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Online Debate, Discussion and Commentary

Is Europe (the EU) Good for Animals?

Against Europe
Sir Teddy Taylor MP

One of the most significant and sad features of the current Parliament is how discussion on the welfare of farm animals has simply faded away since the General Election. Labour Ministers and backbenchers seemed to talk endlessly on the subject as they moved into their Whitehall offices. Talking about the misery and agony of animals being exported abroad Dr Cunningham, the Minister for Agriculture, said that the new Government’s policy was exports ‘on the hook rather than on the hoof’. In short, the aim would be to slaughter the animals and then to send the meat on to Europe. It was a good policy because it would have stopped the suffering involved in transportation and would have protected the animals from continental slaughter houses where the standards, at least in some nations, are deplorable.

Then we had the statement in 1999 from the Minister Elliot Morley, a long standing champion of animal welfare. He announced that there was to be a new programme to improve the arrangements for animals in transit. There was to be an independent assessment of all those involved in transporting sheep, goats, pigs horses and cattle on journeys of more than eight hours. Welfare organisations were to be consulted on new legislation. And there were to be many other such tough measures.

But nothing actually happened.

In fairness, I’ve never been a Cunningham fan, but I know Elliot Morley to be a person of intergrity and decency.

The rules of the European Union

The real tragedy is that the Government has discovered that the rules of the European Union make it virtually impossible for us to take the action which is so necessary to protect the welfare of animals. I could provide a major list of the cruelty to animals and the nightmares involved. To those who wish to secure the evidence I would suggest that they read 1st year’s Veterinary Record pages 687 to 692 about the effect on very young calves of a nineteen hour journey on a lorry, when there was a one hour ‘feeding stop’ during which some of the forty-five tiny calves were given a glucose/electrolyte solution and some were given nothing at all. In the same document, p. 421, there is a horrific account of the behavioural and psychological responses of pigs to be transported for up to 24 hours.

Of course some MPs have tried hard to make some progress on animal welfare. The respected Conservative MP Sir Richard Body promoted a Bill which effectively banned the repulsive veal crates, which had placed the tiny calves in a cage and denied them the feeding during their short lives which would result in their meat losing the white quality enjoyed in restaurants. It was a massive step forward, but what has happened since then? The tragedy is that the tiny calves are simply placed on lorries and transported speedily to the Continent where they are imprisoned in the cages.

There was an attempt to ban this export trade in a case before the European Court of Justice in March, 1998. There was an Article in the Treaties called article 30 which allowed member states to place restrictions on the movement of animals, if there was a need to protect the welfare of animals. But the court decided that recourse to this article was ‘no longer possible’ because member states now had to ‘rely on mutual trust’. It was a massive change because in the first two years of UK membership of the EU we had a total ban on the live export of cattle which was then considered to be legal.

Suffering pig farmers — and pigs

Our pig farmers have suffered in a similar way. For many years the procedures for rearing pigs were considered by many to be foul. The common practice was to keep the pigs in crates where they couldn’t even turn round and in some cases to have them tethered. The last Conservative Government felt that something had to be done. And so a law was introduced, which took effect in 1999, to stop the practice. The pig farmers had to spend a lot of money to conform to the new rules. The NFU estimate was that the cost to the larger farmer with 1,000 sows came to 50,000 every year for a period of ten years. But once we made the changes, it was up to Elliot Morley, the Government Minister, to implement the new scheme and to protect the farmers from unfair competition.

Was it not simply common sense that we should ban imports from other countries where the old tether system was in operation? Sadly Elliot had to tell the House of Commons, as follows:-

‘My legal advice is quite clear. Neither the Treaty of Rome nor the rules of the WTO [World Trade Organisation] allow the UK to ban the import or sale of pigmeat that has not been produced to our own welfare standards.’

I’m sure that as a campaigner for animal welfare he didn’t enjoy saying these words. And so now the debates seem to be over. What’s the point of demanding animal welfare when the only result is that the European Court tells you not to, or your own farmers are ruined by imports from other countries where welfare is ignored?

But why can we not seek to persuade the EU to do something asout the situation? Could we not have tough and proper Euro rules applied accross the Continent? This is the formula which Euro enthusiasts have promoted for the last twenty-seven years. But like reform of the Common Agricultural Policy it just does not seem to be heppening.

It’s time we woke up and let the Europeans know that the people of Britain demand action. As we send over 1,000,000 every hour of every day to Brussels to pay for their spending and their policies perhaps they would have to listen if we started shouting loudly!

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