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The Year of the Ox: Reforming live animal transportation

Emily Wilson, Head of Campaigns at FOUR PAWS UK and Vice-Chair of the Link Animal Welfare Group, writes on the opportunity to end the live export of animals for slaughter or fattening, and the need to also secure reforms to transportation standards within the UK.

February 2021

Today marks the start of Chinese New Year; 2021 will be the Year of the Ox. As a beast of burden and travel, the ox is a fitting symbol of animal suffering inflicted by transportation, and an appropriate year for the Government consider reforms to animal transportation within.

The unnecessary suffering caused by animal transportation is considerable. A 2008 Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) report sets out how ‘the stress factors involved in transport include the mixing of unfamiliar animals, deprivation of food and water, lack of rest, extremes of temperature and humidity, handling by humans, exposure to a novel environment, overcrowding, insufficient headroom and noise and vibration’. These stresses increase with the length of the journey. Mortality provides an impact metric, with the CIWF report noting a 13-fold increase is mortality amongst dairy cattle for long journeys of more than 300km when compared with short journeys of less than 50km.

The length of journeys UK animals are subject to when exported to the continent has long been a matter of public concern, with repeat protests held at Ramsgate (the principal port of embarkation). Brexit has opened up the possibility of the rules governing live exports being reviewed, and the UK Government has now – to its credit – opened a consultation on reforming live animal transportation.

Both FOUR PAWS and Link’s Animal Welfare Strategy Group have responded to the consultation, providing evidence to support its most effective proposal; a ban on live exports for slaughter or fattening. This ban would end the most damaging part of the live export trade, where animals are killed immediately or soon after transportation. With slaughter imminent, welfare considerations are minimal, and animals are subject to considerable stress. The ban on this practice would do much to reduce unnecessary suffering experienced by exported UK animals.

Crucially, this improvement to animal could be secured without significant adverse financial impact for exporters. This limited financial impact is due to a cheaper alternative to live animal exports to slaughter existing - refrigerated meat transport allows dead animals to be hygienically transported at a lower cost than live animals. A 2017 study from the University of Wageningen suggests that the cross-border transport carcasses in refrigerated lorries can cost 40% less than transporting live animals over the same route in lorries.

Clear animal welfare and financial arguments underpin the case for the prohibition of live export for slaughter and fattening. We hope that Ministers have the courage of their convictions and implement the ban.
It is important also to highlight that animal transportation suffering does not start when animals leave British ports. The act of transportation itself causes suffering and, as such, every effort should be made to reduce transportation stresses for journeys within the UK.

The consultation document contains proposed new standards for live animal transportation within the UK, including maximum journey times and headroom requirements. The standards are a start but need tightening. Many of the journey times are too long and would allow cattle and sheep to be transported for up to 21 hours. Such long journeys will continue to cause unnecessary suffering and we have proposed an 8-hour maximum journey time in its place. Similarly, the standards proposed in the consultation would allow live animals to be exported on hot days, in temperatures of up to 30oC. We have proposed a 25oC maximum temperature instead, in line with the latest evidence on temperature and animal stress. The proposals also fail to cover species such as rabbits, dogs and cats; worrying omissions that need to be rectified.

Overall however, the reforming animal transportation consultation marks progress – and a step towards recognising that animals are sentient beings, rather than commodities to be transported at will to meet human needs. In this Year of the Ox, we have the opportunity to spare animals some of the dust and stress of the road.

Emily Wilson is Head of Campaigns at FOUR PAWS UK and Vice-Chair of the Link Animal Welfare Group

Follow @wilsoemi and @FourPawsUK

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.