being reared in that country. It gives a false view of a ‘local’ product. In some cases, you could import the animals, let them graze for a couple of days and then have some vague or misleading label that implies they’ve been locally reared. It’s unacceptable as well as confusing to the public buying the meat products.

And the lunacy?

For me, welfare should always take precedence over economics, but I know there are some who see it differently, some who view economics as one of the acceptable compromises when it comes to food animals. But, in the case of live animal export for slaughter, this just can’t be economically better, can it?

A whole animal is huge compared to a prepared carcass, they are awkward shapes and take up a lot of room. They are much heavier so will require more fuel to transport. Many of them are difficult to load and time-consuming. The enforced stops for food and water are inconvenient. All the animals have to be unloaded, fed, watered and then persuaded to go back into that hellish environment. Not an easy task I imagine.

If we slaughter animals at the point of production, we can monitor their welfare at the time of death and transport times and distances can be kept to an absolute minimum. The carcasses can be transported without hassle. You can pack more animals in in this way than live animals, and drivers require no other stops than ‘comfort breaks’ and rest, so journey times would be reduced.

Each year millions of live farm animals are exported for fattening or slaughter worldwide. If it’s not for economic reasons and certainly not for welfare reasons, then it’s animal suffering for no reason at all. How can we justify or tolerate that?  If we work together to stop the lunacy of live export, we can instantly improve the welfare of those millions of animals. That’s something worth striving for.

To find out what Compassion in World Farming is doing to stop this cruel, unnecessary trade and how you can help please visit our website.

Click here to find out more about Emma

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