09/01/2012 17:49 GMT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 GMT

Live Animal Transport: End This Sordid Trade in Suffering

As a species we have so much to answer for in the way we treat animals, but the largest single cause of animal suffering must be the way we factory farm, transport and slaughter billions of animals around the globe - year after year. I find it hard to understand how anyone can countenance keeping hens in cages or pregnant sows in narrow stalls, unable to turn round.

Thankfully, more and more people are rejecting the products from animals kept in these grossly unjust ways. The free range market is growing fast.

It's the global god of free trade which is responsible for the long distance transport of farm animals, with all its associated suffering. The statistics are shocking. Every year about six million animals are transported around the European Union, either to be fattened up prior to slaughter, or for slaughter at abattoirs hundreds of miles from home.

Before the mass protests of the mid 1990s, the UK was a major player in this trade, annually exporting nearly half a million week-old calves to be reared in narrow crates in continental Europe, and well over a million sheep for slaughter, often in countries where humane slaughter methods never got beyond the paper they were written on.

Filmed investigations have repeatedly shown that even the basic EU rules about resting, feeding and watering the animals are regularly flouted. Journeys can last for two days or more.

I have seen umpteen images of lambs frantically licking at the condensation droplets on the bars of their trucks as the internal water system is not working - or has never been filled. I have seen exhausted sheep panting from heat and dehydration, others fallen down and trampled on. I have seen hungry cattle in desperation eating a crude liquid mix of their own excreta and straw from the floors of their trucks.

I am appalled, angry, saddened and outraged. How can we allow this kind of dreadful suffering to carry on, just because free trade takes precedence and because, somewhere, someone is making a fast buck from the suffering of their fellow beings?

I have just helped Compassion in World Farming launch their bus advert campaign, which, alongside a photo of bedraggled sheep in a truck, carries the slogan: "They can't ring the bell when they want to get off" - as they surely would.

The UK live animal export figures have fallen dramatically over the last 15 years, but they have started to climb again. We've recently - unbelievably - sent calves all the way from Cumbria to Spain probably to be reared in conditions illegal in the UK.

I invite all readers to support this campaign by visiting the Compassion website

The animals' voices have not been heard. Let's make our voices loud enough to create real change.