Animal Aid


In this second part of Animal Aid's Bartered Lives report, we look at sick and injured animals, cull animals, small animals, horses, enforcement and veterinary cover, and alternatives.

Sick and injured animals

MarketWatch monitors continue to find an unacceptable number of sick and injured animals at sales. Many arrive lame, with serious skin conditions, respiratory problems, mastitis, abscesses, bloody wounds, and even in the final stages of pregnancy. Others incur injury as a direct result of the market system.

The treatment of these casualty animals is something of a lottery, with the loss of financial value at slaughter often taking precedence over welfare considerations. Animals may be unfit for sale and returned to their farm of origin, or in such a poor state that they are killed by injection on site. Others may be placed under 'local order', whereby they must be taken to the nearest abattoir for immediate slaughter.

But at markets such as Ashford, the local abattoir now confines itself to 'processing' older cattle under the BSE cull scheme. This results in extra long journeys for Ashford's casualties. A recent example was the ewe who had lost two lambs and whose enlarged udder was actually touching the floor. Requests by MarketWatchers for the animal to be given bedding while she awaited transport were rejected by the trading standards officer and a vet.

An even more disturbing incident from Ashford relates to a ewe with a swollen vulva who was seen by MarketWatchers walking on her knees. 'The vet had walked past without looking at her. At our request, he examined her and told TSO her front feet needed paring and that she was lethargic. After he left the market we noticed a discharge from the vulva and realised she was going to lamb. The purchaser now tried to take her to the slaughterhouse but we managed (ourselves) to move her to a clean pen, which we filled with straw. The farmer helping us called a colleague, they examined her and tried to turn the lamb, who died five minutes after delivery. The ewe was then taken to the lairage, her dead lamb dragged in front of her.' (Ashford, April 11, 2000)

An incident witnessed by our Colchester MarketWatcher speaks eloquently about the brutalising impact of the market system in particular and the meat trade in general. 'A heifer slid to her knees on a slippery floor, trapping her leg under a metal pen side. In a desperate attempt to free herself, she tore off half her hoof and a section of flesh. Gushing blood, in obvious pain, she was left to stagger around the pen for one and a half hours, constantly rubbing an open cut on her throat on the cold bars of the pen, as blood trailed from her leg. Trading standards said she would be shot in the market, but no attempt was made to ask the knackerman who was across the yard. The butcher was concerned only about losing her 'carcass value'. TSO said the ensuing financial loss must be taken into account. Eventually, the vet arrived, and again the butcher ranted on about money, while the heifer stood in a pen that was a mass of blood. It was the vet's decision to force the bleeding animal into the crush, where she was held with the head restraint, and had a metal pole wedged tightly across her rump while her leg was tied up and suspended in the air. She was kept like this for 25 minutes as the vet bandaged her raw leg. The entire time, she struggled and bellowed with pain and fear. Immediately after treatment, she was sent on an hour long journey for slaughter.' (Colchester, February 15, 2000)

Cull animals

Among the most pitiful sights at any market is the arrival and despatch of 'cull animals'. These are worn out breeding pigs, sheep and cows; baby calves considered a waste by-product of the dairy industry; and cattle over 30 months old who, because of BSE, must be incinerated rather than go into the food chain. For each of them, markets are the staging post for their final journey to slaughter. And because they have virtually no financial value, their general condition and treatment is often lamentable. Many show signs of untreated long-term illness. Underfeeding is also common.

Over Thirty Month Scheme (OTMS) Cattle
'Of all the animals, the OTMS cull cows are the most pitiful. Exhausted, arthritic and semi-lame, they stumble unwanted into the market. Their frail, emaciated bodies scarred, covered in open sores, their udders distended and leaking milk, and many with obvious signs of mastitis, they are NOT treated with the patience they need. These dairy cows have a natural life-span of 30 years, though most are worn out by the time they are six. After years of exploitation they are dumped in the market where their journey to a Kent slaughterhouse will begin.' (Colchester)

At Ashford the cull cattle arrive from 8.30 a.m. for processing between 2 and 4 p.m. 'On arrival they are placed in pens away from the other market animals. A wall divides these pens from the calf lairage but the calves' cries can be heard and often this seems to disturb the OTMS cattle. No bedding or water is given during the day. Sometimes milk is dripping from udders. The RSPCA officer has requested that they be milked. Very reluctantly, a drover was authorised to do this.' (Ashford)


In order to produce commercial quantities of milk, dairy cows are kept on a constant cycle of pregnancies, their calves usually taken from them within a day or two. Because their offspring are not as 'meaty' as calves from specialist beef herds, the majority are treated as disposable by-products. Prior to the BSE-inspired export ban, half a million were sent each year to Continental veal crates. Then came the Calf Processing Scheme (CPS), whereby farmers sent animals to slaughter within days of their birth - and received up to £107 per calf of taxpayers' money as 'compensation'.

