Many of us have enjoyed a holiday in Europe this summer. A chance to catch some sunshine, change pace and unwind. However, it is sobering to think that thousands of British sheep and calves endured a very different kind of trip to Europe.
On UK roads we may occasionally see large, ominous trucks distinguished by curious animals peering out. Packed into trucks in soaring summer temperatures, it's sometimes standing room only for the animals on board. Few of us could imagine the horrifying journeys they endure and these animals are oblivious to the fate that awaits them.
The trade in live farm animal exports is largely hidden. Yet, last year over 47,000 young sheep and calves were gathered up and sent from areas of England, Wales across the channel to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. This trade deals in live animals who feel pain and suffer.
My charity, Compassion in World Farming's recent investigations have exposed the horrors of the live export trade. Compassion's investigations team followed a truck crammed with sheep which travelled 18 hours from Sheffield to France as temperatures hit the high 20˚Cs. Sheep were packed in so tightly that they could not all lie down at the same time.
Once they reached their final destination, in the Deux-Sèvres region of France, their fate was to live out the rest of their lives in dingy sheds, being fattened up until they were slaughtered. Shockingly, these British sheep, who belong in our fields and on our hillsides, could be spending a quarter of their lives in squalid sheds.
It is baffling that these sheep travelled all the way to France to be fattened in sheds ahead of their slaughter. It is nonsense to think that these animals could not have been slaughtered in the UK. There are three abattoirs in the Sheffield area alone that accept sheep, and they will have passed countless more on the way to their final destination. The live exports trade is depriving the local economy of much needed employment. This is in addition to causing stress and suffering to the animals who are transported.
A further investigation by Compassion revealed another harrowing trip. Sheep were packed into trucks and transported to Germany, a journey taking approximately 23 hours and covering over 500 miles.
Sheep were visibly stressed and were suffering from swollen, sore eyes and coughs. Some were panting in the heat and the ventilation system was faulty. The water system was not fully operational, with some sheep licking drops of moisture off the truck's metal bars. No animal should have to endure such appalling conditions. Once they arrived in Germany they were to be slaughtered. As they were unloaded from the truck, several sheep appeared to be lame.
The common sense bypass inherent in this trade has never been clearer. Farm animals should be reared and slaughtered as close as possible to the farm on which they are born. Instead these sheep were taken hundreds of miles to a foreign country in very hot conditions to be slaughtered.
Britain's main farming union is calling on retailers to back British farming by buying more British meat, yet thousands of British lambs, sheep and calves are being sent on gruelling journeys for slaughter in other countries. The NFU claims that we should eat British produce, but then supports sending animals overseas to unknown fates. This self-contradiction should not be happening.
Animals in the UK are subject to controlled and humane slaughter conditions. Once animals leave the UK their welfare can no longer be guaranteed. We should give British farm animals the protection they deserve by stopping the trade in live exports.
The current law that bars the UK government from allowing ports to refuse the live export trade is the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act of 1847, which obliges ports to accept their use for the trade of any legal "good".
Compassion is calling on the government to change the law to allow ports to refuse the trade in live animals if they wish, which would leave them free of the fear of financial penalty from hauliers seeking compensation if they chose to block live animal exports.
The sooner the government stops this abysmal trade the better.