Animal Aid

A Dirty Business : Summary

This is Animal Aid's fourth major report on livestock markets.

Animal Aid MarketWatchers visited 13 sales between June 2003 and March 2004 to monitor adherence to biosecurity measures that had been introduced to prevent another outbreak of foot and mouth (f&m) disease, or similar catastrophe.

Markets were shown to have played a central role in the wide and rapid dissemination of f&m, due to the large number of animals who pass through them - often to far-flung locations. As a consequence, they were shut down during the 2001 outbreak and its immediate aftermath.

Markets observed were at Ashford, Builth Wells, Carlisle, Chippenham, Frome, Hexham, Holsworthy, Longtown, Penrith, Salisbury, Talgarth, Taunton and Worcester.

Biosecurity breaches

At each market, we saw the most basic biosecurity rule being disregarded. This requires that everyone disinfects his or her footwear on leaving the animal area. (1) Workers and market users alike failed to observe this requirement, even though disinfectant dips were provided and there were often reminder posters.

Frome market, Somerset.

Non-observance of this key rule was even found at Longtown market, which a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) identified as the epicentre of the 2001 f&m outbreak.

Failure to obey the rule was so commonplace that one undercover Animal Aid market monitor reports having to conceal the fact that he WAS dipping his boots, for fear that his diligence would expose him as an outsider.

The dipping-footwear rule is the one unambiguous edict remaining from a far more comprehensive package of biosecurity measures that were introduced by the government when markets began reopening in February 2002. The initial 'interim' rules also curbed the unhygienic handling of successive batches of animals; over-garments and footwear had to be of a type that was easily disinfected; and 20 days had to pass before animals bought at market could be moved to another location.

These interim measures gradually became diluted and less effective. Then, in Spring 2003, the government proposed tightening the rules - to include, notably, compulsory attendance of vets at all sales. But the livestock industry rebelled, even though it had previously complained that the government's lack of vigilance and disease control measures were factors that produced the 2001 outbreak.

When the updated rules were implemented in August 2003, they were weaker rather than stronger than what preceded them.

The only clear rule remaining intact relates to footwear disinfection and, as our investigation shows, this is being widely flouted.

Officials involved in the enforcement of biosecurity rules have told us that they share Animal Aid's concerns about the relaxation of the original rules.

The non-observance of weak and ambiguous biosecurity measures means that the risk of another disease epidemic is current and substantial.

Animal welfare breaches

Our new survey also demonstrates that ill treatment and neglect of animals remain distressingly common at markets.

Sheep, in particular, are still confined in overcrowded pens. They are often packed together so tightly that they are unable to rest and must stand all day.

'The indoor pen area, which measured approximately 12 by 8 foot, contained 25 sheep. The fleeced sheep filled every square inch of the pen and could barely move. One sheep tried to move but was forced upwards and stood on her back legs leaning on others for at least half a minute before squeezing back down.'

Frome, 3rd September 2003

MarketWatch monitors observed many diseased and injured animals at the sales. They saw swellings, bleeding cuts and abscesses.

'One sheep showed a swelling on her left flank that was approximately the size of a football. The auctioneer referred to the animal as "lumpy". There was no clarification of the animal's condition.'

Frome, 27th August 2003

Not only is this neglectful in animal welfare terms, but it is also a breach of biosecurity rules, which specify that sick animals must be isolated and receive prompt veterinary attention.

Many animals were observed being subjected to wanton cruelty. They were hit, kicked, crushed by gates and poked with sticks.

'Dairy cattle were unloaded. One cow had the pen gate rammed against her leg, she was kicked under the chin and neck as well as under her udder and back legs.'

Taunton, 30th September 2003

For some, the suffering of the animals is a joke.

'A cull ewe collapsed and died very quickly in front of me. The pen cleaners moved her on a trolley with her feet sticking up in the air, which was thought hilarious by some. She had been seen fitting, but had been left.'

Ashford, 23rd September 2003

Animals were also forced to cross slippery surfaces, often stumbling or falling to their knees.

Frome market, Somerset.

Conclusions

The findings in this report, relating to both welfare and biosecurity, reinforce Animal Aid's longstanding position on markets. We continue to seek to encourage people to adopt an animal-free diet. But for so long as animals are raised and slaughtered for meat and dairy products, we believe that they should be spared the wholly unnecessary additional hardship of a day at market. When animals are under extreme stress, their health becomes compromised and they fall prey to epidemics such as foot and mouth disease. Biosecurity rules at livestock sales must be heeded in order to prevent another catastrophe, which would cause more hardship for the animals, and cost the taxpayer dearly.

Click here for part 1 of A Dirty Business, which describes the background to the report.

Salisbury market, Wiltshire.

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