The thorny issue of live exports is in the news again, because a lorry took sheep to Ramsgate, and when they were inspected one had a broken leg and up to 40 were “severely lame” – as a result, live exports have once again been suspended.
I wonder why we export live stock which are destined for slaughter anyway. It must be because it is a good trade and the countries buying them feel they are getting a better deal, so our farmers agree.
Why is it not so good to take our lambs, calves, pigs or cull cows and ewes to our nearest abattoir and have them exported in refrigerated lorries?
In the past we have sold live in markets, but mostly we would take a trailer of 30-plus lambs to our nearest slaughterhouse where we had already agreed a price so knew what we would get.
Usually by the time they were offloaded and I’d picked up the slip from the office they were dead. This might sound harsh, but actually it meant that they were down the ramp into a pen, down a passage and it was all over. No time to be anxious about the strange place, people or noises, and to our way of thinking this was the best for everybody.
I think farmers need to address what these incidents do to their image. We protest that we care for our animals, but times have changed and we must be responsible for what happens to them after they have left the farm. Ignorance may have been bliss once, but not any more.
Some farmers complain it has been blown out of all proportion. And certainly it does seem the RSPCA over-reacted to the level of sickness (lame sheep just need treating, not shooting!) and apparently they lost sight of the best way to handle them. It seems they shot them rather than use a humane killer, and some drowned when they were unloaded in an unsuitable area – a prosecutable offence if a farmer did it.
We should not find ourselves in the position where focus groups like the RSPCA, CIWF or PETA are able to point the finger at our incompetence or even cruelty.
We should police ourselves, and certainly the NFU and the National Sheep Association should recognise that it is not in the long term interest of the meat industry to keep walking this tightrope.
Exports have now been suspended, so presumably they will be selling on the hook until it is sorted. But why not stop live exports for slaughter?
Breeding stock travel long distances, but they’re treated much more carefully, as they need to be healthy when they arrive or there will be no sale.
When we imported Charollais sheep from France, the lengths everybody went to to care for them was almost laughable.
If we use our abattoirs, our vets, and our lorries we don’t lose jobs and we support our economy rather than Europe’s – And we are transparent and accountable.
Rosemary Allen is a retired livestock farmer now living near Ellesmere and with her husband Peter is part of CowCash-UK.