AUCTIONING ANIMAL FLESH - Livestock Markets
Every year, around 20 million sheep, cattle and pigs are sold in UK livestock markets. Some go from market direct to slaughter. Others go to another farmer for further fattening. There are no national figures for the rabbits, birds and other small animals who are also sold, but their numbers total many millions. Most British markets are overcrowded and ramshackle - establishments that were never designed to cope with such a high volume of animals.
The animals spend hours awaiting their fate. They are kept on stone floors, slippery with urine and excrement, and are subjected to the clanking of metal gates and the slaps, kicks and violent stick-work of often poorly trained drovers. Water is rarely given - even in the height of summer.
Among the 'products' on sale are baby calves, just a week or two old. Many will be driven straight from market to Continental veal crates. Equally pitiful are the dairy cows who have passed their peak as milk producers.
Around 16 million sheep are sold annually in UK auctions. They range from old, exhausted breeding ewes to baby lambs as young as two days old. The 1.3 million pigs who pass through the markets annually are especially vulnerable to stress. Every market day, across the country, many die on the trucks and in their pens.
Although most poultry now go straight from farm to slaughter, many are still crammed into plastic crates and delivered to markets to be sold. Some are killed on site by wringing or jerking the neck. Conditions are worsening for the increasing numbers of rabbits and smaller animals at markets. The rabbit trade is becoming similar to the broiler industry, and the rabbits are sold from poultry cages.
The cruelty of markets
MarketWatch monitors and Animal Aid investigations have revealed countless examples of the distress and suffering regularly inflicted on animals at markets. Animals are treated more like objects than sentient beings, and violence is routine. They are shouted at and handled aggressively, often with the use of sticks.
Because so many animals are being herded on and off lorries and through the market place, they can slip and fall. Ramps and surfaces are often unstrawed, or too steep to walk down safely; animals often literally fall out of lorries. Handlers' tempers can become frayed at loading time, when everyone is anxious to finish work. The animals have not been fed or watered all day and can be unsteady on their feet. One of our monitors witnessed three people trying to force a frightened, unwilling cow onto a lorry. It took them half an hour. One was ramming her from behind with a metal gate, one was twisting her tail, and one was beating her head with a stick.
Even in the height of summer, animals are deprived of water and their thirst goes unquenched. There is rarely any access to water; unclear regulations about who should provide it means that the responsibility can be shirked by all concerned.
Many breaches of the law take place because farmers, drovers and hauliers have had no formal training, and are unaware of even the minimal legal requirements relating to welfare.
The current legislation
The treatment of animals at markets is governed by the '1990 Welfare of Animals at Markets Order', and the '1993 Amendment to the 1990 Order' - both made under the '1981 Animal Health Act'. They provide a measure of protection for cattle, sheep, goats 'and all other ruminating animals', pigs, rabbits and poultry (quails included). A code of practice, attached to the Act, clarifies some of the issues, but does not carry the force of the law. The legislation can be summarised as follows (it is enforced by the local authority, unless 'otherwise expressly provided'):
Unfit animals may not be exposed for sale in a market. An animal should also not be exposed for sale if it is likely to give birth while it is there.
Protection of animals from unnecessary suffering
No one can cause or allow injury or 'unnecessary' suffering to an animal in a market. The person in charge of the animal should ensure that no such offence is caused by exposure to the weather, inadequate ventilation, the animal being hit or prodded by any instrument or 'other thing', or by any other cause.
Handling of animals
No animal should be lifted, dragged, or carried by the head, neck, ears, horns, legs, feet, tail, fleece or wing. Calves should not be muzzled, and poultry should not be tied up by the neck, leg or wing. Poultry may, be lifted or tied by the leg if they are being weighed, and geese may be lifted off the ground by the base of both wings.
Control of animals
Nobody is allowed to use 'excessive force' to control any animals in a market. Instruments which give electric shocks may not be used on animals, nor should pigs be hit or prodded with any thing other than a flat 'slap stick' or a 'slap marker'. Electric goads may be used on the hindquarters of cattle over the age of six months or on adult pigs, but only if they are 'refusing to move forward when there is space for them to do so'. Calves should not be hit or prodded in any way. Nobody should drive or lead any animal over ground/floor which may cause the animal to slip or fall.
Obstruction and annoyance of animals
Animals should not be knowingly obstructed when being driven or led through market, nor should they be 'wantonly or unreasonably' annoyed.
Penning and caging
The market operator must ensure that no animal is kept 'in a pen, cage, or hutch which is unsuitable for the size and species of that animal'.
A pen for calves or pigs should be big enough for all of them to lie down at the same time. A cage or hutch for rabbits or poultry should be big enough to enable poultry to stand 'in their natural position' or to enable all rabbits to sit upright on all four feet without their ears touching the top of the cage/hutch.
When animals are kept in pens, they must be separated according to species. Animals with their young should not be kept in the same undivided pen as any other animals unless they are of the same species and of a 'mutually acceptable disposition'. Fractious animals should be kept in a separate pen, cage or hutch from any other animal.
Feeding and watering of animals
The person in charge of an animal is obliged to provide 'an adequate quantity of wholesome water as often as is necessary to prevent it suffering from thirst'. 'Adequate facilities' in the form of troughs, buckets, etc. should also be provided. Animals spending prolonged periods of time in a market (i.e. overnight) must also be provided with food.
Provision of light and bedding
Adequate lighting must be provided to enable animals to be inspected and to be fed and watered. Adequate bedding must be provided for calves, pigs, dairy cattle in milk or calf, goats in milk or in kid (i.e. pregnant or lactating) and lambs or kids under 4 weeks (unless the lamb is kept with its mother).
Calves, lambs and kids
No calves younger than 7 days old or with wet or unhealed navels can be brought to market. Calves under 12 weeks old cannot be marketed twice in any 28 day period. Following the introduction of the 'Welfare of Animals at Markets (Amendment) Order in 1993', it is now an offence to expose for sale a lamb or kid with an unhealed navel. (Navels usually heal when the lamb or kid is between two and seven days, but spray products are now available that cause the navel to dry out more rapidly.)
The market authority must provide covered accommodation for lambs less than 4 weeks old (except a lamb which is kept with its mother), calves, pigs, goats, dairy cattle in milk, rabbits and poultry. The market operator must ensure that these animals are kept in the provided accommodation.
Alternatives to markets
It is now possible to buy animals over a computer screen, with abattoir managers buying direct from farmers, according to pre-supplied specifications. Electronic selling still represents a minority of sales, and is confined almost entirely to livestock who are ready for slaughter, rather than animals who are sold by one farmer to another for fattening.
The electronic system is not flawless. It allows a slaughterer in, say, Tyneside to purchase animals from a farmer as far away as Devon - all with the push of a button. This saves time and effort for the farmers, but the animals will subsequently pay the price with marathon truck journeys to their place of death.
But on balance, selling animals in this way is more humane than forcing them to endure the torment of the market. Animals have to face truck journeys to and from the marketplace, and must also experience the squalid conditions, shouting and physical abuse so typical in today's British livestock auctions.