The Calf Processing Scheme has now ended but the welfare problems remain. 'The end of the CPS has left 'poor quality' bull calves in a very vulnerable position. At first they continued to come to market. Some were given away free. Now no one wants them. Sometimes they are returned to the farm of origin where it is said they are destroyed. It is also said that the decrease in numbers coming to market means they are being destroyed at birth.' (Ashford)

'There are no fluids for them at the market and some suck the metal bars, some suck each other's ears and ear tags and some, after looking in vain for an udder, will suck another calf's under side, which can cause a hernia in the other animal. The calves often look frightened and bewildered with the journey, the steep ramps, the lack of fluids and the general noise of the market. Many calves have scour (diarrhoea).' (Guildford)

'We become very concerned about the Friesian bull calves, with some being sold for as little as 25 pence. They are often extremely thin and neglected.' (Colchester)

'Particularly distressing to see the calves and have them suckle on my fingers - really brings home the cruelty involved in the meat/dairy trade.' (Northampton)

Cull ewes

Worn-out from constant lambing, nervous of human contact, cull ewes are ill-equipped for coping with the market system, yet appear to be treated with particular contempt.

'Sheep with overgrown hoof - TSO feels this is irrelevant as she is a cull animal.' (Hailsham, January 18, 2000)

'Cull ewes emaciated and fleece missing, neck bare. One old cull ewe blind and lame, unable to bear weight on front feet.' (Hailsham, May 11, 1999)

Small animals

Small animals, such as rabbits, geese and ducks - often of little monetary value - are bartered by dealers, who often show scant respect for their welfare. Usually destined for the food trade, they include discarded pets. Their plight is illustrated by this report from Colchester's Saturday small animal and poultry sale:

'Rarely do vets and never does a TSO attend on a Saturday. Fluffy, yellow chicks huddle together in shoe boxes, ducks are admired as Sunday dinner. Adult rabbits - once children's playmates but no longer wanted - are bought 'for the pot' or as ingredients for a Chinese meal. One large white rabbit screamed as he was lifted by the ears from a box.

'Some dealers brought in uncovered boxes, crammed with big, white cockerels. In sheer fear, these birds escaped time after time. On each occasion they were thrown back in. A budgie collapsed with shock after his box was shaken to get a good look at him. Five huge white geese were forced so tightly into a cardboard box that they were standing on each other. A pathetically thin ginger rabbit is emaciated, dehydrated and unable to eat.'


Horses - some formerly well cared for, others having spent much of their lives fending for themselves on wasteland - are sold in separate auctions from farmed animals. Many will be slaughtered for food. While this report cannot deal fully with the issue of horses, we draw attention to their treatment in sales such as Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire.

This market has long had a reputation for poor welfare standards, despite the presence in recent years of a MAFF-appointed vet, TSOs, an RSPCA representative and regular visits from field officers of various equine trusts. Other horse and pony auctions lack such a presence, and welfare problems are even more severe. Attempts to intervene on behalf of equines seem to meet even greater hostility than at general livestock markets. Threats are common.

Here are examples of horses our Henley-in-Arden MarketWatcher found offered for sale:

  • A foal, one lung almost totally and the other partially congested, suffering from red worm and strongyles (worms);
  • A dull, dejected foal, thick mucous discharge from eyes and nostrils, slow, laboured breathing and diarrhoea, has to be put down after 18 months of treatment;
  • A Shetland mare, passing blood after losing a foal, dies five weeks after purchase. Post-mortem reveals chronic kidney failure and that her condition was probably irreversible when offered for sale.

The MarketWatcher makes these comments about the animals' treatment while at the market:

'We have seen terrified foals, separated from their dams, try to fight their way out of metal barred, concrete floored pens, injuring themselves as the mares were being driven away in lorries, presumably for meat. We have seen foals being haltered for the first time in the market place, fighting and falling over backwards as people tried to load them.

'One pony, who later proved to be in foal, was hit repeatedly around the face and head with a thick piece of piping, causing cuts to her face around her eyes and inside her cheeks. The pony was bought privately, the blood-stained head collar and pipe were kept as evidence and presented to the local trading standards office with many witness statements. It was stated that a prosecution would have been a 'waste of time on this occasion'.'

Enforcement and veterinary cover

So why do these problems of animal welfare persist? There are several answers.

  • The problems are rooted in the nature of the market system itself - a system that involves the animals' journey to and from the market; as well as the hours spent in cramped, alien conditions, interspersed with episodes of rapid movement as they are driven into and out of the ring. The process is fundamentally unforgiving.
  • The cultural conditioning of market users. Often poorly trained - if at all - they regard animals as mere commodities from whom they are determined to extract maximum financial return. Most welfare rules are so much pointless red tape; an impediment to profit.
  • The unwillingness of those ultimately responsible for the animals' protection to do their legal and moral duty. MAFF makes and oversees the welfare laws and associated guidelines. Local authorities - typically trading standards departments of County Councils - have the official enforcement obligation. Vets provide the expert advice and evidence upon which most successful prosecutions depend. All three agencies fail the animals, notwithstanding the genuine commitment of a number of dedicated individuals.

They blame a lack of resources. They haven't the finances or the staff, it is said, to do the job properly. In a report dated January 17, 2000, the Devon County Council's director of trading standards, states: 'We would urge the Government to strengthen the legislation in order that the statutory agencies are able to make deterrents - disqualifications for example - stick; and are able to recover any necessary costs associated with maintaining the welfare of the livestock pending the outcome of an inquiry'.

Complaining that his department's 'workload has increased dramatically without any extra resources', he cites the case of one recent successful prosecution that cost nearly £10,000 but yielded nothing from the defendant because the magistrates concluded they hadn't the capability to pay. He was still paying off a fine from a previous animal welfare prosecution.

Local authorities blame their masters at MAFF, and MAFF points to a higher kind of politics in which animal welfare hardly rates at all. Welfare prosecutions are, as a consequence, rare, and with no centrally held figures, difficult to analyse.

But while the resource shortfall is real enough, so is the complacency and even callousness of welfare officials, frequently encountered by MarketWatchers.

It should be repeated that some local authorities and vets make a genuine effort at enforcement, and some auctioneers have co-operated with MarketWatchers and improved certain aspects of their markets. But at many establishments, regulatory officials either cannot be found or they show no interest in ensuring compliance with the law. They also frequently express hostility to MarketWatch monitors.

'A Trading Standards Officer approached us in a very aggressive manner asking who we were. Impression would be he was not impartial. Extremely patronising comments, did not want to answer our questions, pointed out that the market was private land and we could be thrown off. We asked the manager if he minded us being there. He said not at all'. (Leek, February 23, 2000)

'MAFF visit only very infrequently and the local vet - whose surgery is 20 metres from the market - refuses to come out to deal with emergencies.' (Rye)

'In February, the MAFF vet made just one visit and left three hours before the market ended. Government vets are not appearing at one in four market days, as promised.' (Hailsham)

'We saw two cows, both with one calf each, with backbones sticking out and looking emaciated. I told TSO - he said it was very difficult to prove anything.' (Northampton, November 13, 1999)

A ewe cuts her mouth open on a pen. TSO and RSPCA state there is no problem. Monitors find her with 'blood dripping constantly, shaking her head and clearly distressed'. She has by now been bleeding for two hours; her tongue had split open. Farmers gather; one describes her as 'slowly bleeding to death'. Auctioneer trying to sell her. No enforcement authorities on premises so monitors ask a slaughterman to take her to the nearest abattoir. 'It is the worst case of neglect by TSO and RSPCA that we have seen in four and a half years of MarketWatch in Rye.' (March 8, 2000)

The National Animal Health and Welfare Panel is an association of local authority officials with a responsibility for animals passing through markets. In a 1998 article in a professional journal, Graham Venn, the panel chairman wrote: 'Even where an inspector is in attendance, colleagues will know it is impossible to see all that is happening. We therefore see the actions taken by Animal Aid with their MarketWatch campaign as a very useful tool to enforcement agencies.'

Mr Venn went on to say that North Yorkshire had used Animal Aid's evidence to bring a successful 1997 prosecution against two drovers. 'Following this action, we have now shown the video to each market operator within North Yorkshire pointing out that the next time the subject of the video could easily come from their own market.'


Electronic auctions, whereby dealers bid for animals on their computer screens, mean that animals can be spared their day at market.

Equally, supermarkets are beginning to innovate, if only for self-serving commercial reasons. In 1999, Tesco became the first supermarket to bypass markets, buying cattle and sheep direct from farmers. The company says it hopes to have phased out its use of livestock auctions by the end of 2000.

Farmers' unions in the Netherlands - at least those sections involved in the cattle and pig industry - are calling for the closure of livestock markets in that country. They cite the unnecessary veterinary risks involved in transporting 'stock' to and from markets in addition to welfare and financial considerations.

These developments should encourage the Farm Animal Welfare Council (MAFF's official advisory body) to recommend both the phasing out of the market system, and support for the other options. FAWC was producing a report on markets as Bartered Lives went to press.

Meanwhile, animal farmers would be well advised to seek alternative sales outlets for their animals, given the recent spate of market closures. Among the notable casualties are Guildford, Banbury, Bury St Edmunds, Sturminster Newton, Kings Lynn and Campsea Ashe.

Animal Aid's ultimate objective is to encourage as many people as possible to abandon eating the flesh and secretions of animals. But for as long as animal products are consumed, our goal must be to minimise the pain and trauma involved. The journey to market simply adds another unnecessary layer of torment. It is time for Britain's 'livestock' auctions to be consigned to history.

Appendix 1 of the Bartered Lives report has extracts from reports by MarketWatch monitors.

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